Thursday, 25 February 2021
Health (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
The Minister came in here yesterday and said that quarantine measures were being brought in to protect the vaccine programme in order that it is not undermined by new variants. What the Minister has failed to acknowledge is that a limited list of countries is not good enough. We need all people travelling from all countries to be quarantined on arrival. That is the only way we can provide protection from new variants getting into the country.
Ordinary people have done their best. People have stayed home and kept their businesses shut. They have been out of work. Parents have kept their children in and they have had no schools to go to. These people want the Government to provide safety and to keep the variants out. Last week, over 10,000 people flew into this country. The Taoiseach said that half the people who came into the country in January were coming back from holidays. We knew there was a Brazilian variant at the time. We knew there was a risk and yet this Government, and the Minister, let 1,500 people travel in from Brazil. What happened then? Three cases were confirmed coming through Dublin Airport and there could be more. People are angry at the Government's failure to solve this problem. People are angry at the Government for failing to prevent new variants coming into the country. A lady called Margaret from Dublin Hill in Cork rang me this week. She is a pensioner with underlying conditions who has been a prisoner in her own home - her words, not mine - for a year. She cannot understand why the Government has taken a year to bring in an action that is too little, too late. We need everyone to be quarantined on arrival.
We also need an all-Ireland solution. We need everyone to work together on the island of Ireland, irrespective of politics. This is about public health and safety. The Taoiseach needs to step up. He has damaged relationships with some of our partners in the North. We should be strengthening our ties because at the end of the day, we are all in it together on this island. Covid-19 does not recognise party politics, the Border or partition. If we are going to get ahead of this virus, we must not recognise them either and we must work together.
The Taoiseach stood in front of the country two days ago and said that he understands how hard this is but I do not think he does. People are hurting. They are angry, nervous and scared by all the mixed messages and the leaks from different people trying to beat each other out to the media. We want to support the Minister. We want to support the Government, because at the end of the day this is public health and we are all in it together, but not with the way the Government is behaving. This Bill does not go far enough to deliver what we need.
An hour ago, Munster Post Primary Schools GAA cancelled its 2020-21 season and it will not be the only school organisation to do so. All the different sporting, cultural and arts programmes are closed down at the moment. Children, people with disabilities and the elderly have been the most affected by Covid-19. There is so much more I could say but I will just give the Minister one statistic. Merchants Quay Ireland found in its research that four out of five people it interviewed had relapsed into addiction during the Covid-19 crisis. That says an enormous amount. We are bringing amendments forward and I hope the Minister will accept them because we need to get ahead of this.