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)
I would welcome the opportunity to speak to the amendment before people determine whether the majority in the House is in favour of it or not. I agree with Members of the House. This is what parliamentary debate and engagement is about in terms of the important role this House has to play in the scrutiny of legislation and the oversight of powers. That is why we are here: I get that. Deputy Catherine Murphy made a point about the primacy of this House and the need for a mechanism greater than just laying a report in the Oireachtas Library. I get that point too.
We need to be conscious when talking in this House that there are an awful lot of people in our country that are scared, anxious, nervous and worried. Deputy O'Callaghan hit the nail on the head. We should not be suggesting to people that we are endeavouring to take steps in this House to enable people to be detained. That is not what we are doing. We are making sure that we have the provision to do so should the need arise in the public interest to save lives.
Many people in this House have called on me to shut this, cancel that and do the other. Did they check whether I had the powers to do that? What we are trying to do here is to ensure we have legislation on the Statute Book to allow steps to be taken if it becomes necessary. I refer to taking steps not on the basis of a whim I or any of the other Members may have, but on the basis of the best medical advice from the Chief Medical Officer so that we can do that and do it quickly. If the Department of Health and the Chief Medical Officer believe these powers are necessary in the time of a public health emergency, then I am with them all day long. I really hope there is a majority in this House for that.
The Deputy is right. Picking a date is somewhat of an arbitrary process. Deputy Naughten suggested next May and other Members suggested a shorter time. Let us be clear. We cannot wish this virus away. It is going to be with us for many months and none of us knows exactly how long. It seems prudent to me that we would put in a date in November to ensure, if there is a point in time when this House cannot meet or other gatherings cannot take place, that we still have the powers we need. These are powers we do not ever wish to use, but they are powers that should be there. Let us not forget why we are doing this. The only reason we are doing this is to support our public health experts in saving lives and keeping people well. That is the only purpose of these measures, measures we hope we will never need to use.
I should say that without this legislation, and thanks to the support, collaboration and decency of the Irish people and Irish business many events have been already cancelled and many businesses have already closed their doors because everyone has pulled together. When we are bringing forward legislation on social welfare grounds, however, which was the original purpose of this Bill, the prudent and sensible thing to do seems to be to give these powers. I respectfully ask, therefore, for support in this House. I have tried to reach the best consensus or middle ground that I can from a variety of views and many amendments. I am sure there is no perfect one, including mine, but it is an honest attempt based on the legal and medical advice I have.