Dáil debates

Thursday, 21 October 2021

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


4:25 pm

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I agree with the remarks of my colleague, Deputy Flaherty, regarding the outstanding success of the vaccine programme. On other occasions when we spoke here or in the convention centre, Members questioned the roll-out of the programme and some initial delays, but the plan and programme the Minister laid out and stuck with has proven very successful. I compliment him, his senior officials and the personnel in the HSE on the very successful vaccine roll-out programme. I take the opportunity, as Members on all sides of the House have done, to quite rightly pay tribute to all the clinicians involved in administering the programme, as well as the people of various professions within the area of healthcare, including GPs and pharmacists, who administered the vaccine in their own premises. I compliment the volunteers and the retired people who went back at this time of crisis to give additional capacity to the HSE. I spoke to various people in my county and in County Monaghan who had retired and did not think they would work again in the health service but went back because they saw it as an opportunity to contribute once again to helping people who were in a vulnerable position.

I was administered two doses of the vaccine in the centre in Cavan. It was a joy to be there on each occasion and to see the joy on people's faces when they got the vaccine. I recall well that early on in the programme, those aged over 80 or over 70 got a new lease of life when they got even the first dose of the vaccine. It meant a bit of freedom for them. It has been so important. Everybody involved, including the Minister, all the personnel in the Department and the HSE and all those in the vaccination centres, GP practices and pharmacies, deserves great credit on what they have done to date and what they continue to do. We cannot say that often enough.

Initially, there was plenty of criticism. Most of us put that in a constructive way but it turned out for the best. It is to be hoped that there will be a similarly successful roll-out for the booster vaccine. I hope the Minister will be able to push that out as soon as possible because I know many people are anxious, particularly those working in healthcare and delivering services at the coalface, often to vulnerable people, and they want to get the booster jab as soon as possible.

Deputy Kenny mentioned the importance of ensuring the whole world gets the vaccine. The Taoiseach stated recently in the House that we need to have international solidarity on a global vaccine supply. That is very important. Those of us who spoke on this issue this day last year did not think we would have such a successful roll-out. It shows what can be achieved when the global community gets together and governments throughout the world put resources into dealing with a pandemic or any particular disease.

The Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement spent several hours today speaking to the people who are developing an all-island cancer research centre. They appreciate the support of the Minister and that of the Northern Ireland Minister of Health, Mr. Robin Swann. They explained to the committee what has been done on an all-Ireland basis since the Good Friday Agreement and the first memorandum of understanding in the early 1990s. They told us that it is now not just an all-Ireland project, it is a transatlantic one, in collaboration with major centres of excellence in research in the United States, as well as linking up with colleagues in Europe. That shows what can be done when research is done on a collaborative basis and people do not work in silos but, rather, work together, striving for the common good.

I listened to the Minister being interviewed on "RTÉ News: One O'Clock" on Tuesday. The one thing that struck me - Deputy Shortall referred to it as well - was when he quoted the figure that one in three establishments was not implementing the regulations in respect of the Covid certificate. Like all others present, I have been doing very little socialising for the past 15 or 16 months, but in any hostelry I visited in my own county and my constituency, I was asked to produce my Covid certificate and it was checked. It was not just a case of showing the certificate on my phone; it was checked properly. It is most disappointing that in towns with 30 establishments, ten of them are not implementing the law of the land. That is just not acceptable, especially in the context of the 20 establishments that are doing it well and properly. There can be no easing up in that regard. The Health and Safety Authority, HSA, the HSE and whatever other statutory agencies are involved must be firm in ensuring that the regulations that are in place for the benefit of everybody are adhered to.

If one operator is enforcing the regulations strictly, then all should, because it is for our benefit. People are happier to be asked for their Covid certificates when they go into a premises. Deputy Shortall referred to Dr. Tony Holohan coming through the airport and not being asked for the relevant paperwork. I have heard similar anecdotal stories, although I have not been to an airport. If employees of the State are not implementing the law, it does not set a good example to people in the private sector in respect of implementing the regulations. If people going through airports are required to show details of where they are coming from or going to, or are required to show their Covid certificate, there is no excuse for not showing it. I sincerely hope that people will act responsibly. The overwhelming majority of people are happier if they are asked for their travel documents or their Covid certificate. The overwhelming majority of people in business and going about their daily lives, for example, going out to socialise for a night or whatever it may be, want to be comfortable and know that they are in a place that is safe and hopefully free from the virus.

I understand why the Government took a cautious approach on Tuesday. It was the right approach to take. Unfortunately, the figures changed for the worse relatively recently. It was sobering to hear Dr. Holohan say on the radio this morning that there are 86 patients in ICU, with hospital admissions increasing and pressure mounting on the hospital system. We are going into winter so, hopefully, that pressure will not exacerbate problems with the system. We all know that the personnel working in the healthcare system, whether it is in the community, residential homes or hospitals, have been under enormous pressure over the past 17 months.

Within our own parliamentary party, we discussed the whole area of mental health and how the pandemic has placed additional pressures on people. I know that our colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, has worked extremely hard to put in place additional resources to improve the delivery of services. I believe there is funding in the budget this year for reconfiguring and enhancing supports in response to the challenges posed by Covid, and further improvements in developments in child and youth mental health will continue. That is much needed. The Minister of State outlined that a proportion of the additional funding will allow for the enhancement of child and youth mental health services. That is all welcome and necessary. Both the Minister and the Minister of State have outlined the different initiatives that have been taken in support of the work of NGOs, including the provision of information lines, text lines and yourmentalhealth.ie,and all of the additional supports that are necessary for young people who are going through difficult times.

Unfortunately, in my own county, a young man lost his life very recently. His parents and siblings spoke very well on the local radio about how their family member was subject to consistent and different forms of bullying and how they were anxious for the statutory agencies and Departments to take a new approach to the whole area of the crime of bullying, and at least put in place some confidential lines to ensure that there is a cross-government and a cross-agency approach so that this area can be addressed. We know of the bullying that is happening on social media, unfortunately. It is a blight on society. Many young people are being bullied constantly. As least when we were at school, there was a fight in the school yard over football, hurling or whatever, and we went home and it was over. You did not get a lot of sympathy at home if you complained about somebody pushing you and kicking you in the shins. It did not matter. When you got out of the school yard, whatever messing was going on finished. Unfortunately, now, in far too many instances, the bullying is continuing online with detrimental consequences. I think of that fine young 18-year-old, Eden Heaslip, who lost his life following consistent bullying.

I hope that the Minister's Department will play an active part, along with other Departments, in ensuring that there is a cross-government and cross-agency approach to try to tackle the whole area of bullying, particularly of young people. It is bringing additional pressure on mental health services. Obviously, if we can prevent some of the misbehaviour and misdeeds that are happening, it will improve many people's quality of life and it will also save lives. I know that there is no simple answer, but I would hope that the Minister's Department could be central, along with the Departments of Justice and Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, to a whole-of-government approach taken to ensure that the requests and suggestions of families, who have gone through so much in their lived experience of the awful loss of a young person and do not want to see it happen to others, could be taken on board in the hope that it will help avoid such loss of life or suffering to individuals. It is an area that we need to address as a matter of urgency. Person-to-person bullying is happening, but online bullying is happening to a much greater extent. It cannot be tolerated any more. The social media companies must be taken on in a big way. The Government has promised the establishment of a media commission. I sincerely hope that that commission will have the powers and the resources to tackle head-on the misbehaviour of the international media companies in what they allow to happen online.


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