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
Jim O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay South, Fianna Fail)
It is important to remind Members that since 1947 a Minister for Health has had the power to issue regulations to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. It is a power that exists under section 31 of the 1947 Act and it has not been abused since that time in any way. It is important to point out that Covid-19 was included in a regulation made by the Minister in February 2020. It is also important to note that since 1947 a Chief Medical Officer or registered medical practitioner has had the legal power to isolate and detain people if they believe they are probable source of an infection. These are very strange and broad powers but they have existed for nearly 73 years and have not been abused to date.
Even if there is a sunset clause, and if this legislation we are discussing today fades from our Statute Book, the Minister and chief medical officers will still have these extraordinary powers. We need to reflect upon the fact that they have not been abused since 1947. The proposal put forward by the Minister is appropriate. His amendment deals with the concerns that are being expressed, but nonetheless the powers remain and they have been in place since 1947.