Thursday, 25 February 2021
Health (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
As the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, is leaving, I take the opportunity to join Deputy Fitzmaurice in saying that the situation he and his family faced is regrettable and needs to be condemned. There is no place for it in our society. Criticism of Ministers is one thing, but targeting of a home like that is unacceptable.
Deputy Jim O'Callaghan made an interesting point about what we are asking of the Irish people and what we are asking of people taking flights into this country. It is welcome that people in government are making that point. Unfortunately, it has taken far too long for Ministers to hear that point and for action to be taken in this area. People feel enormous frustration and anger, particularly this week. There is a sense of drip feeding, confusion and contradiction. Even when things are announced the public do not have much faith that that is what will happen because so many things have fallen through or are being delayed.
We had the fiasco with special education in January. There is not necessarily much confidence that we will see success with schools in the coming weeks. I certainly hope that we do, but people have an attitude that they will believe it when they see it. That is caused by the poor communication and co-ordination on the part of the Government, and the feeling that there is a profound lack of leadership. That is really aggravating people because they feel they have sacrificed an enormous amount over the past year and the least they deserve is a feeling that there is a plan, a strategy and a coherent approach to get us out of this. People are angry that they are hearing such information, which is crucial to their lives and impacts on their liberty and their enjoyment of so many aspects of their life, through side comments and interviews rather than being addressed directly.
I welcome some movement on the hotel quarantine plans, but it is a day late and a dollar short. I am alarmed that it is taken so long for the Bill to come before the Dáil. NPHET first recommended mandatory hotel quarantining on 8 May last year. There has been a delay of 293 days in the Minister's drafting this legislation and bringing it before the Dáil. All sorts of reasons were advanced as to why that was the case. However, I agree with Deputy Jim O'Callaghan's point. When we are asking people to make such enormous sacrifices, it is incomprehensible that such a lax approach is being taken to an area of such high risk as international travel, particularly given the impact that variants from different parts of the world have had on the trajectory of the disease, and the impact they could have on hospitalisations and indeed death. The risks that are involved in not managing international travel well enough are enormous.
Even after today, this system will not be in operation for some weeks. It is simply not good enough. Mandatory hotel quarantining for arrivals from only 20 countries is not sufficient. This legislation does not go far enough. It is difficult to ask the public to continue to make the enormous sacrifices they have been making, including staying at home under level 5 restrictions and doing all that they can to ensure that Covid does not spread, when the Government is not doing all it can to stop Covid and its variants coming into the country. My colleagues have submitted amendments that would see these provisions extended and I hope the Government will consider them.
Travel restrictions will have a severe impact on the aviation sector. Government and the European institutions need to ensure that the aviation sector, particularly outside the major capitals, is supported. I have been raising concerns about my local airport, Cork Airport, for several months. About 2,200 jobs rely directly on the airport with a further 10,000 jobs relying on it indirectly. There are workers who are on the breadline and put to the pin of their collars. We need additional Government support. Travel restrictions, while necessary, will obviously have an impact on airline workers, ancillary staff and all airport-connected workers. We need to act swiftly to protect these workers and their families. Wage supports alone are not enough. The Government cannot continue to ignore the plight of aviation workers. They need payment breaks from lenders. They need protection from credit rating impairment. They need tailored supports, particularly workers facing possible further job losses.
The Government needs to use the €245 million connectivity fund to support the aviation sector. To reach its full potential, Cork needs a viable international airport. We need to ensure that airports such as Cork Airport are protected in this context and I ask the Government to ensure that is the case.