Thursday, 19 March 2020
An Bille Sláinte (Caomhnú agus Cosaint agus Bearta Éigeandála Eile Ar Mhaithe Le Leas an Phobail), 2020: Céim an Choiste agus na Céimeanna a bheidh Fágtha - Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages
Simon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
Deputies have raised some important issues. The Vintners Federation of Ireland has behaved highly responsibly. The federation's representatives came into Government Buildings on Sunday evening. They said to the Chief Medical Officer and senior Government officials that federation members were not in a position to comply with social distancing. There is an obligation if a group of businesses cannot comply with social distancing to do the responsible thing and close the businesses for a temporary period. The severity of that is not lost on me. It meant 7,000 public houses closed and 50,000 people temporarily lost their jobs. However, they are doing it for the public good. I certainly hope that when this country bounces back - we will get through this - people will support the responsible businesses which have done this. The House is hopefully going to give the authority to me and my Department to shut down events and places if they do not comply. That is certainly a power we may have after this legislation passes.
I was asked about restaurants and cafes. I believe, frankly, it is a little different. I am seeing several restaurants converting to providing take away foods. I am seeing several cafes impose proper social distancing. I am seeing people putting things on the floor to help. There may not be a one-size-fits-all for this, but the position is clear. If a person works in a business or anywhere else and that person cannot socially distance like we are doing in this Chamber, then that business should not remain open. Today, we have put on the website of the Department of Health some helpful guides on how to socially distance. They include information on things people can put on the floor to mark out in the workplace. We will also be asking the Health and Safety Authority and environmental health officers to try to assist businesses. We all want to try to keep businesses open and keep our country open but we want to do so in a way that is for the public good, safe for workers and safe for everyone in society as well.
The word "draconian" was used several times. Let us be clear: the definition of "draconian" is excessively harsh. We are doing nothing excessively harsh here, because there is nothing excessive we can do to try to protect public health. We are about trying to save lives. I reject the word "draconian" where it is used.
I am sure Deputy Boyd Barrett did not mean it in this way but there is no sector that I want to see avoiding compliance. Every decision that has been made by the national public health emergency team, which is chaired by the Chief Medical Officer, has been implemented in full. We publish the advice of the team in full for everyone to see. That is what we will continue to do.
The question of house parties is really important. We know in some other countries people have been more likely to get the coronavirus in their own homes rather than anywhere else.
This idea that the Government can shut down everything and "I'll be all right, Jack" is not grounded in the public health evidence. My officials are satisfied that the powers in this legislation will give us the ability to cover private gatherings as well. On adult day centres, we are also satisfied that they are covered and that there are adequate provisions within this legislation. I would finally say, a Cheann Comhairle, that they did not slip through the cracks. We are making very conscious decisions that in the case particularly of disability day centres and the like, on some occasions it actually is safer for people to go to those day centres, once they are appropriately socially distancing, than it might be to spend a day at home with elderly relatives. This is something the national public health emergency team will be keeping under review.