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
My constituency of Cork South-West and my country face extraordinary times. This has to be a time of great unity, as has been already seen in the incredible human efforts of the emergency services, medical staff, gardaí, Army and community, including those on community councils, in community alert groups and in community care groups, who are still delivering meals on wheels, ringing our elderly and vulnerable, and tending to them in a caring and careful manner. I thank every one of them for doing so.
People are under severe pressure. They are worried about their health and that of their families, friends and neighbours. They are worried about how they will pay their next utility bill. While the discussions with banks gave some clarity yesterday, significant fear remains over how their electricity or phone bills will be paid.
This is a great worry for many families at this time. Clarity must be given on how people will deal with their credit union loans. Banks clarified their position yesterday and the credit unions should also do so. Many customers have contacted me on this as they are seriously worried. Will repossessions continue? Will the vulture funds continue to take people to the edge? This must stop as people need help and clarity at this time. We need an immediate moratorium for all these people.
I plead with local authorities to immediately suspend rate collection to give hope to big or small businesses and to clarify how they will deal with families with council housing rent to pay but who are unable to do so. There are people who must bridge the difference on their HAP payments who do not have the money to do so now. People in private rented accommodation must be also protected. While we cannot give answers for everything today, there must be quick action to ease the pressures on these people.
I respect all politicians who are at the forefront at this time, but so many questions remain unanswered. The fishing industry is on the verge of collapse. As politicians, we must ensure the food chain stays open. We must ensure the supermarket chains stock Irish fish and Irish meat - safe and healthy foods - until this emergency ends. Every politician must find a way to do this. Markets have been stopped abroad so many fishermen may not do business there. The restaurant and pub business has gone so their produce is not wanted by them, and most supermarkets in this country are not taking it either. The Government must intervene to ensure they do. Some of the boats will have to tie up at the piers and many are worth millions of euro. There will have to be further discussions with the banks on how to deal with this. That must also happen in relation to the farmers who are in dire trouble at the moment as the price of their produce has bottomed out. The closure of pubs has been fully adhered to in west Cork. Although many businesses know they face ruin, they have put people's health first, as they have done down the years. We see the value of the pub and tourism sectors as tens of thousands of their valued employees are unemployed. Their employers would love to pay them for a few weeks but most businesses were on the verge of closure prior to this crisis and cannot pay them. Almost everyone is trying to help out here, including the banks, but today, I hear that the insurers, to whom the publicans pay massive premiums to protect their businesses, will not give them any ease at this time. I call on Allianz and FBD to reconsider this. It is a very serious issue which will take publicans to the brink. Many wanted to pay their employees with the money they saved from paying their Sky subscription, which is €600 a week in some cases, which Sky has sidelined, but the insurance federation, Insurance Ireland, has not done likewise. The Government needs to step in immediately to deal with that.
I am very worried about our people abroad who are struggling to get home. More than 30 people, some from west Cork, are in Cusco in Peru, and cannot get home. I thank the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who have helped myself and others to reunite families over the shocking period of recent days.
Many student nurses have been instructed to work on the front line. They must be paid a respectful wage for the work they are doing for the nation. That must be done immediately. Our young people have significant worries. Social media is playing hell with them, as it is with many adults. False information must stop. There must be mechanisms to facilitate home education and there must be clarity on how exams will take place for those in school or college. In recent days I have been contacted by people who have been given serious cause of concern by uncertainty about exams. Deputy Eamon Ryan spoke earlier of hardware shops staying open in a safe manner. That is a very good idea. It would allow people to get work carried out at home to keep their minds occupied, since this may drag on for some time. I also agree with Deputy Howlin on the protection of our local radio stations such as C103 FM and RedFM in Cork which give honest, clear information on the virus, its progress, the dangers and how we might protect ourselves. The State must step in to save these local stations which may not be able to remain open otherwise.
I sincerely thank those in our hospitals throughout the country, hospitals like CUH, Bantry General Hospital and our community hospital. But for those hospitals, especially Bantry, at this time, I shudder to think how we would cope with the medical crisis we have now.
I plead with everyone at this stage to strictly adhere to the guidelines that have been given in recent weeks. We have an incredible crisis in our country and I plead for people to self-isolate as much as possible, to keep on their own as much as possible and to listen to the warnings that have been given to them. We need to stop the spread of this virus. We are doing everything we can in my constituency of Cork South-West and I know the nation is also. I appreciate the political effort that is being made across the board at this time. I would appreciate if people would strictly adhere to the guidelines that have been given to them.