Dáil debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Covid-19: New Measures: Statements


7:17 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)

I will take up where Deputy Lahart left off, but first I wish to say that I make my comments, as always, fully in the knowledge that we have a pandemic and that the number of cases to date, as of 20 November, is 538,255 - obviously it is a little bit higher now - there have been 5,609 deaths, 609 confirmed cases in hospital and 130 in ICU. That said, I wish to look at the comment made by Deputy Lahart on "begrudgers". Twenty months have passed since the introduction of the first Covid legislation. Around the same time, the idea that people would be discriminated against on the basis of their Covid-19 immunity status was described as "a scary possibility" in April 2020 by the WHO special envoy on Covid-19, David Nabarro. He said: "It will be a frightening schism. Those with antibodies will be able to travel and work, and the rest will be discriminated against". We have proceeded with that discrimination. It is at the point where it is accepted, and I have a great problem with that.

Let me deal with other matters first in my few minutes. As the Minister well knows, I come from a city and I have repeatedly asked the Minister about respite services and day centres there, which remain closed despite the vaccination rates we have of 92% and the praise we have received for that. I would have thought that any civilised society that learned from its mistakes would put the vulnerable first. I would class them as the most vulnerable, but they are certainly not being treated in that way.

I come from a city where the news today was that public health nurses are not available to visit mothers who have just gone home from hospital having had a baby because we do not have enough public health nurses.

I come from a city where people are waiting for an MRI. There is one MRI machine in a hospital that serves almost 1 million people. In 2013 my sister died. I will not go into that now, but she was waiting for an MRI. I rang for her at that point to find out that there were 36 others waiting for an MRI in June 2013. Here we are in 2021. I do not think begrudgery is part of my make-up, but things must be put in context. The pandemic came on top of a creaking hospital system that was falling apart and that remains the case.

Twenty months on, the legislation continues without any review. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has made its concerns about this emergency legislation repeatedly known and the fact that there has been no human rights impact assessment on the vaccination certificate. There has been no assessment of the efficacy of the vaccination certificate in curbing the spread of the virus, so there is no relation to what is targeted.

The Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response completed its work more than a year ago, but there is still no action. It highlighted that in the urgency of the pandemic vulnerable people were forgotten. It recommended strongly on a cross-party basis – I do not think any party objected – that we analyse and examine why the vulnerable were not protected in nursing homes. That did not happen, and it still has not happened.

I have repeatedly asked for a proactive debate in the Dáil to look at all aspects of the matter, vaccination being just one element in a whole approach to dealing with the pandemic and the pandemics that are to come, because of the way we behave in society, looking on it as if we can endlessly extract, which we cannot. We know that from climate change. We have never had a proactive debate in this Chamber looking at all of the measures. We proceed from crisis to crisis. This crisis has come once again because the Government has utterly failed to plan, prepare or anticipate or to come back to us regarding public health and tell us what has been done since, regionally and locally and in cities so that we have a public health system that we can believe in when we hear them talking to us in Galway and in the region. The Crowe Horwath report was completely undermined as well.

In my remaining 20 seconds I wish to point out another inconsistency. I have received no reply from the Minister to this. On 11 November the Chief Medical Officer wrote a letter to the Minister including many important points. Based on the advice provided by HIQA, it endorsed the recommendation that the period of presumptive protective immunity following infection would be nine months. Members of my family had Covid and they got a certificate for six months. Could the Minister explain the discrepancy? I am sorry, as I am over my time so I will leave it at that, but I would really like an answer.


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