Dáil debates

Thursday, 21 October 2021

Covid-19: Reframing the Challenge, Continuing our Recovery and Reconnecting: Statements


3:45 pm

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak today on the challenges that we still face in this pandemic. The announcements made by the coalition leaders on Monday regarding the new format of the reopening of our society and economy have some welcome elements but have also caused additional difficulties, especially for businesses and workers. I will focus on a small number of areas.

First, the guidance given with regard to the return to workplaces constitutes what can only be described as mixed messaging, and that is me genuinely being kind. The announcement that a full return to workplaces may not be possible until next spring will mean little to workers who have already returned to full on-site working since September. Many of them can and should work from home but have been requested by their bosses to go into workplaces despite seeing no need for it. While the public health advice is still for people to work from home where possible, the reality for many workers is that they have been summoned back. They want to continue to work from home. Without explicit guidance or a legal right to request remote or home working, the decision on the return to on-site working is solely in the hands of employers and managers. There is a power imbalance in these situations and, as a result, a lot of workers are back in what are effectively full workplaces, even though many can and should be working from home or remotely. It is not good enough for the Government to say that a full return to offices will not be possible until spring without ensuring that workers can continue to work remotely. In the absence of a legal right to request remote working, the Government must give a detailed and written outline of what is expected of workers and employers over the coming months regarding the return to workplaces and remote working. I hope that will be forthcoming immediately.

I also ask the Minister to enlighten us as to why bar counters are still off limits. Mr. Donall O'Keeffe from the Licensed Vintners Association, LVA, and Mr. Padraig Cribben from the Vintners Federation of Ireland, VFI, have queried this in recent days. The measure does not seem to make any sense to the public or those in the pub trade and I hope there is scope for it to be revisited in the interests of common sense. I have said many times that my belief and experience is that when the guidance is clear, easy to understand and logical, people will follow it. Where it is not, that creates doubt and causes problems, not just for patrons in these premises, but for workers as well.

Is it the intention of the Government, in conjunction with Fáilte Ireland, to restate the guidelines that weddings in hotels and guest houses have to be finished by 11.30 p.m.? In the past number of days, many couples have contacted me to seek specific information on this because they have been informed by their wedding venues that the Fáilte Ireland guidance states that weddings have to finish at 11.30 p.m. There is some discussion in the media about the guidelines being different. People want to be able to celebrate and follow the rules, but the rules need to be clear.

Throughout the announcement on Monday, when the Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, and the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, were at their respective podiums, they repeatedly referenced personal responsibility. The reason I mention this is because it is the public who have displayed the sort of personal responsibility that some, even in this House, have been lacking. They are displaying personal responsibility every day. They have chosen to be vaccinated in huge numbers. They wear their masks. They wash their hands. They have done everything that has been asked of them, yet when a camera is put in front of the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste, they fire back that the public needs to do more.

Maybe the Government and the people in it could and should have done more. Maybe the Taoiseach could have not voted through a recruitment moratorium in the health service last time he was in government. Perhaps he could have been more careful when establishing the HSE. Maybe the Tánaiste could have sanctioned the building of more hospital beds. Maybe he could have tackled the recruitment crisis in our health service when he was Minister for Health or, indeed, when he was Taoiseach. The list goes on.

In the few minutes remaining to me, I want to raise with the Minister the case of Mr. Nadim Hussain, a man who is on hunger strike in a direct provision centre. This young man is scheduled to be deported. I will not get into the rights and wrongs of this case, but I want to say that in the midst of a global pandemic, when our case numbers, while worrying, are low compared with other countries, it is unconscionable that somebody would be deported. I ask the Minister to please raise this case with the Minister for Justice and consider the plight of this man who is on day eight of his hunger strike. As I said, I do not want to get into the specifics of the case but I ask the Minister to please take a look at it.

Working together on solving something requires a high level of humility and self-awareness. I implore the three leaders of the Government to be mindful of this.


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