Thursday, 25 February 2021
Health (Amendment) Bill 2021: Committee Stage
I too rise to support the Labour Party amendment and the associated amendments in this grouping. We in the Rural Independent Group have tabled a number of amendments and I thank Brian Ó Domhnaill in our office for assisting us in producing them. They are quite detailed and also quite rushed because we did not have a lot of time. There is not enough time allocated to discuss this Bill. By the looks of things, we will not reach many of the amendments. We are only on an chéad cheann and if we are still discussing this group at 4.30 p.m., we will not even get a vote on it. We have to be cognisant of that.
Another speaker said that this legislation is a case of closing the door when the horse has bolted. As I said this morning, the horse is already in Cheltenham or a lot further away. Deputy Kelly and other party and group leaders will be aware that ever since the start of the pandemic, or at least when we used to have weekly or fortnightly briefings - we have not had such a briefing from the Taoiseach, NPHET or anybody else since last November although they talk about collaboration and keeping people informed - I always wanted quarantine at the airports and restrictions on travel. This is not because I am a killjoy who does not want people travelling and who wants to lock them up and throw away the keys. That is not at all what I want. The Irish people have made heroic efforts during this crisis. I sympathise, in particular, with anyone who has lost a loved one and could not have a proper funeral or attend the funeral. I salute everybody involved in trying to beat the virus.
I have said before that this is like drawing water and I remember as a buachaill óg drawing water from a well with a bucket. If there were holes in the bucket, one would never fill one's churn. It is as simple as that. We were shocked to hear the figures for the numbers of people coming into and out of the country. I did not in my wildest dreams think there were those kinds of numbers coming in but they are coming in and have been coming in. Of course, we wanted to be the poster boys of Europe. Every answer I got from the previous Taoiseach and the current Taoiseach was that we are European and we are in this together with Europe. However, Poland and Hungary sealed their borders, as did other places within Europe, with varying degrees of success. We could not do that because we are the good boys, the white-haired boys in Europe, and we wanted to be the best Europeans. We were best in the class at one stage, we were told, then we went to worst in the class and I do not know where we are now or whether we are in the class at all.
We certainly are not getting a fair crack of the whip when it comes to getting vaccines from Europe. When one looks across the pond at our nearest neighbours, it is staggering to see that they have administered 12.6 million vaccines, which they acquired from outside the EU. We are patting ourselves on the back that we have 350,000 or so people vaccinated. I am tired of asking the Minister about the flu vaccination programme that was rolled out late last summer, because he will not answer my question. I asked him in November, three weeks ago and again this morning to tell me whether I am being given misinformation in this regard from good sources. I do not believe I am misinformed that only 1.4 million of the 2 million vaccines can be accounted for. In that context, how will the HSE, the Department of Health or whoever else be able to roll out 10 million vaccines, which is the figure we were given this morning? There is not a hope in hell of it. They are like children playing with a jigsaw. If they could not make the jigsaw with 2 million pieces, how will they make it with 10 million pieces?
I know of some horrific cases where people were all buoyed up to get their vaccines but did not receive them. I was talking to one such man in Tipperary last Monday week who was due to get the vaccine on the Wednesday. I am talking about people who are aged over 85 and were due to get the vaccine in doctors' centres in Cahir, Carrick-on-Suir and other places. Thanks be to God, one doctor's surgery in Cahir got the vaccines and all its patients got their vaccines. However, another doctor in the town got none of the 116 injections that were supposed to arrive. Logistics can go wrong with anyone but there has been no information given in the eight days since as to where the vaccines went, where they are now, why they did not arrive and when they will arrive. It is awful. A wonderful woman in her 101st year, who was a business person all her life and is still a sprightly woman, was one of the people going in for the vaccine who was turned away. Another very sick couple in that age group - I will not mention names - are absolutely desperate. These people had the anticipation, expectation and delight of going for the vaccine and then they did not get it. Now we cannot get information to tell them they will get it next Wednesday or whenever. What is the cause of the dysfunction in this process? The same thing happened at a doctor's practice in Carrick-on-Suir. Most doctors got their vaccines but one practice in south Tipperary and another in south Kilkenny did not get them. People were let down. Why is the process so dysfunctional?
As I said, I was not happy with the way the flu vaccine was administered. I am told it has been the case for years that accountability is negligible. How are people supposed to have the hope that we so badly need on this beautiful spring day that we look out and see around us? How will we get the people to follow us? Ní neart go le chéile is my belief i gconaí, but the Government has made a hames of things. I said again this morning that the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health have dropped the ball spectacularly since they took the baton. They were mad to get into government. At least there was a degree of co-ordination and some type of system in place under the previous Taoiseach and Minister for Health. We, as Opposition groups, were always kept informed. Now we are shut out. The Government knows best and we know nothing. The Taoiseach and the Minister do not want our advice.
They want us to come in here as cannon fodder and vote for this Bill. I have major issues with voting for this legislation because it is inadequate, inept and ten months too late. Is it workable? The Minister for Health tells us all that gardaí are doing checks on homes and everything else. The Minister for Transport, Deputy Ryan, was challenged again today about that. Gardaí are frustrated too. They are getting reams of documentation at the levels of inspector, superintendent and sergeant in charge. I salute the gardaí on the ground who are trying to do their jobs. They are frustrated. They have families too. They have not been given the vaccine and they are far down the list. They have to deal with all kinds of situations in any 12-hour stint.
There is utter confusion. I can only hope and believe that the vaccine will do what it is meant to do and people will not get Covid-19 but that is not the assurance I got from Tony Holohan or the Taoiseach. I am simply saying this outfit, the HSE, is not fit for purpose. Two former Taoisigh, Mr. Ahern and Mr. Cowen, told me in the House privately that they were going to disband the HSE. We all know it is not fit for purpose. We see the problems in my constituency and in Limerick, one of the worse places for beds and trolleys, this week. We see the problems with the mental health services. I had a woman on to me recently about a man looking for a private mental health therapy consultation. He had to wait 12 months when he went private. Someone said an epidemic was going to start, but it is here and we are in the middle of it. People are locked away and cannot grieve or support each other. They cannot visit houses and cannot go anywhere.
We see this tomfoolery at the airports - that is what I call it. People can waltz in, waltz out and boast about it. They might fill in a form sometimes and then they might get a call or they might not. We were told the whole tracing system crashed after Christmas because of the pressure. There is no intent to seal people coming from abroad, but there must be. There are huge pitfalls within the legislation and I believe it could be open to legal challenge.
The Minister has not given us any timeline. I know we are debating the matter today and it is being guillotined. That is a shame because it means many of the amendments that our group and other groups put down will not be reached. There is no timelime for implementation, which is something I would like to see. I know it is in the Seanad on Monday but when will it be signed into law? When will we make the preparations to enact it? We have no date. It will simply be sent up to the park to be signed like other legislation that has been passed but not implemented. How will we know what its various aspects are? Have the hotels been procured? Do they have security staff? Nothing like that is detailed. It is being done on a wing and a prayer. It is a wish list and merely a hope that people will be good. They have been very good but good only carries us so far and they are fatigued now, as are the nursing staff. It is striking to think that we gave student nurses a round of applause in the Chamber rather than pay them a meagre amount.
I have a question relating to the vaccination. Why is it so much more expensive to have it carried out here than across the water? If I am right, the fee for two vaccinations in Britain is £14 but it is €60 here for one. That is what I am told. Why is this? Is this rip-off Ireland? Why is it so expensive? Why can we not run the vaccines out in community halls using retired nurses and other professionals who signed up in their thousands for Ireland's call? Only 300 or so were engaged. They are available and we have them. Is it the preserve of certain people?
I have no faith in the vaccination figures the Taoiseach gave the other night for June. There is not a hope we will achieve those at the rate we are going, even if we had the vaccines. We cannot find a doctor's surgery in Cahir or in Dublin 10, as Deputy Smith said. There is no explanation. If I ring up, there is no one to give me an answer to when the vaccines will be available, where they are and whether they will come next. It is dysfunctional in the extreme. It is pathetic. I have serious issues about it. I am not in favour of this half-baked legislation.
We did the same here some time ago on the forestry Bill. I want to equate the two issues. I voted against that Bill because I said it was useless and it has proved to be useless. Many of my colleagues voted for it saying half a Bill was better than none. This is not even half a Bill. It is not co-ordinated, thought out or proper. Why is the Minister for Health dealing with it? I was told that he answered on "Claire Byrne Live" that he has it because he was given it. He is one of the good boys in the class. He will take his punishment and do his lessons. He was given it. Why is the Minister for Justice not dealing with these issues? The Minister for Justice could be asked about the Garda and whether gardaí had been briefed, schooled, educated and trained on this. They have enough to do without looking after quarantine in hotels and everything else. There are few of them there. I have major issues with the Bill.
I will not go on for much longer. I could go into all the different people who have been affected. Why can we have an election in a day? Everyone in the country can vote on a long day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. In most places in the country, we can have two officials per booth and the votes can be counted within a couple of days. That is for 4 million people, although maybe only half of them vote. Anyway, we can do it in one day. It will be five years to roll out a vaccine by the looks of things. Surely we have the template. I compliment a certain businessman in Tipperary, William O'Halloran, who came to me with that idea yesterday morning. He asked how we can have an election in a day. We can do that with all our organisation and co-ordination. The process has stood the test of time well, aside from the fiasco with the voting machines. Yet, we are going to go on forever.
The people are sick, sore and tired of George Lee and Fergal Bowers. They should have their own channels. I said to the former Deputy, Mr. Lee, that he had found his vocation. It is to strike fear into every elderly person in the country. We should remember these people are at home and cannot leave. Many only have one channel. We need some light entertainment but the people who want to provide that are not allowed.
People cannot go to worship. This was one of the only countries in the world where, during level 3, people could not go to public worship. However, we see some religious people flooding into buildings and flooding out and there is no monitoring of it. The same applies with certain funerals. There were probably 500 people at a funeral yesterday in east Limerick. It is shocking. There were no masks or anything else.