Thursday, 19 March 2020
An Bille Sláinte (Caomhnú agus Cosaint agus Bearta Éigeandála Eile Ar Mhaithe Le Leas an Phobail), 2020: An Dara Céim - Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Bill 2020: Second Stage
Peter Fitzpatrick (Louth, Independent)
We stand here today facing what probably will be the biggest crisis any of us will ever face as public representatives or, indeed, as citizens. Covid-19 is here and represents a challenge that we must overcome, no matter what that entails.
The Bill is aimed at putting in place measures that will help us, as a nation, fight this deadly virus. On that basis, I assure the House that as a politician, I will fully support whatever measures need to be put into law to help us eradicate the virus. I am pleased that all parties are working together in fighting Covid-19 and that political differences are being put aside to that end. In this regard, I praise An Taoiseach for his address to the nation on Tuesday evening, which was both timely and needed by the country. There is a great deal of fear among the public and, unfortunately, some of this fear is being fed by lies, particularly on social media. It is important that the acting Government keeps us all informed of the facts and the measures being taken to combat the disease. Sometimes, matters are made worse by a lack of information. I urge the Government to keep open all lines of communication and, more importantly, to keep the public fully informed of the progress made in this fight. Along with my colleagues in the Regional Group, I will do whatever is needed to support the acting Government in the fight against Covid-19. This is not a time for political point-scoring but rather for all of us in the House to work together as a team.
It is important that we acknowledge the heroic efforts of our health staff, who are putting their lives at risk to save others. No other word could describe their effort, and I am in awe of their skill and commitment to their profession. I must also praise the heroic work of our gardaí, Army, educators, welfare staff and other front-line staff who have gone to extraordinary efforts at this time to ensure our citizens are kept safe.
The past number of weeks have been particularly difficult for the many businesses directly affected by the virus. We have all heard of the many job losses and the impact on many businesses throughout the country. Some of the measures we are considering will go a small way towards helping those most affected but, in reality, they will not go far enough. Unfortunately, many businesses and jobs will be lost, and the only way to help such people is to put in place the right structures to help build new, sustainable jobs and businesses in the future. In this regard, we as a society must work together as a team and help one another. We must support local businesses in our communities and help them get back on their feet. We all worked through the previous recession and I firmly believe we can get through this if we help and support one another. The Government must support the business community and put in place real support that will help them survive and grow. We are ready to put political differences to one side and to work together in order that the country can beat the virus.
I urge all in society to look out for one another, to help those in need and, most importantly, to follow the guidelines laid out by our health officials to keep safe from the virus. I praise the older generation, in particular, for their efforts at this time. Yet again, they are leading by example. Despite being the group of people most at risk from the virus, they are leading the fight against it. They, more than most, need our full support at this time and I urge people to look out for their elderly neighbours. In this regard, I am delighted with the effort of Louth GAA, which has offered its services to the HSE. This includes full support from all the clubs and their 12,000 members. They are making their halls and clubhouses available to the HSE, as well as the services of their members, who include plumbers, electricians, carpenters, tilers, mechanics, shopkeepers, bakers, accountants, solicitors, taxi drivers and couriers, to name but a few.
I am reminded of a speech by President John F. Kennedy, when he called on Americans to ask not what their country could do for them but what they could do for their country. As we all sit in unity in the Chamber today, it is only right that we acknowledge the great effort of the people at this critical point.