Thursday, 25 February 2021
Health (Amendment) Bill 2021: Committee Stage
I have just finished a phone call with a constituent in Ballyfermot. I am not sure if the Minister is aware of the following, but it will be interesting to hear if he is. At least 90 people over 85 years of age have had their vaccination appointments for today and tomorrow cancelled. The Ballyfermot primary healthcare centre was emptied of all other appointments to allow that to happen. The vaccines never arrived, leaving these people very disappointed, worried and anxious and an entire community up in arms about how they have been treated. They cannot make contact by phone with anyone from the centre or the HSE to seek an explanation or to offer an alternative date. That is a flavour of the background to the frustration, sense of desperation and growing anger out there over the way this Government is handling the Covid crisis. What the Minister is seeking to do here today in terms the legislation before us, will do nothing but compound that.
A whole community was let down this morning when the vaccines were not delivered to Ballyfermot. We are not talking about Timbuktu; Ballyfermot is in Dublin 10 and it is easy to find. People were told they would be getting the vaccine and their appointments were scheduled. Instead, they are still in a situation where none of them can go more than 5 km beyond their home town and they must stick to the same rigid regime. Everybody is complying with the regime and everybody wants the over-85s in Ballyfermot to get their jabs because they are salt of the earth people who made the communities that we all love. Everybody is hopeful in that regard. Then the Minister comes in here and tells us he is going ahead with legislation that will see foreign travel into this country continue unabated and unchecked for at least another four weeks. Even after the regulations become applicable, or possibly applicable, they will cover only a tiny cohort of potential travellers into the country. The bulk of travel into Ireland is not coming from the suggested list; it is coming from all over Europe and the USA. It includes the American troops who have not quarantined and are coming through Shannon and travelling into Limerick.
There are many examples of where there is real danger of variants of the virus coming into the State. Meanwhile, people in this country struggle to put up with the restrictions, do their best for each other and maintain their sense of social solidarity. They need to see social solidarity from the Government. They need the Government to think about what it is actually doing rather than the optics of what it is doing. The Government is failing to help to crush the virus while everybody else is bending over backwards in their efforts to do so. The Minister has it within his power to accept the amendments that are before him today. I plead with him to do so and to give people a sense of hope and an idea that we can do this. If we do not limit non-essential travel into the country and enforce quarantines, then we are a leaky sieve and we are potentially wide open to variants, whether from California, Austria or God knows where else.
The measures the Minister is proposing to introduce will not do what they are meant to do. He is either not thinking things through or else he, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party are only concerned with the optics. After failing for ten months to take note of what needs to be done and trying to do it, they are now pretending they are doing something. Never let it be said that the Government tried to introduce mandatory quarantine, because that is not the case. It is making a bags of things and leaving our communities very vulnerable and wide open. I would appreciate an explanation for what happened in my constituency this morning because it is probably not the only constituency in the country in which it is happening. We need to know how people who were desperate to be vaccinated and who have been let down are going to be treated while they wait for an appointment. I ask the Minister to accept these amendments because they will do the job, unlike the provisions he has devised.