Thursday, 21 October 2021
Covid-19: Reframing the Challenge, Continuing our Recovery and Reconnecting: Statements
I will start by making a point on hospitality and the situation we will have tomorrow. In the past 24 to 48 hours, we have heard from the hotel industry, the restaurateurs and the publicans. The group we have not heard from very much in the media, and I challenge the media on this, is the workers in the hospitality industry. In some ways this is not surprising. Those workers are generally not organised. They are in non-union workplaces. Many of them are in anti-union workplaces. Some of them will be going back to work with different feelings and emotions.
Someone sent a text to a radio debate I was at last night looking forward to being able to pull a pint again and hearing the beat of the music. That is completely understandable. There will also be concerns about health and safety. This is not surprising when we see the way some publicans in particular have acted in recent weeks. The idea of checking Covid certificates at the door whereby people flash their phone and in they go has not been exceptional. A Covid blitz is being organised over the weekend. This is good. I encourage workers to have conversations among themselves and discuss what steps they might be in a position to take to defend their own health and safety if their employers are negligent in this regard. Workers can make a difference on this.
While I am on the subject of workers, I welcome the comments of the deputy chief medical officer, Dr. Ronan Glynn, on working at home where possible over the winter period. Many workers will welcome this statement. The feedback from employers is more mixed. Some employers are fine with it and will go with it. Others do not like it but will go along with it reluctantly. There are others again, and not one or two, who will stand against it and push back against it. Again, I encourage workers to discuss it among themselves, organise among themselves and push back where it happens. There are unions that people can join. My office is available if workers need help or advice in this regard.
We have almost 100 people in ICU. We have almost 500 people with Covid in our hospitals. Clearly a surge is taking place. Even if we had a very strong health service it would come under pressure from that surge but not to the same degree as our health service is coming under pressure. This is not a comment on our health service workers who have been magnificent. It is a comment on successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Governments which have left our hospitals in a position that they should not be in, with a lack of beds, including ICU beds. There is still need for action on this front.
I want to make some points on people who are unvaccinated. To be clear, I am pro-vaccination. The benefits of vaccination can be seen by the situation in the hospitals and ICUs. The percentage of people there who are vaccinated is far less of a percentage of that cohort than the percentage who are unvaccinated. I appeal to people who are unvaccinated to get vaccinated or at least to have conversations about it, in particular with medical professionals.
I have listened carefully to radio debates over the past 24 hours. I participated in one last night. I want to voice a note of concern. I do not want to see a situation where Government spokespersons, however subtly, try to divert the anger, confusion and questions that are there from the Government and on to the shoulders of people who are unvaccinated. The media should watch this carefully and call it out where it happens. It is not in society's interest to create a pariah group. The Government should not attempt to go down that road.
Covid passes were to last until October. They are now being extended for the winter. Covid will be with us for a number of years. The WHO has said this recently. Is the Government aiming to make these a semi-permanent feature of Irish life? There would be serious civil liberty implications if that were the case. I want to put a marker down on this.
On the issue of a Covid bonus, I would say the Government kicked it to touch in the budget. It has been very quiet on the matter this week. Workers will not accept crumbs from the table with one day of a bank holiday. There needs to be a real Covid bonus for public sector and private sector workers. This includes the low paid who helped get us through the pandemic on wages we would hardly be able to pay rent on. The minimum wage should be increased to €15 an hour.
The question has come up as to whether we should have boosters in Irish society when people have not been vaccinated in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Why is there a scarcity of vaccines? The industrial capacity is there to provide vaccines for everyone in the world. It is because we have production for profit and not production for need. We need a waiver on the patents from the World Trade Organization. We also need public ownership of the pharmaceutical industry and production for need. This can only be done on the basis of a socialist plan of production internationally. This is what is needed.
It is positive that antigen tests are coming more into the picture now. Why does the Government have a stockpile of only 2 million? It has been obvious for a long time that they would play a role at a certain point. There should be tens of millions of these tests. We need tens of millions of them. They should be freely available. Urgent steps need to be taken to resolve this issue now.