Thursday, 21 May 2020
Covid-19 (Taoiseach): Statements
Marian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
I wish to ask about two issues, the first of which I raised with the Taoiseach previously, that of victims of domestic violence accessing the emergency rent supplement. The Taoiseach stated that he would look into the matter. In response to me yesterday, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Ms Doherty, told me that she was looking at amending the referral pathways. That is important and good, but it addresses only 50% of the problem. A part of the criteria for accessing this rent supplement is one's financial status and employment status. Domestic violence is as likely to happen in a wealthy home as in a, let us say, poorer one. Being a victim of domestic violence should itself be sufficient to access the emergency rent supplement. Will the Taoiseach ensure that the Government completes the second half of the work? I thank him for the first part.
My second question brings me back to face coverings, which we have discussed for the past two weeks. I was pleased with the Government's recommendations. However, the numbers wearing face coverings on public transport and in shops are still low. I did a back-of-the-envelope check. Take the three weeks between phase 1 and phase 2 and assume the R number is 1, even though I know it is less.
In that time, if wearing a face mask was to cut back the numbers infected by 10% that would mean that at the end of three weeks 50% fewer would be infected. If the face mask did not work well and people did not follow protocols and only one in five wore a mask, 30% fewer would be infected. Even if it was one in 100, it would be 7% fewer infected. As part of a suite measures they are important. Will the Taoiseach specifically strengthen his advice around face coverings? I am not asking that they be mandatory but that the advice be strengthened. Will the Taoiseach consider following the example of other countries and have face masks distributed free of charge to citizens? Will he work with local groups and businesses to ramp up the production of face coverings? Will he launch a public awareness campaign in regard to the homemaking of face coverings and will he consider their distribution on public transport? Many people want to wear them but they might forget. If they were distributed on public transport that might be part of the solution to increase capacity on public transport, which in two, three and four weeks' time will be a paramount issue.