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
Tá mé ag roinnt mo chuid ama leis an Teachta McNamara. Tá mo chuid ama srianta, so díreoidh mé ar an ábhar atá faoi chaibidil againn.
Is é sin an Bille Sláinte (Caomhnú agus Cosaint agus Bearta Éigeandála Eile Ar Mhaithe Le Leas an Phobail), 2020. Ní mór dom a rá go bhfuil gá leis an reachtaíocht. Tuigim é sin ach tá mé thar a bheith buartha faoi na míreanna atá anseo ó thaobh na gcumhachtaí breise atá i gceist don Gharda Síochána, do na dochtúirí - ní hamháin do na dochtúirí ach d'oifigigh sláinte - agus don Aire, gan aon mhonatóireacht ón Dáil agus gan an Dáil a bheith ina suí chun monatóireacht a dhéanamh ar an reachtaíocht seo agus í á cur i bhfeidhm. Ní mór dom a rá gur chúis imní dom í sin. Má táimid ag iarraidh muinín a chosaint i measc chosmhuintire na tíre, tá sé thar a bheith tábhachtach go bhfuilimid i ndáiríre faoi na míreanna seo a chur i gcomhthéacs fráma cearta daonna.
I support the need for this legislation. We have a crisis but in times of crisis when we want to put through legislation such as this that is giving seriously broad and excessive powers in my opinion to the Garda Síochána, to the Minister and not just to doctors but to medical officers undefined, then there is a great onus on the Government to place that in context, in particular in the context of our rights under human rights legislation and the European Convention on Human Rights, which we have adopted in our Constitution. The absence of protections in the Bill is of great concern to me. I got the amendments to the Bill a half an hour ago and I understand the staff are under pressure. Let me pay tribute to the staff of the Dáil but I do not want to waste my time paying more tributes. Take it as given.
When we are in a situation where we are looking at amendments and trying to get our heads around the other amendments tabled by my colleagues, it is difficult. Then we are looking at legislation we are being asked to pass by 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. today with no sign of protection for human rights. That is of great concern to me and if I am prepared to do that, I at least ask the Government to remove the section where an order can be made automatically to renew it. The Government should at the very least show good faith and bring this legislation back before us so it gets the approval of the Dáil. If the Government wants us to support it in this extraordinary and "draconian" legislation, then it must show good faith. To allow a Minister to renew this on the advice of a medical officer or on some other advice, without bringing it back before us is not showing good faith. It is very important that we show leadership and acknowledge what people are doing on the ground in addition to the staff.
We must show leadership at this level and bring in legislation that is framed in human rights. It is not that difficult. The Government has to show in this case that the powers are necessary, proportionate and non-discriminatory. We could have all tabled amendments but they will not be heard. The general principle - non-discriminatory, proportionate and necessary - is nowhere to be seen in this Bill. In addition, the preamble talks about citizens. The Minister might take the opportunity to tell me why we are only talking about citizens. Is it simply because we are referring to the Constitution and citizens? Surely we are talking about residents and other people in the country. Not alone is the word "citizens" used in the preamble but it is used in another section of the Bill. That is of great concern to me. As I said, extraordinary powers are being given to a Minister, medical officers undefined and the Garda Síochána, with powers of arrest without warrant on a reasonable opinion. We have an inconsistency of language throughout this Bill. We talk about potential and probable risks, as was mentioned by a Labour Party Deputy, and we have the words "as soon as practicable" and "as soon as possible." This inconsistency throughout the Bill is of great concern. We have detention and isolation for a period of 14 days mentioned. It should be more specific that the person should be tested more quickly than that, not after 14 days. Of even more concern is that there is a provision for a review but there is no provision to tell the person he or she can take a review and there is no time date on that review. I am not sure why that was done.
I refer to the background of this legislation. The Minister talked about not making a political football of the legislation and that is not my way.
However, it is important to give the background to this legislation, which is giving such extraordinary powers. I know a woman in Galway who is 75 years old and who has COPD. Her GP rang for a test on Monday and she is still waiting. It is no way to instil confidence to have a very sick 75-year-old woman worrying if she has it, given she is already quite sick with a condition. The GP felt it necessary to refer her for a test but there is no sign of that.
If we are bringing in this legislation without protection, surely the onus is on the Government in parallel to give us the maximum information in the most honest way possible. Let us forget the patronising ways of the past and the "We know best" approach, and give out the information as to what tests are available, what centres are available and where they are. I have no idea about this.
There is a homeless hub in Galway and while it is terrible that we needed it, it has been set up. Everybody in that hub has now been transferred into a hotel. I have asked questions as to how many and so on, and I cannot get a response from the local authority. The response I got was that the local authority had obligations in regard to this virus and that it wanted to keep that centre for a family that was infected. The point is that the residents of that hub are now in a hotel. They have to leave the hotel during the day, and while they get breakfast, they do not get lunch or dinner, and they have no washing facilities or cooking facilities. I am sure this is being repeated everywhere.
I believe the Bill should have been two separate pieces of legislation, one in regard to the social welfare changes, which I welcome, and the other in regard to health, as it would have been easier to deal with it in that way. In regard to the social welfare changes, we have tabled several amendments. There is no provision for those who are vulnerable with underlying conditions, like diabetes and many other conditions, but who are not a source of infection. No allowance is made for them, although they have to self-isolate on the advice of their doctors.
I would like open disclosure in regard to ventilators and what centres the Government is planning in the west, in particular in Galway, given Merlin Park is sitting there and there are many other premises. Unfortunately, I have run out of time. I ask the Government for absolutely frank and open disclosure.