Thursday, 21 May 2020
Covid-19 (Taoiseach): Statements
Richard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
I have praised the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, for the way in which they have dealt with the pandemic, mainly because of the former's medical background. We are lucky we have a person from a medical background in that position.
For the past nine years, however, the Government has forgotten about rural Ireland. When the pandemic hit, rural Ireland did not forget about us. It kept food and drink on our tables and has kept us going through the pandemic. Yesterday has gone, today is here and tomorrow has not come. How do we get our businesses and our country up and running again? Let us move forward. There are 39 constituencies in Ireland, 11 of which are in Dublin, and 19 seats in 26 constituencies outside of Dublin were filled by Independents in the most recent general election. What does this tell us? We all know Dublin is the capital, but Limerick is my capital. I want to work with the Government and with others. People may come to Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil looking for positions. I do not want positions. I want to help and I want to work. I want direct access to Ministers. I am for the betterment of Ireland. I want Ministers positioned around the country, not just in Dublin, where there are at present seven Ministers. I want the Government to listen to the people of rural Ireland. I will sit down and work collectively with anyone, bringing a voice for rural Ireland. Rural people live outside of areas with speed limits, in small towns such as Croom, Adare, Newcastle West and Kilmallock. Once you leave the areas with speed limits, there is no rural broadband and there are no bus services. People have to drive to work.
I understand what is happening. I am self-employed. I am from a farming background. I have been a member of Limerick City and County Council. What has Covid-19 taught us? It is that our broadband is not fit for purpose.
We need a collective approach. It is not viable in its present format. It needs to be grand-aided. We need to incentivise the private companies to look at the amber areas. It is easy to target the profitable areas. The information on amber areas in Ireland is well documented. Companies are cherry-picking the areas that are profitable and leaving the areas that are not profitable. They are massaging the figures. Realistically, it does not add up. How do we fix this? The word here is "incentivise". Why does the restart grant only cover companies with up to 50 employees? A progressive hotel in Limerick has seen bookings decimated for the year ahead. So much has been cancelled. The hotel owners had hoped to have up to 100 people employed by Christmas.
The World Health Organization recommends social distancing of 1 m. Social distancing in Ireland is 2 m. It would be very difficult to run a business or run hotels on this basis. I would not like to see my dinner coming at me from a 2 m distance. Some common sense is needed here. We have all heard today how different countries are dealing with different things and how the Government is learning from different countries. The World Health Organization has the distance at 1 m.