Thursday, 21 October 2021
Covid-19: Reframing the Challenge, Continuing our Recovery and Reconnecting: Statements
It would be ridiculous to stand up here and not cite the growing number of new cases and hospital and ICU admissions. Reframing the challenge of Covid-19 is difficult in the context of our current figures. Our children are of particular concern in the context of Covid itself, long Covid and the wider impacts on their physical, mental and emotional health. It is hard to believe that while the Government is committed to retrofitting our schools under the EU energy performance of buildings directive, to include ventilation for health reasons, this plan has not been advanced. Once it was evident that Covid-19 was airborne, safe and warm ventilation in schools should have been acted on with urgency, and I urge the Minister to speak to the Departments of Education and the Environment, Climate and Communications about that and get going on it.
On a wider basis, where vaccine protection is possibly waning and the seasonality of the virus seems to be waxing, we have to make special efforts to encourage and to protect outdoor activities for our children. I believe a special commitment has to be made to this to make sure our children can access outdoor activities as safely as possible because they need them for their health and well-being. They need one another, their friends and their sense of community, and being outdoors is both possible and doable. If we could put half as much thought and talk into looking after our children as we have put into getting the population into licensed premises to consume alcohol, society would be the better for it. Reconnecting is important but it must be a reconnection that is safe and considered in the context of where we are, not where we imagined or hoped we would be. I would like to see a real and firm commitment on the part of the Government to put our children first in schools and to make their lives safer. I believe this can be done because where there is a political will there is a political way.
Finally, on this, the day that partition and the blight it inflicted on our island nation is being commemorated - shamefully, in my opinion, and notably without Uachtarán na hÉireann nó Banríon Shasana - we have to consider the impact partition has had on our Covid experience and outlook and the challenge we faced because of that. Instead of the necessary all-island approach we needed, both sides, North and South, had one hand tied behind their backs. That is no way to proceed to protect our people. Partition is a challenge that must be rectified before another pandemic hits, and we would really want to get on with that.