Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Róisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
The Government's approach to antigen testing is just not good enough. In the midst of a fourth wave of the virus, after two years, the health service is clearly under enormous ongoing pressure. The Government tells us our best weapon to stem this surge is personal responsibility. People are trying. Most of them are doing their best. Why is the Government not giving them the basic tools they need to win this fight? There are too many missed opportunities and mixed messages to even mention. Why has the Government yet to roll out a system of subsidised antigen testing? We were all under the impression that the Cabinet would agree a scheme yesterday but, incredibly, it has been reported that the Cabinet did not even discuss Covid yesterday. The biggest threat the country is facing did not even get a mention. Last night, the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, said a scheme for subsidised antigen testing may not be brought to Cabinet until next week. The lack of urgency and failure to respond at speed to a rapidly escalating emergency is truly shocking, or at least it should be shocking.
The CEO of the Irish Pharmacy Union, IPU, Darragh O'Loughlin, shed some light on this delay on "The Tonight Show" last night. He said it was very difficult for the IPU and the HSE to put a plan in place to roll out antigen testing when the Government has not made decisions about what it wants to do. Nobody knows when exactly or to what extent the Government will be subsidising the tests because, he said, that decision just has not been made. It is standard in any negotiation for each side to know what it wants and what it is negotiating for, yet according to Mr. O'Loughlin, the Government has not the foggiest idea what kind of subsidy scheme it wants to put in place.
This is a mess. We know antigen testing is not a silver bullet, but it is a vital tool in this fight, one that many people simply cannot afford to use currently. There is a strong case for antigen tests to be free. Will the Taoiseach stop the wrangling about subsidies and just get the tests out to people so they can use them as required and in line with public health advice? Why is the Irish Pharmacy Union in the dark about what the Government wants them to do? What kind of subsidy is the Government prepared to put in place? When will it be available and why is the Government so slow to respond when we all know that speed is of the essence?