Wednesday, 14 July 2021
Lifting of Covid-19 Restrictions: Motion [Private Members]
“That Dáil Éireann: notes that under Bunreacht na hÉireann(Constitution of Ireland):— Article 40.1 guarantees that all citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law;and calls on the Minister for Health to, in exercise of the powers conferred on him by sections 5 and 31A (inserted by section 10 of the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020 (No. 1 of 2020)) of the Health Act 1947 (No. 28 of 1947):
— Article 40.3.1° protects the right to bodily integrity of all citizens;
— Article 40.6.1°.ii guarantees the right of citizens to assemble peaceably, subject to laws to prevent meetings which are a danger to the general public; and
— Article 44.2.1° guarantees to every citizen the right to freedom to practice his or her religion, subject to public order and morality;— allow hospitality businesses across the State to carry on their business, regardless of whether the said business involves the sale of food or beverages for indoor or outdoor consumption, without requiring the occupier, manager, or any other person for the time being in charge of the premises in which the hospitality business is being carried out, to discriminate between customers on the basis of whether or not they have been vaccinated against Covid-19 or SARS-CoV-2 infection;
— allow attendance at sporting and other events, subject only to such non-discriminatory limitations as are necessary and proportionate in the interests of public safety;
— respect the profession and practice of religion, and allow a minister of religion or priest (or any equivalent thereof in any religion) to lead worship or religious services, subject only to such restrictions as are necessary, proportionate, prescribed in the Constitution of Ireland, and respect the autonomy afforded to religious communities in a democratic society; and
— accept that the pursuit of a de factozero-Covid strategy, aimed at the elimination of all Covid-19 variants, would result in permanent and irreversible damage to the economic and social fabric of the State and the integrity of the democratic process."
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this very important motion. The issues raised in the motion with regard to vaccine passports and restrictions are of concern to many people in this State. That is the very reason it has been tabled. People are very distressed and feel the restrictions are overpowering, heavy-handed and unwarranted in their degree. I thank Brian Ó Domhnaill, Deputy McNamara and David, a staff member in my office, for their hard work on this motion. The motion deals with the most fundamental constitutional legal principles and the protections they embody. It seeks to restore those principles to the level of political primacy they deserve if they are to be taken seriously in a democratic society worthy of the name.
My colleagues and I are tired of the lip service paid to those principles within this House and by the Government. From the outset of this pandemic, we have argued that the measures taken had to be proportionate and reasonable. A lot of the time, we saw hysterical reactions. Measures had to be reasonable and grounded in the evidence. That is why the motion we are dealing with today is consistent and cautious. It calls on Government not to abandon all restrictions but merely to allow hospitality businesses across the State to carry on their trade and to allow attendance at sporting and religious events, subject only to those non-discriminatory limitations as are necessary and proportionate in the interests of public safety.
By no stretch of the imagination can the system proposed by Government be seen as non-discriminatory or proportionate. It is irredeemably discriminatory in the most negative sense. It is also coercive and controlling. I believe legal challenges will follow should this legislation go ahead. It is not just bad law but a contorted and twisted version of what good law should be. My colleague, Deputy Mattie McGrath, has called it medical apartheid and I agree entirely with that description. What else is apartheid but a system of segregation based on conditions or grounds outside of a person’s control? It is a system whereby the overwhelming might of the state is utilised to apply pressure, both direct and indirect, on the population to achieve a specific aim of government. This is certainly true for those with particular health conditions who may not be able to take the vaccine. People also have their own private reasons for not doing so. Some people have a condition outside of their control and yet this Government seeks to disregard that factor and penalise them by restricting their access. Even if the Government seeks to create an exemption for such people, this would still require the forcible and non-voluntary disclosure of information to private businesses. Both of those scenarios are entirely unacceptable. The very word "apartheid" literally means separateness or apartness. What else is the proposed system of vaccine passes but a system that embeds apartness into the hearts of families and communities?
We will not allow ourselves to be characterised as reckless or irresponsible and we will vigorously defend ourselves against any person in this House or outside who claims that we are being reckless or irresponsible in bringing forward this motion. It was absolutely shameful and outrageous for the Taoiseach to recently suggest to our leader, Deputy Mattie McGrath, that, if Government had adopted the kind of approach we are advocating, more people would have died. That is not true. This kind of absurd counterfactual rhetoric speaks volumes about the paternalistic approach that this Government has chosen to take. It has taken a forceful approach and put in place heartless and cruel measures. The Taoiseach's statement was a vicious attempt to shut down the kind of conversation that we urgently need to have around the proportionality of the measures being proposed by the Government.
In the beginning, everyone was terrified and we reluctantly adopted and endorsed draconian legislation. We used that word a lot but it is important to reflect on it and not to allow it to roll off our lips as if it were no longer a matter of great consequence. We cannot and should not become familiar with draconian laws and treat them as if they are now par for the course and politically acceptable. In such a world the abnormal becomes normal and people do not raise questions. That is how the road to oppressive state power is created. That is something my colleagues and I will never agree with. People fought long and hard for freedom in this country. We certainly will not sacrifice or jeopardise that freedom in any way. The measures proposed by Government, including the vaccine passport, overstep the mark and go way too far. In that sense and in this specific instance, the ends most certainly do not justify the means with regard to minimising the spread of Covid. This is why the sunset clauses were necessary but it is also the case that sunset clauses can create a kind of get-out clause allowing us to ease our political conscience.
We need to fundamentally re-examine the nature of the laws that this Government continues to say are necessary. It goes much deeper than mere parliamentary scrutiny. We need to ask why opposing such laws or seeking their amendment is now seen as tantamount to wishing death on the vulnerable. This is a dangerous situation and we must resist the issue being unfairly framed and interpreted in that way to suit a Government agenda. The laws and the vaccine pass system that are being proposed cannot be made benign or harmless within the context of a massive programme of vaccine roll-outs. We are dealing with a Government paralysed by extreme caution and completely devoid of strong leadership. This Government adopts an attitude of deferential subservience to health experts who are now outliers even within the European context.
For those of us who are bringing forward this motion, this debate is an attempt to take a principled stand against the so-called abundance of caution that will have shrivelled up the social, cultural and economic life of this State for almost two years. Those like Declan Ganley who have challenged the restrictions on religious practice through the courts system have been strung along for months with no end in sight and no resolution to the question of whether the laws have infringed basic religious liberties. It is our belief that they have. This is also entirely unacceptable. What does it say about the priority accorded to such issues when our own courts create the perception that they are deflecting the issue and hoping it will simply go away?
I ask colleagues of all parties and none to seriously reflect on the aims of this motion and to give back to the people the rights that are properly theirs, without recourse to discriminatory measures. It is now time to allow our country and our people to thrive again and not to oppress them. People in this country were oppressed for hundreds of years and now our own people in government are trying to replicate that and to oppress and suppress. They do not listen to any other views, take away people's basic rights and freedoms and invade their privacy. That is what is happening. We hear much about data protection laws but rural pubs will now have to ask people about parts of their health histories. That is no one's business but the individual's own.
The Government has stepped way too far over the line this time. It has encroached on people's freedom, privacy and rights.
I thank our staff for putting together this motion. It is a very thoughtful motion and one that is led by the will of the people in this country. I have yet to receive an email or other form communication from anybody in which there is any kind of agreement on what the Government is trying to do. What it is doing is a shambolic mess and that could be seen yesterday at various press conferences. Members of the Government do not have a clue about what they are putting forward, unfortunately, and that will again be to the detriment of people who will have to implement these unworkable rules or who will be the victims of them. Today, I think especially of our young people who will suffer most because of the legislation the Government is putting through. The purpose of our motion is to try to set about making a fair society.
There is some rumour about the legislation coming through that even vaccinated people who are allowed into a bar will not be allowed go to the counter. If that is the case, why are we allowing people, who may not be vaccinated at all, go to shop counters? Why discriminate against restaurants and pubs by not allowing people to place their orders at the counter and simply go back to their seats? I do not know what side of the bed some of these Ministers get out of in the morning, but it is certainly not the same side as most other people.
The hospitality sector is worth anything up to €5 billion to €7.5 billion to the economy, and some 260,000 jobs are at risk. Many of the restaurant owners and publicans I have spoken to are absolutely flabbergasted as to why they were singled out by this Government as the cause of the spread of coronavirus. That is exactly what happened, even though most of their establishments have been closed for more than 400 days. These people were not the cause of coronavirus spreading. This is an attack on, and violation of, our people's human rights.
Many publicans have spoken to me about this issue. People may call this a conflict of interest, but I have two brothers who own pubs - one in Bandon and one in Bantry - in west Cork. Both pubs have been closed for almost 400 days because they do not have outside facilities. My brothers and other publicans cannot understand how they or their staff can stand at the door to police every man, woman and child that comes into their premises. It is insane, totally unworkable and completely unfair. Members of the Government are rushing through legislation in an absolute panic to get it across the line because they got such a whacking in their constituencies. Their eyes were opened for them but they are now in a situation where they are putting forward very bad legislation.
To return to the owners of businesses, be they restaurants or pubs, they or their staff will have to stand at the door at all times asking people if they have certificates. The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, said yesterday that people will get the certificates from their doctors but those doctors have said there is absolutely no way this will happen. What the hell is wrong with the Government? It is making it up as it goes along and, as already stated, putting through rushed legislation.
The Rural Independent Group has tabled a very clear motion that will give an ideal opportunity to members of the Opposition, who have spent the past two weeks shouting and roaring, along with Deputies and Senators from the main political parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, about pubs and restaurants that should have been allowed to open their doors and run their businesses in a very safe manner. Every one of those business owners wanted to open in a very safe manner and had made sure that there was social distancing and sanitation and that masks were used. That individual wanted to run with all of this but, unfortunately, they were not given the opportunity.
Members of this Government failed to speak to the people to whom I refer. They spoke to them after the crisis began, which is typical. They started talking to them when the horse had bolted but they would not speak to them in the past few months when they had plenty of time to talk to them in order to discover what they were going to put in place in their businesses to make sure they could open their doors. Unfortunately, the Government did not do that. We are left in a situation where 2 million people have been vaccinated and 3 million have not. As Deputy Danny Healy-Rae said last week, people will be left outside the door like dogs. Long ago, dogs were left outside the door but now the dogs will be inside and people will be outside.
Our motion is very clear. There is no mincing of words. We will be facing the following situation with the legislation. Somebody will go into a bar for a few drinks at 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. The young person serving behind the counter may want to get vaccinated - we will not say whether he or she does or not - but cannot because there is no vaccine available. He or she will work right up to 11 p.m. If his or her boss gives him or her a half hour off because he or she has worked hard and if he or she is caught inside that same establishment, he or she will be fined and so will the owner. However, that young person can still work all night serving drink to the same people. It is insane. The writers of "Killinaskully" could not come up with an act like that. You would not get away with it.
I am glad to get the opportunity to talk on this very important matter. I thank Deputy Mattie McGrath and his office girls for helping us with this motion. More than anyone else, I look forward to every door being opened in the hospitality sector. Whether the businesses are pubs or small restaurants, they have been closed for far too long. The longer they remain closed, the greater the risk that many of them will never open again. That is a fact. Attitudes are changing and, possibly, people are resigned to buying alcohol and having a few drinks at home because there is no problem with meeting the Garda on the road or whatever if they do so. People are doing things differently now. I worry that things will never again be the same for many businesses.
I have made calls in the House, day after day, that pubs and small restaurants be allowed to open in the very same way as hotels and businesses in other sectors. Nearly every other sector is open. When we look across the Border, businesses are all open up there. I know of stags, hens and all kinds of parties, travelling up to the North. There is no problem about it and people are drinking inside. This is happening to such an extent that when we looked for beds for people we were taking up on the next bus, there was not a bed to be had. In the whole of the North of Ireland, all the beds are full because they are booked up by people from the South. That is the truth of it. Over the past five years, we had no problem getting beds for people going to the North to get their eyes, hips or whatever done, but now we have a serious problem.
The Government is bringing in its legislation in a final attempt to put restrictions in place, because it knows pubs will have to open. What is being done is very unfair and it is dividing the people. Where is data protection? If we ring up about someone's medical card or something, there is such a rigmarole about data protection. Now, however, there is not a bother in the world. One person is supposed to ask a customer coming in, "Have you been vaccinated? Show me your vaccination pass". This is totally and absolutely ridiculous. So many people have rung me, emailed me and written to me asking me not to support this legislation the Government is bringing in because it is creating a divide.
I know of women with blood clotting problems. Last night, another lady said, "Surely Danny, you won't vote for something to keep me outside the door." She has a problem because she takes blood thinners and her doctor has advised her not to get vaccinated. Is she to be kept outside while her husband, son and daughter go into the local pub? Is that what the Government will do to her? I cannot do that. Several other people who got the first vaccine had a reaction to it. They finished up in Cork University Hospital where they had to stay for several nights. They are not taking the second vaccine and will not be able to get this pass. I know of one man, who is more entitled than anyone else to have a couple of pints because he works very hard, for whom it will mean being left outside. Who will police this? It is not policeable. There are many other things the Garda need to do. Gardaí are up to their necks already, so what more resources are being given to the Garda Síochána to do this?
The Government had no plan. It opened nearly everywhere else on 1 June but it did not come up with a plan until the week before 5 July when it stated that the reopening was going to be delayed again.
When so much displeasure was expressed about it, the Government said it wanted a plan from the vintners. It met the vintners, in other words, after the fair. Some of the vintners' organisations say they will go with the proposal but they have not contacted their rank and file.
Young people are being forced to look for the vaccine. Chemists and pharmacists are inundated with young people, aged between 18 and 30, looking for the vaccine so they are legally allowed inside a public house or restaurant. This plan is totally unfair. It is creating a divide and I cannot vote for it in its present form. What the Government is trying to do to the people, especially in rural Ireland, is totally unfair.
I thank Deputies for raising these important matters and allowing us time to discuss them today. I would prefer we were not standing on the floor of the Dáil discussing this, the variant had not arrived and we were in a completely different space. It is not perfect but it gives us the opportunity to get the doors open within NPHET recommendations. It it something we can build on. That is what I am hearing from vintners and from Adrian Cummins of the Restaurants Association of Ireland.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on everyone across Ireland and it continues to do so. From the outset, the Government put in place a robust, responsive strategy that has successfully mitigated the impact of Covid-19. Our response is health-led, risk-based and evidence-informed, with the protection of public health being the overarching consideration. This strategy, which has been consistently informed by international guidance from the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, ECDC, and WHO, has protected people from illness and saved lives.
Across the country, there has been a continuous high level of co-operation with, and support for, public health measures. Solidarity has been the cornerstone of our national response to the pandemic. Together we have made significant and sustained progress on suppressing the virus over recent months thanks to the individual and collective efforts that have been made. There has been unprecedented cross-society, cross-sectoral co-operation with the many initiatives to support the national response.
This robust, responsive strategy, together with public action, means we are in a relatively good place. Ireland compares well internationally and is among the countries in the EU with lower number of cases and deaths per 100,000 of the population. Of course, each one of these deaths represents a significant loss and I extend my heartfelt condolences and sympathies to all who have lost loved ones and everyone who has suffered as a result of the pandemic.
We are making progress. Vaccines are proving crucial in our efforts to overcome this pandemic and reopen our society. We are fortunate to have safe vaccines which are proving very effective against severe illness. We did not think it would be possible to have such an effective suite of vaccines available within a year of the declaration of the pandemic. This is a testament to global collaboration and human accomplishment. In Ireland we are reaping the benefits. Our national vaccination programme continues at pace. Over 4.7 million vaccines have been administered. Over 2.6 million people have received a first dose and 1.85 million are now fully vaccinated. More than half of the eligible population is now fully vaccinated and this significant progress has enabled the partial reopening of Irish society. Through April, May and June, the Government has gradually eased public health restrictions in line with the reopening plan set out in Covid-19 Resilience and Recovery: The Path Ahead while remaining responsive to the evolving epidemiological situation.
We know that the evolution of variants is a natural aspect of a pandemic and we have seen a number of variants arise. The Delta variant poses a significant threat to the progress we have made. This variant is significantly more transmissible and poses a real risk, in particular, to those who are not yet fully protected though vaccination. Our case numbers are growing. The national 14-day incidence rate increased from 93 per 100,000 in the week of 24 June to 146 as of 12 July. Community test positivity is increasing and the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in hospital has increased. This is concerning, especially since our health and social care system, particularly our hospital system, remains in a fragile position with a significant backlog of non-Covid care following the demand for Covid-19 care in the early part of this year. This has been exacerbated by the ransomware attack on the HSE. In addition, evidence of the long-term health consequences of Covid-19 continue to emerge and this may place further demands on our services.
Recent modelling by the Irish epidemiological modelling advisory group, which advises NPHET, shows that we will see a significant number of new cases of Covid- 19 by the end of September, which, if not mitigated against, will impact negatively on our healthcare system and result in many more deaths from Covid-19. The Delta variant therefore poses a serious risk. The public health advice from NPHET has been clear that higher risk activities involving significant levels of social mixing in indoor environments should only be permitted for those who are vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19.
We have made significant progress in reopening our society and economy and we are committed to continuing to reopen and regenerate. However, we must protect the progress we have made and continue to protect those most vulnerable to the severe impacts of Covid-19. Our core priorities are protecting health and social care, education and childcare services.
On 29 June, the Government announced the next phase of reopening the economy and society. From 5 July, the numbers permitted at outdoor organised events increased to 200 attendees for the majority of venues, with a maximum of 500 people permitted in venues with capacity greater than 5,000. This is welcome and is enabling people to reconnect with their enjoyment of the arts, culture and sport. The Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media has been engaging with a working group of the FAI, the IRFU, the GAA and Sport Ireland and guidelines have been published outlining how spectators can be safely accommodated at sporting events. Sports and cultural pilot events are taking place in June and July throughout the country. The intention is that we will learn from these pilots and that, subject to the epidemiological profile at the time, they may enable greater attendances at future events. The Government is fully committed to enabling communities around Ireland to once again attend our favourite sports and entertainment events.
Due to the risk posed by the Delta variant, it has not been possible yet to reopen all settings or activities. The Government decided to pause the easing of restrictions on a number of higher risk activities, including indoor restaurant and bar services. Since 29 June, the Government has been working with the hospitality sector to enable the safer reopening of indoor restaurant and bar services and legislation on this will be introduced later today. It is important to note that our aim is not only to open indoor hospitality but to keep it open while keeping the people of the country safe.
While in-person religious services are permitted with protective measures, the Government has advised that organised religious ceremonies, with the exception of weddings and funerals, do not take place at present. We recognise the importance of these occasions to communities and families and the Government continues to work with religious leaders to ensure all religious ceremonies can return as soon as it is safe to do so.
I assure Deputies that the Government is deeply aware of the continuing economic and social impacts of the current public health restrictions. It is committed to the continued gradual easing of public health restrictions in line with the evolving epidemiological situation. Safe reopening is the goal, and is essential for the benefit of our society, communities and economy. As a rural Deputy, I know the impact it has on local pubs and restaurants. I know that having a restaurant open to full capacity for a week in July is the equivalent of a month in November, December or January. That is why we are having a phased reopening and a compromise has been found. That is why the Government is committed to listening and working with industry, including the vintners associations and the Restaurants Association of Ireland. That collaboration has brought us to where we are today.
This is not just the Government making a decision-----
I am sorry, I am speaking through the Chair. This is not just the Government making a decision as to how we reopen but is a collaboration. It is equally not just about young people versus old people. This is to ensure that everybody can get back to normal society.
I will be dividing the time in half between me and Deputy O'Donoghue from Limerick.
At the outset, I thank the people who work in the offices of the Rural Independent Group for their excellent work in helping to present this important and timely motion. I also want to thank Deputy Nolan for introducing it and Deputy Mattie McGrath for his work.
Our group in general want to make a point of great importance clear because it has been thrown at me a number of times that we now are saying we do not want the hospitality to open fully. Nothing could be further from the truth. The strongest advocate for the opening of this sector has been the Rural Independent Group. To be clear, our motion calls on the Government to immediately allow for the reopening of all indoor hospitality to everyone, whether vaccinated or not and if approved, all indoor hospitality could be reopened from next Thursday.
My first comment at the outset, and the Minister of State is aware that I am not being personally critical of her in the slightest, is that if one takes what happened yesterday, I wonder what has gone wrong in the Government. It simply cannot start off in the morning to give a clear cohesive message because one Minister is going on one radio station saying one thing, another Minister goes on another radio station saying another thing, completely contradicting each other, and the public is then expected to buy into that to say that this is all right. This is totally confusing. I may not blame the Ministers 100% because perhaps they are confused, busy or have a great deal on their plate. I will ask one thing, however. What are the advisers doing? If advisers cannot get their story right in the morning in order to have the Government giving a message out for the day and imparting information properly, what in the name of God are they being paid for? The Irish people will start asking what are the advisers doing if this is the way they present a Government message because from a PR point of view, yesterday's events were a complete disaster for the Government.
I want our hospitality sector to be allowed to open. It can do so safely. We have highly responsible people. I come from the tourism capital of the world, County Kerry. We do tourism better than anyone else and we are not boasting about it; it is just a simple matter of fact. The rest of the country, the rest of Europe and the rest of the world follow what we do in County Kerry because we are excellent at it. The reason is that the people who own hotels, guest houses, pubs and cafés have been at it for generations, including their parents and grandparents. If one takes the town of Killarney, since the visit of Queen Victoria the expertise has just grown and grown and is oozing out of them. They want to be given the opportunity to open to everyone.
I do not like this system of divisiveness. Later on tonight what will happen will create a divide in society and a disturbance that we have never had before, in that people can be asked about their medical records. It happened yesterday on the Plinth where both Deputy Mattie McGrath and I were asked a question. I do not blame the reporter in the slightest, as it was good that the questions was asked. He asked us personal questions about our own health status, which is something that could never be seen, dreamed of, or thought of as something that would happen previously. At the same time, that journalist thought that it was fine to ask the question. Again, I am not blaming the journalist. It was good that he did so and I thanked him for doing so because it showed that is what we will be facing. When I say “we”, I mean we as a society, as this is what we will be facing in the coming days, weeks and months. That is wrong. It is wrong that it would happen to any person - be it an individual or Members - that what I will call the State can ask questions like that.
Let me put it this way. I am not his spokesman and he is sitting there in front of me and is perfectly capable of speaking for himself. Words were attributed to him yesterday which he did not utter. As I say, I am not talking out of turn here and the man is far more experienced in the political world than I am as he is here longer than me. I know that he was wronged yesterday because words were attributed to him which I certainly did not hear him say, in any event. I hope that this clarifies that matter, because everybody knows that I am responsible for one thing and one thing only, that is, what comes out of my mouth and not what anybody else thinks or says. As the Minister of State asked the question, I wanted to make that point.
I spoke to people in the Minister of State’s own party yesterday and last week who have family members with health conditions of their own. Some are pregnant and have been advised by their consultants not to take the vaccination. These are people in her own party who have been told not to take the vaccination while pregnant during certain weeks because their safety could not be guaranteed, in that while the vaccine would do nothing to the pregnant women, the consultants could not guarantee it would not do something to the child. This was the medical advice given.
The Minister of State has been talking about medical advice since she come into the House where she states that the Government wants to get the hospitality sector open but it has done nothing but the opposite to this. The Government has actually caused a divide where families are falling out with each other because people have differing views. I already have stated in the Dáil Chamber that I have never once told a person not to take a vaccination but equally, I have never told a person to take one either. If a person wants to take a vaccination, he or she should take the vaccination. If you have concerns about that, you go to your medical person, who will advise on the position. People who have medical conditions are approaching me. Three such people own businesses in the hospitality sector and have been advised by their consultants not to take the vaccine while they are on their current medication. Those same people will not be allowed to serve people in their own bar. Does that mean that they will not be allowed to work in their own premises?
I am sorry to say this to the Minister of State, and it is not personal, but I have never seen her so passionate in jumping up and having a go but she is talking out of both sides of her mouth again. One side of the Government says one thing and another side says something else.
I will tell the Minister of State how disrespectful she is to her own position as a Minister of State. She arrived to my parish in Granagh three weeks ago and she did not have the courtesy as a Government representative for the people of Ireland to contact me in my own parish. That is how she behaved as a PR stunt where she is talking out of both sides of her mouth. I am here to represent Limerick and have been elected by the people of County Limerick to get the best results for Limerick. I am a member of the Rural Independent Group and like all members of our group we are all fighting for our counties and for the hospitality sector to open. All the Government has done is to allow the 18-year-olds in now but we will not allow the 19-year-olds. I have a family of four boys and the Government has segregated my family by doing such stupid things. The reason given by the Minister of State is that she states that she has been talking to the hospitality sector and to the publicans. Through the Chair, the Minister of State did not want to be interrupted-----
I want extra time on the clock because the Acting Chairman has allowed me to be interrupted two or three times during my contribution. When somebody else made a comment to the Minister of State when she was talking, she just smiled up and said "Through the Chair". Through the Chair, I am saying that I want an extra minute added to my time because I was interrupted.
The Government comes along here and states that it wants to reopen hospitality. We are the ones who have wanted to open up this country and who do not want a divide between people and families in this country and there are regulations there. The Minister made one comment, the video record can be checked for this, where she stated that the Government was working with the hospitality sector.
The Government came to the hospitality sector with six points. If those in the sector do not comply with those six points, they will not be allowed to open. The Government forced their hand in terms of the actions it is taking. It forced the hospitality sector into accepting these six bullet points. The Government should not lie about it. The hospitality sector and the vintners associations were able to show us the points presented to them by the Government. That is how disrespectful the Government is to them. The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, said she is a rural Deputy. Well, she had better stand up for the rural county that elected her. The people are watching her in this debate and they can go back through all the videos of Oireachtas proceedings and see how hypocritical she is in the context of her own comments.
I and my colleagues want the hospitality sector open, as does the Government. It should use common sense and stop saying that it is doing one thing but, on the other hand, it is doing something else. That is what is wrong with the party of the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, and the message it is sending. One side of the Government is saying one thing while the other parties in the coalition are saying something else. They cannot get it right.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss the public health restrictions. The motion has been tabled at a time when emergency legislation is being rammed through the Dáil today and will be rammed through the Seanad tomorrow. What we have seen in recent weeks is absolutely unacceptable. Two weeks ago, the people of Ireland were expecting a plan from the Taoiseach. The hospitality sector was expecting a plan. The Taoiseach took to a podium and essentially said that he was sorry, but the public health advice had only just come in, the Government did not have a plan and would need a couple of weeks to cobble something together and come back on it. It has now come back and put a plan on the table. From my perspective, the plan is divisive, discriminatory and unfair. That is the context for this discussion.
The public health advice was what it was. I and others attended a briefing by the Chief Medical Officer at which he made it clear that several assumptions were being made about the spread of the variant. I take a very responsible approach to public health and have done so since I took up my role as Opposition health spokesperson. We have to keep people safe and anything we do has to be done with a view to opening sections of society as safely as we can. I have told the Government time and again that is what we need to do. However, what we got from NPHET was modelling that did not factor in changes since made to the vaccine roll-out. I welcomed the changes for which I had been calling for several weeks, such as young people, or at least some young people, at least being offered the vaccine. We are told 300,000 doses of two vaccines will now be administered through pharmacies to young people, which is great. That accounts for approximately 30% of all young people. That will be done by the end of this month. We are now being told that all the over-60s will have had their second dose, which reduces risk quite substantially and needs to be built into revised modelling.
We were told for a long time that antigen testing was not a solution. A bit like mandatory hotel quarantine, the Government came to this late in the day. Now it is a solution and a possibility but the Government is not going to deal with it now; it will kick the can down the road, maybe to autumn, in spite all of the commentary and clear advice from the European Commission regarding antigen testing and its widespread use in other European countries. Antigen testing is not perfect and will not reduce all risk, but it reduces some risk.
We discussed air filtration and air ventilation systems. That is regarded by experts in the area and the sector as a measure that does not reduce all risk but it reduces some risk. It is another ingredient that would make reopening possible. I refer to what was done last summer, with social distancing and limited numbers at tables. When we consider all these factors, we can begin to see what a plan to reopen safely for everybody would look like. That is what should have happened.
The Government was clear throughout the process that it would not engage in consideration of domestic vaccine passports but that is now where we have ended up. The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste were at pains to point out that such a process would be unfair and discriminatory, yet that is what is now being proposed. It is deeply problematic.
The motion essentially calls for hospitality to be reopened and I support that, but I support it being reopened on a safe, sound and sustainable basis. I do not believe it was beyond us to come up with a plan. The Government will ask, "What about the public health advice?" By the way, the public health advice did not include under-18s being allowed into bars and restaurants. That was not part of the public health advice, yet the Government decided that is what was needed and it nuanced it because that was a way of reopening hospitality. If that was done for the under-18s, then why not for the over-18s? Bizarrely, under-18s cannot have their confirmation or first communion but they can go into a bar or restaurant with family members who are vaccinated. When these types of decisions that do not make sense are being made, people begin to question the whole approach being taken.
As has been said, the Government's proposals will divide families. They will cause division and real problems. If a family goes on a staycation and some of the children are under 18 but others are over 18, those who are over 18 but not vaccinated will have to stay outside when the family goes to a bar or restaurant. If it is bad weather, tough luck. They will have to stay at home or in their hotel or do something else, but those aged under 18 can go with their family members. How is that fair? It is not fair, of course, and that will be a problem. After their vacation or staycation, many of those very same people aged over 18 will be asked to go back to work in bars and restaurants, pulling pints and serving food, but they cannot avail of any hospitality. It does not make sense. Anything that does not make sense is problematic.
If the Government really believed in its plan and that this is the right thing to do, it would not be rushing it through the Oireachtas in the way it is trying to do. We will have 90 minutes of debate today in which to table amendments to a Bill of such fundamental importance. I am simply saying to the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, who is deputising for the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, on the motion, that it is unacceptable. The Joint Committee on Health was yesterday asked to waive pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. There is very limited time for debate on the Bill in the Dáil. In recent weeks, the health committee sought to have an input into the process and to have discussions about antigen testing, ventilation, limiting numbers, infection control and social distancing measures, as well as the impact of the accelerated vaccine roll-out. We were told the Department of Health is not the lead Department in this regard but, rather, it is the Department of Transport. We went to the Department of Transport and were told it is the Department of the Taoiseach. We went to the Department of the Taoiseach and were told it is not that Department either. Lo and behold, a letter arrived from the Minister for Health to say it actually is his Department and, by the way, the committee should waive pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. We were told not to worry about that and that Deputies will be given 90 minutes to discuss their amendments which the Government is not going to accept anyway. It does not really matter what Members propose; the Government will ram the Bill through anyway. Members of the Opposition are being asked by members of the media if we are trying to hold up the reopening of hospitality. We are being presented with this fait accompliwhereby the only option on the table is that put forward by the Government. It is patently untrue that we are trying to hold up the reopening of hospitality. There are members of the media who need to ask themselves questions in that regard. That is not how it is. It is not the case. It is not as simple or black and white as that. There are other and better ways to do this.
I do not believe it was beyond us to open up hospitality in a safe and sustainable way, as the vast majority of European countries have done, by putting in all the mitigating factors to which I have referred and having regard to what we did last summer and what other countries are doing now, which is to ensure that when we reopen, we reopen for everyone. The mantra at the start of this crisis was that we are all in this together. Let us be honest about this. When it comes to this Government, we were never all in this together. A clear message is now being sent to young people that we most certainly are not all in this together and they can stay outside the door because we have a plan that excludes significant numbers of people and so be it. I do not believe that is right.
I support the motion. The legislation to allow indoor hospitality to resume is indiscriminate in nature and unenforceable. It discriminates in particular against young people aged between 18 and 35 who have not received the vaccine. It discriminates against those who do not wish to receive the vaccine, as is their right. Some people are concerned about reactions they had to vaccines in the past. They may have had a near-death experience, do not wish to go through that again and do not wish to get a vaccine. There are others who are concerned about the vaccines having been rushed through.
Whatever the reason, whether someone cannot or does not want to get a vaccine, he or she should not be discriminated against in respect of businesses in this country. The uptake of vaccines has been very high, and that is welcome, but not everybody has had an opportunity to receive one yet.
The restrictions relating to hotels make no sense. Recently I went to a hotel, stayed two nights and ate in the hotel my breakfast and evening meals. I was not asked once whether I was vaccinated or whether I had got Covid. I was served by young waiters who, I presume by their age, probably were not vaccinated. They served my table and other tables. What is the difference between having a meal in a hotel and having a meal in a restaurant? I do not understand and people do not understand why a distinction has been made in that regard. Also, if I drive 20 miles from my home, I can go to a restaurant or pub and have an indoor meal or drink in Fermanagh and, again, I will not be asked whether I have been vaccinated. I am not sure this is enforceable. Who is supposed to enforce this? Is it the staff in the restaurants and the bars? I do not know that the Garda has been consulted about enforcement either.
I have been contacted by many parents who were concerned that the sacraments of holy communion and confirmation were cancelled with only a few days' notice. That is totally unfair. It is unfair to the young people who have made the preparation and were looking forward to receiving their sacraments. It is unfair to the parents who forked out good money on outfits that possibly will not fit their children in six months' time or whenever sacraments are allowed to proceed. I think the reason we were given for the cancellation of the sacraments was the parties afterwards, but many of the parents told me they were planning on having a meal with only their family, maybe including grandparents. They were being very careful and very cognisant of the Delta variant and not spreading it to other family members and were not going for large parties. I have heard of others who went ahead and had the parties anyway without the sacraments. The restrictions made little sense in that regard.
Another thing confusing people is attendance at sporting events. We saw on the television last week large attendances in stadiums at Euro 2020 matches and in Wimbledon at the tennis matches. I was surprised to see that, and I am not proposing we go anywhere near those kinds of crowd numbers, but I am sure increases could be made to the number of those who may attend outdoor matches in large stadiums here in Ireland.
My main points are that there is a lack of clarity; that people are confused about the differences between, for example, hotels and restaurants, and about antigen testing and why it is acceptable in some instances and not in others; that there is a lack of planning around all this; and that everything seems to be a reaction to whatever is happening. It is not that the medical advice should not be taken on board, but decisions need to be rounded and need to take in the economic circumstances as well.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion and I, too, support it. We have been lacking from this Government a proportionate and logical response to the public health crisis we face. Sinn Féin's objective throughout this pandemic has been to keep people safe. We have supported difficult decisions that have curtailed personal freedoms and we have not done so lightly. Yesterday, the Government members of the Joint Committee on Health voted to waive pre-legislative scrutiny of the Health (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2021. That is disgraceful. The legislation needs to be scrutinised and all parties must be allowed to voice their concerns and have those concerns addressed insofar as possible. To do otherwise is to be reckless with the freedom of our citizens and sets a dangerous precedent.
It is clear we need to plan to manage variants that are circulating such as Delta and Lambda. The Government has a responsibility to present a clear and logical plan and must share the data and science behind its decisions. Otherwise, we fuel the conspiracy theories and the graduates of the universities of Facebook and Twitter. We must address the questions the man and woman on the street have. One of those questions is why a vaccinated person can spend as long as he or she wants indoors with people unless the indoor setting is a pub or a restaurant, where that person's stay is limited to 105 minutes. While NPHET and NIAC advise the Government, they are just that - advisers. The Government has an obligation to consult industry representatives to ensure a buy-in for the proposals.
More importantly, the Government must listen to representative bodies of vulnerable groups such as Sage Advocacy, ALONE, Care Champions, Jigsaw and Aware. Last year, my colleague, an Teachta Mark Ward, introduced the Mental Health Parity of Esteem Bill 2020 to the House. That Bill is described in the preamble as "An Act to place mental health on parity with physical health". The Bill is long overdue and the Government would do well to remember its aim of achieving parity between mental health and physical health. When considering any restrictions, we must consider mental health. Of course physical health is important but it is no less important than mental health. I am dealing with people who are on hospital waiting lists, falling through the cracks with the carry-on here, so I ask that something be done soon.
I welcome the motion. The Covid pandemic has provided us with enormous challenges, and I acknowledge that there are no easy answers and that every decision made on this is a very difficult one that has to be made. With those challenges, however, comes a huge responsibility on those making those decisions to consult as many people as possible to get as wide an agreement as possible on the opening up of our country. Unfortunately, the experience over the past 24 hours has shown that the Government has failed miserably on that count. I find it incomprehensible that, even though the challenges of how we open up our country across the Thirty-two Counties is well signposted, the Government has chosen not to consult all the stakeholders. We have heard that over the past 24 hours, with various groups having come out to say they did not know they were to do X, Y or Z.
Yesterday, as my colleague said, in the health committee Sinn Féin and others asked that the committee be allowed to do its job and to scrutinise the emergency legislation that was written hastily over the weekend. This was denied by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party, which combined to vote to ram the legislation through without anyone getting a chance to analyse its effects on those in our community, both young and old and those in the middle. It is not fair that workers, mostly younger people and those who are on very low pay, will have to face the wrath of people as they try to explain how a 17-year-old is allowed in to have his or her meal while his or her 19-year-old or 20-year-old brother or sister is not allowed and the myriad other conflicting messages they will have to explain. They will be on the front line - at the door, at the tables, at the bars - trying to explain these conflicting messages.
It is deeply unfair to lock out more than 800,000 young people and it is unfair on all our front-line workers, especially our young front-line workers - our teachers, nurses, gardaí, social care workers, bus drivers and shopworkers. All those people who have worked right throughout the pandemic and who are not able to get vaccines at this time will be locked out of all this. That is fundamentally an unfair thing to do. It is really important we try to keep the social solidarity that has seen us through the worst of times. The industry and people, particularly the workers, have pointed out that this is an unworkable system and leaves those workers in a vulnerable position.
I listened to a radio segment on RTÉ today that revealed that GPs were shocked to hear on the radio that they were to issue certificates or letters to their patients who had contracted Covid since January. One said he nearly crashed the car when he heard the news because he knew their offices would be absolutely inundated today and yesterday with patients ringing them up, and that is what came to pass. People have been ringing up GPs over and over again looking for a Covid letter or certificate. One GP said the practice had to change its phone message to ask people not to call and to say it would not be issuing certificates or letters to patients. GPs made the point that they do not have the capacity to cope with the demand, even if they wanted to or could do what the Government is asking. Approximately 100,000 people have had positive cases of Covid since January 2021. With 1,700 GP practices, this would mean a massive administrative burden on an already overburdened GP and health service that is giving out vaccines at the moment and is under severe pressure in that regard. The service is also trying to catch up on the other people who have been sick and who have reluctantly not gone to their GPs because of Covid.
Unfortunately, the new legislation will be rammed through today. It is ill-thought-out and will create significant difficulties for social cohesion. I ask the Government to take stock and to work with all the stakeholders, not just one sector of an industry.
I thank the Acting Chair for those warm words and all my colleagues who took the time yesterday, both inside and outside the Chamber, to wish me well. It was a warm welcome and I am grateful. I am told that I am the first ever Deputy to be sworn in while not in Leinster House. The convention centre feels very different. It was also stated yesterday that I am only the 37th woman in this Dáil and only the 131st woman ever to be elected to Dáil Éireann. Those statistics gave me pause for thought yesterday. I am proud and honoured to have been elected to represent Dublin Bay South. I thank and give all my gratitude to those who supported me, to my family and to my campaign team. I have thanked them all and will continue to do so. I am conscious that we ran a campaign which was rooted in the Labour values of equality, solidarity and fairness and which reflected a communitarian philosophy. We also tried to put forward a form of constructive and positive politics. It is in that spirit that I come to debate this motion in my first substantive contribution here.
I was struck yesterday, while sitting through Dáil proceedings, that the manner in which debate is conducted in this House is different from what happens in the Seanad. There is a difference in culture. This is partly because of the gender breakdown. In the current Seanad, where I was proud to represent graduates of Dublin University, the membership is 40% female. This contributes to a more collaborative style of politics. Things are somewhat more confrontational in the Dáil because we only have a small number of women, namely, 23% of the overall membership. That is of interest to all who observe and have an interest in the parliamentary processes and democratic engagement. I want to speak in a constructive manner about the motion and to try to bring a reflective approach to it.
I am concerned and dismayed by some of the language that has been used in respect of the critical issue of reopening, how we deal with the immense threat of the Delta variant and how we seek to balance risks as we move forward out of lockdown and try to provide a safe reopening. Yesterday, others raised the issue of extreme language, hyperbole and using terms like "apartheid" and "Nazism". These are utterly inappropriate terms when we are speaking about balancing risk as we move towards a safe reopening. I should have welcomed the Minister of State when I first began to speak. I know that her language was measured. It is the sort of measured language that we all need to bring to bear on this crucial issue and navigating our way out of lockdown to a safe reopening.
I came of age in the 1980s in Trinity College. Kader Asmal was one of my most inspiring lecturers and he went on to become a minister in a post-apartheid South Africa. The word "apartheid" is one that we should not use lightly in any context. My grandfather was imprisoned by the Nazis in Czechoslovakia during the Second World War. For our family, fascism was a real issue. It is not a word that any of us should use lightly in this country or anywhere else.
I will speak to the motion. For me and for Labour, it is about a safe reopening, balancing risk and moving out of lockdown in a measured way. Our concern is that there should be a range of measures deployed by Government as we move out of lockdown. We are concerned about and have been critical of the mixed messaging and lack of consistency from Government. We have been critical of the real potential for discrimination against young people that may form the base of the Government's plan to move to reopening. My Trinity colleague, David Kenny, described it this morning as an unfair, intergenerational measure to discriminate against those who have not yet had the option to be vaccinated. We would all be concerned about the impact that Covid and public health restrictions have had on young people in particular. I have called for a catch-up for children scheme for our children who missed out on so much through prolonged school closures and the loss of so much extracurricular activity. Deputy Ó Ríordáin and I have called for a catch-up scheme, which would help to ameliorate and address some of the awful impacts that Covid has had for so many young people.
We also need to ensure that we provide safe spaces to socialise outdoors for young people who are out of school, that we offer other options and that we are not seen to discriminate in this way. Other speakers have talked about social solidarity. We have had really strong social solidarity through Covid. It has been a strength in Ireland. We have seen strong uptake of vaccines and an impressive roll-out of the vaccination programme. I am so glad to have been vaccinated. I got my digital Covid certificate yesterday.
We should look at good models of practice elsewhere. Denmark rolled out Coronapas. It is not just about proof of vaccination there but also about rapid deployment of antigen testing. Denmark has a population of 5.8 million and the capacity to carry out 500,000 antigen tests daily. A key part of the Coronapas system is the use of rapid testing. The use of such testing means that system is not discriminatory against those who have not yet been offered vaccines, which is crucial. It enables people who have negative antigen tests to participate in indoor activities, matches and so on, as well as in indoor hospitality. That is the sort of model we are calling for and which Deputy Kelly and my party colleagues called for yesterday. We are anxious to ensure that roll-outs of indoor hospitality are done safely. We want to ensure that we do not fall foul of the Delta variant as we have seen in some countries that have had to close again following reopening.
We have to be mindful that where we have seen failures or flaws in our programmes, it has been because people have felt left behind. They have felt that there is a lack of solidarity, for example, among over-60s. In the by-election campaign, over-60s felt left behind because younger cohorts ended up being fully vaccinated before them because of the issues with AstraZeneca. These are real concerns and they will undermine our collective effort as we come through Covid.
For us, this is about balancing risk, coming constructively to this and looking at how we can support a safe reopening. We cannot see any more mixed messages, confusion and certainty. We owe it to everyone, younger people and those working in indoor hospitality, to come up with a clear way through this. That is what Labour is talking about. It is in keeping with our values of equality and solidarity.
I congratulate Deputy Bacik on her election. It is great to have more mná in the 33rd Dáil and to have a female Deputy in the Labour Party. To me, Deputy Bacik always stood out in Irish politics and I am sure she does to many other young Irish women who are thinking of going into politics. I congratulate her.
Communities and industries need as much certainty as possible during times of uncertainty. During times of uncertainty, the Government's proposals for indoor dining have been rushed, confusing and, unfortunately, inconsistent. The one thing that the hospitality sector in west Cork was looking for above all and is still looking for is clarity. For almost 18 months, it has appreciated the serious nature of the pandemic and has reasonably sought proper support, the waiving of fees, and sufficient notice on reopening. Unfortunately, that clarity has been seriously lacking.
It has to be acknowledged that the Government has decisions to make. We all know that. For those decisions to be last minute, contradictory and released by journalists on Twitter undermines the message. The ongoing restrictions in maternity hospitals sum up these inconsistencies.
This summer, like last summer, as large parts of society and the economy open up, partners and accompanying people cannot support new mothers during labour. Despite assurances from the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health, pregnant women and families are still experiencing uncertainty, with rules varying vastly from hospital to hospital. This cohort is still, rightly, feeling left behind and voiceless.
The Government's unwillingness to support the people's vaccine campaign is another sign of this variance. The push since Christmas has been to get as many people vaccinated as possible. However, when it comes to providing vaccines for the global south, this urgency is disgustingly absent. The profits of corporations are being put ahead of the health of millions of people. The pharmaceutical company monopolies could leave countries in the global south waiting until 2023 for widespread vaccination. I am again calling on the Government to champion a waiving of the intellectual property rights, in particular the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, TRIPS, waiver, on the vaccine to allow countries in the global south to produce their own supplies. Not only would this save lives in the global south, but it would also prevent the emergence of variants that threaten all the progress made worldwide and would ultimately prevent all our societies reopening.
The lack of oversight throughout the pandemic has also been of concern. Again today, legislation is being pushed through with no regard for proper scrutiny. The Opposition is deeply dissatisfied and uncomfortable with this approach, as are many Government Deputies. This is simply bad lawmaking. The Government has had this plan in place for months. Why is the legislation being rushed through on the penultimate sitting day? We need greater accountability. Last summer, we had the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response at which Department officials as well as representatives of State bodies, industry and NGOs explained the impact and response to the situation. It was an important mechanism to understand the issues involved and assess the State's response. The committee was wound down in the autumn, right in the middle of the pandemic. The committee needs to be reconvened so that we can examine the ongoing implications and our recovery.
The motion includes reference to a number of constitutional rights. I note with interest the acknowledgement of bodily integrity by the Rural Independent Group.
The pandemic has shown up major social issues; it did not create them. These include the homelessness crisis, disgracefully long healthcare waiting lists, underfunded public health services and the lack of independence provided to people with disabilities. These are the substantial issues and major challenges that will still face us in the months to come regardless of restrictions. The scale of these issues came into sharp focus this morning when I read about the audit of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services. It found distrust, disrespect and blaming among people working in Departments and Government agencies. We knew in advance of the pandemic that domestic violence was going to increase. Now, we find that there are deep flaws in the State's response to this violence and in response to victims who are migrants, those who have been trafficked as well as Travellers, Roma and those who are especially vulnerable. NGOs and advocates have continually asked for a dedicated Minister to provide co-ordination and focus to address what campaigners have rightly called the shadow pandemic. This audit must be a wake-up call. We need such a Minister and leadership now.
A lack of planning has undermined progress in addressing Covid-19. It cannot be allowed to affect the recovery. The people have made incredible sacrifices. They have done everything asked of them. Ultimately, the Government has not responded decisively or consistently.
I will share time with Deputy Gino Kenny if he arrives on time. He is in Leinster House.
I will start by making one positive comment about the Rural Independent Group. It has been consistent on Covid-19. It has been consistently wrong, but consistent nonetheless. At every point of the Covid crisis, it has been in favour of opening up and letting Covid rip and has consistently downplayed the dangers the pandemic presents.
What the Rural Independent Group wanted was implemented in November last year when the Government announced the reopening of indoor hospitality and dining in December. The Government bears responsibility for that. There are plenty of Government backbenchers who continue to hold exactly the same position as the Rural Independent Group. Over 1,000 people died in January as a result of that decision. That is the truth. Over 1,000 people died in February as a result of that decision. That is also the truth. There is no accountability for any of that. We are all supposed to say that we should move on. The fact is that all the Opposition parties, apart from the socialist left, went along with it. We are to move on and forget about it. We will repeat the same mistakes.
In fairness, Deputies in the Rural Independent Group are consistent. They want to open up again now. The motion calls for the reopening of indoor and outdoor hospitality right now. It presents this call as the alternative to the discriminatory measure the Government is proposing. In fact, it is not the alternative. I am against the discrimination the Government is proposing. It is a bad idea. It is especially a bad idea to rush, in the final week of the Dáil, a measure that has such implications for health surveillance, data protection, etc. I am against it. However, the alternative is not to say that we should allow everyone who is vaccinated or unvaccinated inside hospitality premises. It is to recognise the public health facts and the reality that it is not safe to reopen indoor dining and hospitality at this point.
For a couple of months now, the media has been chock-a-block with stories on this and we have been hearing non-stop from the lobbyists on behalf of the pubs and restaurants. We have not heard much in the way of nurses talking about the impact of Covid. We have not heard anything from the workers who will not be vaccinated but who are expected to go in to work in unsafe settings. I have all the sympathy in the world for the owners of pubs and restaurants that have been faced with a horrific situation and have been closed for over a year in many cases. The truth is that it is simply not safe for the workers or the wider public. If we do what the pub and restaurant sector is asking now, the impact would see hundreds, and possibly thousands, more unnecessary deaths. At the moment, we are on one of the two central projections of NPHET. If we were to reopen and let Covid rip, which is what this motion suggests, we would probably have 1,500 or more deaths and we would see more of the dreadful impact of long Covid, etc.
The alternative is to follow the public health advice and put public health rather than private profit first. We should then support properly small businesses that need it. We should not cut the pandemic unemployment payment. We should support workers who cannot be employed now as their industry is shut down because that is necessary for public health reasons to allow us to get vaccination done before we can reopen safely. The alternative that is being pushed - the Government is moving halfway in this direction and it may well lead to the same place - will lead to a fourth wave and another lockdown. That would be devastating for those businesses, workers and wider society.
There was an alternative. We were the only ones calling for it. We argued that we need to introduce mandatory hotel quarantine for travellers from England, Scotland and Wales to slow down the spread of the Delta variant. If the Government had acted when we called for that measure seven weeks ago, we would be in a different position. Of course, the Rural Independent Group opposed that proposal at the time.
I make the point about the consistency of the Rural Independent Group in order to make a point about the incredible inconsistency of Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin speakers today have said they will support this motion to reopen indoor and outdoor hospitality right now. They have said they followed public health advice all the way along but they supported the reopening of hospitality at Christmas, which had as a consequence thousands of unnecessary deaths. Now, Sinn Féin is supporting a motion calling for reopening hospitality to unvaccinated people. This will also cause the deaths of significant numbers of people. That is a real shame.
The main responsibility for the situation we are in - the fact that we have had the longest lockdown in Europe and more than 8,000 deaths - lies with the Government. However, if our main Opposition party had taken a consistent principled position on Covid, I believe we could be in a different position. If it had consistently advocated for an alternative zero-Covid policy and had not gone along with every twist and turn of the Government in following the lobbyists, we might have been in a different situation. Before the vote on this motion tonight, I call on Sinn Féin Deputies to read the motion they are signing up to. A number of Sinn Féin speakers have said they will vote for it. The motion calls for the reopening of indoor and outdoor hospitality right now for everyone. While it does away with the discrimination, it does so in a way that will result in significant numbers of deaths. Is that the Sinn Féin position now?
I draw attention to the final point on the motion which states "accept that the pursuit of a de factozero-Covid strategy, aimed at the elimination of all Covid-19 variants, would result in permanent and irreversible damage to the economic and social fabric of the State and the integrity of the democratic process". It is a consistent position by the Rural Independent Group; we cannot criticise its members for that. They have consistently advocated for a Swedish, let-it-rip model even though it has failed. However, that is fine; that is their position. However, only a few months ago Sinn Féin Members were telling us they were in favour of a zero Covid strategy and now they plan to vote in favour of a motion which condemns a zero Covid strategy. Which is it? If they had adopted a consistent position along the line, we could be in a very different position today.
I will make the point in defence of a zero Covid strategy. Obviously, it will not happen now and the route to reopening will happen through vaccination. However, let us consider the difference in death rates between Ireland and New Zealand or Australia. In New Zealand with roughly the same population, fewer than 30 people have died. More than 8,000 people have died in Ireland. We have had the longest lockdown in all of Europe. New Zealand has been open with not much impact on the economy for the vast majority of time. Australia, with a population of 25 million, has had fewer than 1,000 deaths. We have had eight times that amount with a population that is the fraction of Australia's.
There was an alternative that was not followed or implemented because the Government allowed itself to be driven by the interests of private lobbying and short-term thinking at each successive step of the way, as opposed to planning in a way that would have put public health workers' rights first and would have meant the earliest possible reopening for everybody involved.
I congratulate the HSE and its staff on the vaccination programme. I thank the public who have taken on board the advice to get vaccinated. I encourage everybody to take the vaccine for the safety of everybody in society.
I want to speak about the Government's proposals for the safe reopening and the legislation to be brought before the House today. This will be my only opportunity to speak on it. The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, is from a rural area and she understands that we have many small pubs and restaurants. I believe the legislation is confusing the public, business owners and their staff. How will the legislation be enforced? Where are the bodies to police or enforce it? It is completely unfair to expect small family-run businesses to enforce the laws that have been imposed upon them. It is particularly unfair on young people. It is very unfair on people who have not yet being vaccinated. It is also unfair on people who are 17 and could go into a restaurant today but by the time they turn 18 in a few weeks' time will not be able to go in. They will not have been vaccinated and will not have a green cert.
It is unfair on our publicans, restaurateurs and their families that we are implementing something that is unenforceable and will leave them with the responsibility to enforce it or face the consequences. It is also unfair on the staff in these premises because they will have to enforce a law they cannot explain. There is a lack of understanding. I want to see the safe opening of our businesses. I want to see our pubs and restaurants opened, especially the smaller ones, in a way that can be done. Someone staying in a hotel may eat in the hotel restaurant indoors without needing a green cert. There are too many contradictions.
There is a lack of common sense. People who go shopping are not checked. They are rubbing shoulders with other customers in the shops and yet we are introducing draconian laws to discriminate. Last year we split the pubs between wet pubs and dry pubs. We created an unnecessary division within the industry. I believe we do not need legislation; we need common sense. We have overanalysed what the problems are and have come up with something that is unworkable.
As we have mentioned many times, we are all in this together. However, introducing legislation that will discriminate and treat our citizens differently, as well as having an impact on their personal health information, is unjust and which will probably be challenged in the courts. We need to reflect and ensure whatever we do is fair to everyone.
The Irish Government is a radical outlier. It is adopting an extreme policy different from all other European countries. Workplace closures have been far longer than in any other European country. The health service in this country has seen much longer closures than in any other European country, resulting in many people being denied cancer care, mental health care and heart disease care. Our schools were closed for longer than in any other country, which has meant that children have not had access to education and have been socially deprived.
This country has a housing crisis and yet it is the only country in Europe that closed the building of homes for the first four months of this year, which is an incredible situation. Religious services in the South of Ireland have been closed for longer than in any other European country. Baptisms, first holy communions and confirmations have been happening safely in the North of Ireland since Easter but are banned in this State. Ireland is the only country in Europe where indoor hospitality is banned. It is an amazing situation. Indoor hospitality is functioning in every country in continental Europe but not in this country.
Today, the Government will seek to railroad a vaccination pass through the Dáil. No other country in Europe has looked for a vaccination pass to be included. Even when the travel pass was being discussed at EU level, they were very careful not to make it just a vaccine pass and to give people the option of some sort of test to remove the discrimination element that would be at the heart of a vaccine pass. Vaccine passes are discrimination, pure and simple. They highlight that young people do not have the same rights as older people who have been vaccinated. For people who have allergies it is tough; they do not have the same rights as other people. It is also discriminating against the many people who have decided not to take the vaccine yet and to wait for long-term research on the vaccine before they take it.
On antigen testing, the Government has ignored best practice internationally. Ireland is one of only six countries in Europe that is not using antigen testing to control the illness. More than a year ago, Aontú called on the Government to introduce antigen testing. More than seven months ago, the EU gave the go-ahead for antigen testing and now the Government has established a working group to discuss the potential of using antigen testing in society. Before that working group was set up, the Government pulled the rug from underneath it by saying that antigen testing would not be used in hospitality. It is mind-bending to see the way the Government is repeatedly tying itself up in knots and ignoring best international practice. It is incredible to see it trying repeatedly to reinvent the wheel at a cost to so many people.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been pushed into poverty. Many of the owners of the 20,000 pubs and restaurants in the country have been pushed into poverty. Many of them are in debt. There are many zombie businesses which are only alive because of Government supports. Once those supports are taken away, many of those businesses will collapse. Some 200,000 people work the sector. Those workers are getting stuffed economically due to these Government restrictions. Young people can work in a restaurant unvaccinated but cannot drink in it. However, they can go across the road to the hotel and drink and eat to their hearts' content all night long. They cannot attend a confirmation celebration in a back garden along with a dozen people.
On 19 July 2021, the Minister and I will be able to fly to Copenhagen where we will be able to get a meal in a restaurant – indoors and unvaccinated - but we cannot walk down the street in our own town to do the same. Why is this happening? It is because we have an insular, inward-looking attitude towards this illness. Second, and I agree with Deputy Paul Murphy on this, it is because Sinn Féin has stuck its fingers in the air to find out which way the wind is blowing. It provided no opposition to this Government. It is time that we follow science. The science does not change when it crosses the Irish Sea. The science is the same in every single country in Europe. Why is Ireland an outlier?
Deputy Bacik talked about her distaste for the language, and I agree with her. She went on to talk about the contrast between the Seanad and the Dáil. She said there is a more collaborative approach in the Seanad. Perhaps she is ignoring the reality of what has happened here. We are getting an opportunity to discuss this because the Rural Independent Group has used its precious Private Members' time to allow us to have a discussion. Later today, a Bill which will become an Act, will be pushed through the Dáil and will be guillotined. That is the context. It is difficult to have collaboration within that environment. That has happened repeatedly, from day one.
This is a clever motion in the sense that it calls for the end to discrimination. I fully agree with that. It is unacceptable that the Government is going to bring in a divisive, discriminatory policy that puts the responsibility on pub-owners and on restaurants to ask me whether I am vaccinated or not. It is unacceptable. It nakedly exposes the fallacy that we are all in this together.
I come from a city where there is no respite. I know people who are minding their loved ones 24 hours a day because they have various disabilities. Week after week, polite Ministers have answered my questions but with no solution. We can now open restaurants and we can vaccinate. I am in a group of 60 to 69-year-olds. I have been told to take the AstraZeneca or go to the bottom of the list. A substantial number of 60 to 69-year-olds could not get the second vaccination. They have been told to sit and wait. Although I am no expert, I read and I read. One of the strongest things is that you should mix the AstraZeneca with a different vaccination to give maximum protection against the Delta variant. That has been ignored completely.
I am looking at a most discriminatory approach. The motion does not say that restaurants should open tomorrow. It is saying that when they open, they should be allowed to do their business without this discriminatory practice. If that is it, then I fully agree with it. I have no difficulty with that. The manner in which we have dealt with Covid-19 has been appalling. I fundamentally disagree with the last paragraph of the motion in relation to zero-Covid-19. I, along with a number of others, actively wanted zero-Covid-19. I believe the Government has missed the boat. It prematurely opened up earlier on. Most deaths in nursing homes and of elderly people occurred in the third wave. The statistics are so upsetting that I will not quote them. What really perplexes me, with the mixed messages that are coming from the Government, is that it is accepting this motion. It is neither opposing nor amending it. It is accepting it. This motion is states “no discrimination”, but the Government in a few hours’ time will push through legislation that discriminates. None of it makes sense to me.
The young people have been mentioned a lot. I have two young sons, so I am fully aware it from both sides. However, how can the Minister sit there and tell us that the 60 to 69-year-olds must wait to have a cup of coffee in a restaurant? They, including myself, have abided by all of the rules since day one but they are being told they cannot do so.
It is all about the numbers. It is all about what vaccines are available and how they get it out. The Government is being reactive. There is no plan for retail, restaurants, and pubs to open up. The discrimination between wet and dry pubs was utterly absurd and unacceptable. Here we are a year and a half after a pandemic was declared, and we have total chaos from a Government that is not fit to lead. It is three unwise men, as I keep repeating. However, that is democracy and people voted them in. The Government is accepting this motion of non-discrimination but later on it will put through legislation that will discriminate. All the while in Galway there is no respite service for those most vulnerable.
I welcome this motion and I thank the Rural Independent Group for tabling it. The mantra over the last 15 months has been that we are all in this together. However, this circus continues. When I was a gouger I remember the Pope saying to people in Galway: “Young people of Ireland, I love you”. This Government has sent a clear message by bringing in this legislation that it does not love the young people.
Last night I spoke to a woman who telephoned me about her youngster whose birthday is in two weeks’ time. The mother and father are vaccinated. One week, they will be able to bring the youngster into the pub but the following week, because of a birthday, the youngster will not be eligible. The madness in that is unbelievable. At the moment, a person who is 16, 17, or 18 years of age and who has not had a vaccine could be serving inside a pub, or they could be 20, 22, or 25 years of age for that matter. However, their mates will be blocked from going in.
We are going to cause a ferocious divide in this country. God help people on doors right around this country. I heard it announced the other day that there has been no collaboration with the UK or Northern Ireland in terms of being able to check who has been vaccinated and who has not. We will go down a road where we say that they can go in. For that matter, anybody living in a Border county can go into a pub with his or her family any day of the week. We talk about staycations but we are going to ship people off to the UK or Northern Ireland where they can have a good weekend or a good holiday. However, they cannot do so here, because they will not be able to go into restaurants.
I cannot understand that the type of mentality, or who has drawn up these types of rules and regulations. To be quite frank about it, the vaccine either works or it does not. Call it out if it does not work. Tell people straight. We do not seem to have any faith in what is going on at the moment. If someone is vaccinated and the vaccine is supposed to deal with the different variants, then why are we basically saying to people that they cannot mix with other people.
People can meet in a hotel or a restaurant people but we are telling youngsters that we are not worried about them. Youngsters who were looking forward to their communion or confirmation are actually allowed into a pub, which is the funny side of all of this. They can have a meal with their parents any night of the week in a restaurant, but they still cannot have their communion or their confirmation. So-called experts tell us that the part they were concerned about was when they would eat. However, they can eat any day of the week, if they are six, eight, ten or 12 years of age, or whatever age they need to be.
I cannot fathom the mentality of who is making up these rules. We are going down a road of pushing everything over to the experts and saying that this is what they said, that these are charts and that these are things that you look at to see how things might go in a worst case or mid-worse case scenario. It is like a mathematical equation. This Dáil does not seem to have the gumption, the guts, or the cop on to bring in stuff. As Deputy Seán Canney said, legislation is not needed; just common sense and for people to act properly. I am clear on that. We need to pay tribute to people around the country, and especially our youth. The media are great at trying to show them up. However, we should look at how the youth behaved throughout this. They should take a bow for what they have done. Once again we are kicking them in the teeth and telling them they are not wanted.
The Government has been very clear in its determination to ensure that when services reopen, they stay open. In line with Recovery and Resilience: The Path Ahead, we have been able, as planned, to facilitate the reopening of many lower risk activities, including increasing the numbers permitted at outdoor gatherings and removing the limit on the number of people who can visit each other once they are fully protected by vaccination or immunity. Significant and sustained progress in our reopening of society and our economy has been made in recent months thanks to the efforts of individuals and communities across the country. We do not want to be forced backwards at this critical junction.
Unfortunately, as we have heard, the increase in cases of the more transmissible Delta variant now poses a significant and immediate threat to the progress which has been made. Experience elsewhere demonstrates the very real danger the Delta variant poses. For example, Scotland has seen a significant rise in hospitalisations. The European Centre for Disease Control, ECDC, has warned that a relaxation of measures over the summer months could lead to a fast and significant increase in daily cases in all age groups with an associated increase in hospitalisations and deaths. Recent estimates from the ECDC suggest the Delta variant is estimated to be 55% more transmissible than the Alpha variant, which rapidly became dominant in Ireland at the start of the year.
We are seeing more and more cases of Delta in Ireland. As of 9 July 2021, it was estimated more than 82% of cases in Ireland are thought to be the Delta variant making it the predominant variant. As case numbers will increase due to the increased transmissibility of Delta, a review of current public health measures is being undertaken to ensure the public health response remains fit for purpose and responsive to the current epidemiological situation.
We are constantly strengthening our public health response to this pandemic, including through our testing and contact tracing system, travel policy measures and the roll-out of the national vaccination programme.
The testing and tracing programme is fundamental to identifying the source and containing the spread of the virus. Demand for testing is currently high. From 30 June to 6 July, there were a total of more than 92,000 community referrals for tests. This represents an increase of more than 23% on the previous week. We are maintaining a robust testing and tracing system that is capable of meeting surges in demand. Currently there is standing capacity in the system to carry out 175,000 tests per week and to complete full contact tracing for 1,500 detected cases per day.
Rapid testing also has a role to play as another valuable tool in Ireland's battle against Covid-19. Rapid testing is complementary to our PCR testing programme but will not replace it. Validated antigen testing is already being used in appropriate settings and contexts in the health and agriculture sectors and a number of pilots are under way, including in the education sector. Given the challenges posed by the Delta variant and the likely very significant demands on PCR testing capacity, it is intended that validated antigen testing will be deployed further in the weeks ahead in support of PCR testing.
International travel is also opening up. To support the safer reopening of travel, the regulations supporting the EU digital Covid certificate have come into effect and certificates based on vaccination are currently being issued via email and post across the country. It is intended that new travel measures will be introduced from 19 July, subject to the prevailing public health situation. As these measures are rolled out, we are continuing to strengthen our travel policies in other areas. Mandatory hotel quarantine for passengers arriving from designated states will continue to be an important safeguard. The Covid-19 passenger locator is another important measure. From 12 July 2021 passengers travelling to Ireland from overseas are required to present evidence of a completed Covid-19 passenger locator form as a pre-boarding requirement, which is to be checked by travel carriers.
The successful vaccine roll-out has continued at pace even with the added challenge of the recent cyberattack on the HSE. There are now 43 vaccination centre sites operating nationally. Last week saw pharmacies begin to administer vaccines to those aged 18 to 34. To date 34,500 doses have been delivered in pharmacy settings to both younger adults and the over-50s and the HSE anticipates a further 85,000 doses will be administered to younger age groups in the next two weeks. The HSE online portal for those aged 30 to 34 opened on Wednesday, 7 July, and vaccination appointments for those in this age group aged 30 to 34 have commenced this week.
The success of the vaccination programme has been built on the very high levels of take-up of the vaccine by Irish citizens, of which we should all be proud. I take this opportunity to thank all the healthcare workers and volunteers who are working tirelessly to make our national vaccination programme such a success. The programme is a source of national pride. I got my second AstraZeneca vaccination in Sligo on Monday. I thank the front-line workers and the volunteers for their courtesy and determination to vaccinate as many people as possible.
To ensure the continued success of our vaccination programme we must continue to exercise caution. We know that social mixing in indoor environments still represents a very high risk to unvaccinated populations. That is why the Government is working tirelessly with the hospitality sector to operationalise the safer reopening of indoor restaurants and bars.
Ireland’s plans to use proof of vaccination or recovery to enable the reopening of indoor activities are in line with the approach in a range of countries which have restricted access to a variety of settings to those with a Covid pass, including in Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. The plans put in place by the Government present the best path available to allow the reopening of indoor hospitality in a safe manner. The legislation being presented to the Dáil today will allow us to do this, as we continue the accelerated roll-out of our vaccine programme.
It has now been more than 500 days since the first case of Covid was reported in Ireland. The Government understands the difficulties caused by the continued necessary restrictions. However, we must not allow the Delta variant to undermine the progress we have made. Right now, our focus must be on maintaining our progress and continuing to protect the most vulnerable as our vaccination programme continues to deliver protection to the population. As we approach our 5 millionth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, we have great hope for our future.
I thank the contributors to the debate. I thank Deputies Cairns, Paul Murphy, Canney, Tóibín, Connolly, Fitzmaurice and Bacik who have contributed since I arrived at 11 o'clock. I welcome Deputy Bacik to the Dáil. I was in the Seanad with the Senator. She was articulate, passionate, very principled, respected and well liked. We are very fortunate to have her in this Chamber. As she said, we need to balance risk and she has asked the Government to give clear messages and provide a clear way forward.
I thank everybody who was involved in dealing with the front-line services and the volunteers, the GAA clubs, the businesses, the Garda Síochána and everybody else who worked very hard and put their shoulder to the wheel. I also thank the tens of thousands of people who signed up to Be on Call for Ireland, but they were not respected. Only a handful of them were called up. Those people wanted to give their services to the country.
As this is our second last day in the convention centre, I thank the staff here, including an fear uasal Ó Dubhuir, ó Caiseal Mumhan. Mr. Dwyer is now retired. I was inquiring about him yesterday. He was chairperson when I came here first. The staff made us welcome. We railed against the move but the staff made us welcome. The ushers, gardaí and secretarial staff, from Mr. Peter Finnegan down, have really put their shoulders to the wheel and helped us all. We may not have been the easiest to manage at times. It is important to say that this week because they all helped us, from the front door right to the Chamber. I include the Garda Síochána in that regard.
I am really perplexed and confused by the Government. It is accepting this motion. I thank Mr. Brian Ó Domhnaill, Mr. David Mullins and Deputy McNamara, who is in a different group, the Independent Group, for their valuable input into this motion.
Here we are, with a docile Government again. It is not going to oppose the motion or debate it properly. It is implying it is a great motion and that it agrees with it, yet it will introduce this evening draconian, discriminatory legislation that will have had no pre-legislative scrutiny and that will not have been subject to debate. We had 45 minutes in total for Committee Stage. With the increase, there has been a doubling, and we have 140 minutes. All our groups will have only ten minutes each. On the second last day of this term, why the indecent haste? The Government states it wants to open up hospitality but it is going the wrong way about it.
This motion is an out. We moved it in the hope that it would convince backbenchers who are telling their constituents they want everything opened. They are voting in the opposite way. They got out the gap by not having to vote against this motion. The Government has been doing this very cleverly lately to take the heat off it. Tonight it will force through, under a guillotine, what many have described as horrible legislation.
The Government's move to systematically introduce a vaccine passport authorisation scheme to allow a person to enter a pub, restaurant or other place of hospitality, including a bus, is both unethical and discriminatory. It represents a very severe and intrusive plan to create unviable and unworkable segregation, with unvaccinated people forced to remain outdoors. It is an unconstitutional restriction of a person's right to bodily integrity and personal freedom. That is quite clear.
Covid passports would represent digital identity cards by the back door. It is quite obvious what is happening. We are giving public authorities, such as the Garda, access to biometric and healthcare data. This is the thin end of the wedge, particularly given that the public authorities in Ireland have not always graced themselves with glory concerning records. We saw HSE records dumped in tips and everywhere else, and there have been leaks and selective leaks. It is shocking.
The Government's approach and ongoing overreach have just gone too far. The move requiring us to show our health papers wherever we go is truly extraordinary. The Government says it wants to help us by opening up hospitality but its not voting against this motion is a total cop-out.
The system, if anyone adheres to it, seeks to divide the people of Ireland into two classes. Goodness knows, we have had that for long enough. Those who have received the vaccine and those who have not comprise the two classes. The demands being made are a violation of citizens' civil and constitutional rights under Bunreacht na hÉireann.
I remind the House again of the ceremony that I refused to attend in Dublin Castle last Sunday on behalf of our group. It was to commemorate the 100th anniversary of our freedom. How dearly that was fought for by people up and down the country, including Michael Collins, Seán Ó Treasaigh and "Dinny" Lacey. The first shots of the War of Independence were fired in Tipperary and now we are commemorating the Truce. The Government drafters and the Office of the Attorney General have drafted legislation that is totally taking away our rights and walking on the Constitution. I ask them to reflect calmly, coolly and collectively on where they are and the kind of trance they are in.
Ireland has experienced the longest and deepest lockdown in the world. At this point, when every other country has reopened indoor hospitality, Irish pubs, restaurants, cafés and other entertainment venues, such as arts centres, all of which have been closed for much of the past 16 months, including since December under the latest lockdown, are being forced to implement a draconian scheme whereby only the vaccinated may enter. Just think about it. All of Europe, including the United Kingdom, and the USA and Canada are allowing all indoor hospitality to return to normal. In fact, many places have been operating as normal for months.
In Ireland, the Government is banning the reopening of premises for indoor dining and has instead come up with a completely unworkable and ridiculous vaccine passport regime. It causes segregation and discrimination. The Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, who replied to us earlier, should note that.
In effect, the proposed arrangement will mean that unvaccinated staff members serving vaccinated customers will have to check paperwork to assess whether potential customers are vaccinated. You just could not make it up. If you asked children in junior infants to do it, they would not do it as badly. It could also mean that, due to the age requirements, gardaí will have to assess whether a potential restaurant customer is vaccinated.
In the proposed legislation, which is being rushed and not debated properly, the Minister for Health is having powers bestowed on him again to introduce any statutory instrument he likes to give any group, be it a private security company or Óglaigh na hÉireann, our Army, powers to enforce the legislation. The Rural Independent Group tabled an amendment in this regard. The powers being given represent the most dangerous part. We will be gone from this convention centre to the hills for the next several weeks and the Minister will be able to introduce anything he likes. We have seen the record of what he has introduced and the dangers. There is no proper sunset clause or scrutiny.
We hear that 300 HSE officials and 70 HSA officials are going to police the arrangements with An Garda Síochána but they can introduce any other cohort of people. I dread the thought that a private security firm might be given a job in this regard. Where is the democracy in that? Where is the Government's logic in that? It is not making it easy for anyone. It is total confusion after confusion. The Government led the hospitality sector up the garden path, stating it would be open last Monday week, but at the eleventh hour it said it would not be opened and that it, the Government, would work with it. Why did the Government not work with the sector over all the months for which it has been closed? Some of the businesses have been closed for 500 days. I am referring to good business people who want to give employment, pay their taxes and serve the public. The Government could not work with them. It just destroyed them.
The same applies to religious services of all faiths. They have been just banished again. People have wanted to make their confirmations but they have been postponed four times. People have wanted to make their first holy communion. These are sacraments that people value. They like to have these. Spiritual nourishment is so important. I salute the parish councils, priests, other clergymen and laypeople who have done such gallant work throughout the whole period on cleansing and making their places safe. Why are they not allowed to open those places? There is inbuilt, inherent discrimination in what is before us today. It is so discriminatory I could not really get words to describe it.
Consider the hospitals, including the maternity hospitals. Countless Deputies, including me, have asked the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister for Health why what is going on is occurring. I had a Topical Issue matter on it this week. Despite the arrangements, little independent groups of hospitals are refusing partners, fathers or siblings the right to be with a prospective mother when they get good news or, worse, when they get very bad news, such as news of a miscarriage or a life-limiting condition. What is going on that the Government cannot even change this? Why is the HSE so out of control? Is NPHET so much in control, with its hands on the handlebars of power, that the Government cannot challenge it? When I challenged Dr. Holohan at a meeting, I was not answered and was rebutted. He deals with the lockdown on the basis of doing the science later. We have been operating on a wing and prayer and people have perished and are being destroyed. I refer to family businesses and family people.
What about the waiting lists for cancer care, mental services and orthodontic treatment, and what about the misdiagnoses? Deputy Connolly always refers to the absolute lack of respite. Of all times, this is a time when respite is needed. What about all this and the way we deny the nursing homes personal protective equipment? We actually took for the HSE equipment that was going to nursing homes. We should think of all the people who died in those centres.
Mar fhocal scoir, I appeal to the Government. I would prefer if it had the guts today to oppose this motion and not allow it because it is just playing a three-card trick on the people it represents. It is telling the people it agrees with the motion but tonight it is going to introduce the most draconian, anti-constitutional legislation ever introduced in this House. It would not be accepted in wartime. This is a war against the people, the people we are supposed to serve and who put us in this Parliament. I appeal to the Minister of State, in this last minute, to vote against this motion and put his money where his mouth is or else not introduce the Bill tonight. The House could come back on Friday or next week and debate it properly.
Words were attributed to me yesterday by members of the media. There was a story that I uttered certain words.
One word starts with an "A". I never said those words anywhere in my life. I would not even repeat the words here.