Wednesday, 14 July 2021
Health (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2021: Committee and Remaining Stages
I request the Ceann Comhairle to direct the Clerk, in accordance with Standing Order 196, to make the following minor correction to the text of the Bill:
On page 18, line 43, replace the words "Companies Acts" with "Companies Act 2014".
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, line 9, to delete "the later of" and substitute "9 October 2021".
The purpose of these amendments is to ensure that there is no option to extend the measures in this Bill, as is currently the case.
We have put down this amendment in the context that we are opposed to the Bill. Regrettably, we will have to vote against it. If, as is almost certain, the Bill passes, there should not be the option to renew the measures included in it after 9 October. The Oireachtas should now make the decision that this will be as far as these measures can extend. The reasons it should not be possible to extend them beyond 9 October are exactly the same reasons that we in People Before Profit feel we must vote against the Bill, full stop. The health status or vaccination status of a person should not determine his or her rights to access basic things in our society. That is our view. I say this as someone who is an enthusiastic supporter, as is our entire party, of the vaccination programme that is under way. I also urge everybody who is offered a vaccine to take one because the vaccination programme is our best chance of getting out of this grim situation, which has, over the last year and a half, cast a dark shadow over our entire society and much of the world, in terms of its economic, social and psychological impact. I firmly believe that the vaccines are what will potentially take us out of this situation and prevent the possibility of further lockdowns, which would become an inevitability if we did not have a vaccine or the other public health measures we have taken were not enough to defeat it. While the extreme hardship, commitment and solidarity of people have held the virus at bay, the vaccination programme gives us the opportunity to potentially exit all of that and leave lockdowns behind, which is something people yearn for.
The idea that whether you have been vaccinated would determine whether you could enter a pub or restaurant or access any service creates a two-tier society based on medical or vaccination status. I believe this is discriminatory. It is ethically problematic and starts us on a slippery slope with regard to a person's vaccination status, or health status more generally, with personal and private health information determining a person's right to fully participate in society on the same basis as the rest of the population.
This approach also has impacts on those who cannot be vaccinated. There are people with health conditions who are told by their doctors that they cannot have a vaccine and it would be dangerous to take it. There are also people who have not been fully convinced to take a vaccine. I want to convince them. I urge people to take the vaccines but there are some people who, understandably, have not been convinced and we must convince them.
Anything that smacks of coercion is unhelpful. It is worth noting that the World Health Organization has strongly argued against mandatory vaccination. It has argued that it can actually do damage to the effort to educate people about public health measures and vaccinations. It is worrying and telling that the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, whose members are not conspiracy theorists, are very much in favour of public health measures and are certainly not anti-vaccination or anything like that, has written to the Government to express concern that these kinds of measures are potentially counterproductive and smack of "mandatory vaccination by the back door". I believe that was the phrase the ICCL used in its letter to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and possibly also to the Minister for Health. There is a coercive pressure put on people to be vaccinated who either cannot be vaccinated, have not yet been offered a vaccine or have not been convinced about vaccination.
I oppose the Bill for the reasons that it is wrong to discriminate, it is wrong to create a two-tier situation and there are also ethical problems with it. More generally in the Bill, the health of those who work in these areas is being put in jeopardy. Younger people have not been vaccinated yet and their health is being put in jeopardy. We wonder why legislation on ventilation standards has not been rushed through into the Dáil as quickly as some of the other legislation we have seen this week. That would guarantee proper ventilation standards that might do more to protect public health and the health of workers.
I know the Government has said the choice is between opening up a bit on the basis of these measures, opening everything and risk public health or delaying. We will nail our colours to the mast. We would rather delay and not have discrimination, a two-tier situation and invasive questions, demands and obligations put on people about their vaccination or health status. We should delay so that we can all enjoy the reopening that will come on the basis of sufficient levels of vaccination being achieved, such that we will have population immunity and protection at the point at which that arrives. Hopefully, that will be quite soon because the vaccination programme is advancing pretty rapidly. At this stage, it seems to be efficacious and let us hope - fingers crossed - that it remains that way and we get to the point where reopening is possible. We would rather delay and not take the risk given the dangers of the Delta variant and given that this regime creates a sort of discriminatory two-tier situation and may be quite unenforceable in truth. That is the other point to make. Is any of this practical or operable in the scenarios to which it is supposed to apply?
This is the basis on which we oppose the Bill and feel obliged to vote against it. Insofar as we are pretty certain that the Government majority will ensure the Bill does pass, this amendment calls for a firm sunset clause, not an open-ended one that could be extended. This amendment says, in effect, "this far and absolutely no further" on these kinds of measures. This a reasonable proposal and I hope we will get the support of maybe even the Minister, who is nodding. Perhaps he will support our amendment.
Like the previous speaker, I will be opposing the Bill. I suspect the Government has the numbers to get it through, however. If the Bill is to be passed, the two proposed amendments would be better than the Minister's proposal to have a sunset clause of 9 October which could then be extended further. I support the two amendments and I look forward to the proposers of these amendments supporting my amendments later, which I am sure they will.
I support the amendments and I oppose the Bill. The vote we have just had on Second Stage shows the level of opposition to this Bill. As almost the entire Opposition have been telling the Minister in recent weeks, before he brings forward a Bill that includes a sunset clause, he should bring forward a plan that will work. If a plan is brought forward that does not work, he will not get support for the Bill from anyone other than the Government. No sooner was the ink dry on the Bill and the amendments sheet that has been published, that the Bill and the plan began to unravel. The Chief Medical Officer is already saying that one of the provisions of the Bill, the measure allowing under 18s into indoor hospitality, is not one he would recommend.
Yet the Tánaiste and the Minister were at pains to point out that those of us who do not support the Bill and who want a safe and sustainable reopening of indoor hospitality for everybody at whatever time it is suitable to do it, are somehow going against the public health advice, but the same Government is introducing a Bill that it seems the public health advice did not support and is now saying should not happen. That is why all of this is a farce and it is not going to work. Time and again the Minister has been warned that if he brings forward a plan that is impractical, unfair or discriminatory then he is going to run into difficulties.
We have more than 30 amendments. I will not speak for much longer because I know a lot of Deputies want to speak and I do not believe we should filibuster when there are so many amendments that we want to get through. We have 90 minutes, which is appalling, to go through all of the amendments. We have no hope of doing that. I do not believe the Minister is going to support any of the amendments. We are going through Committee Stage knowing that we can make our points, which we have done, but already the Bill and the Minister's plan is beginning to crumble. It seems to have already fallen foul of public health advice. That is an indication of the madness of all of this. It is not going to work. Everything I have heard from the Government and everything I have heard today from the Tánaiste about this being light touch, and that the compliance officers will not really be going into premises to check anything or enforce this shows that the Bill is just a farce. It is a nod and a wink and it is absolute madness. What the Minister should have done from day one is work on a solution that allows us to open indoor hospitality when it is safe to do so, in a safe and sustainable way for everybody. Instead, the Government has made an absolute pig's ear of it, as it has done on many other issues as well.
In all conscience I cannot support the Bill. I do not believe anybody in this House should support any Bill that excludes people, that discriminates and leaves people behind. It is not fair. It is not what should be happening. It goes against the grain of everything that I stand for as a republican that I would be asked to support a Bill that discriminates against young people especially, and leaves 800,000 of them outside the door. That is ridiculous. They are the same young people that we expect to go into pubs to pull the pints and serve the food but they cannot then avail of the same hospitality. Now we have families going on staycations, who are told on the one hand by the Government that they can bring in their children who are under 18 but the public health experts are saying they should not bring them in. This is the confusion and chaos that comes from a lack of planning from a Government that simply does not have a clue when it comes to putting in place solutions that are fair and sustainable. This mess is entirely of the Government's making. It can blame Sinn Féin and the Opposition on the airwaves and everywhere else but this is the Government's mess because it did not plan and there is no contingency or anything else. Now we are being asked to support the Bill today. I am not going to do it. I may not get a chance to speak again because I suspect other Members will want to make their point but I am simply not going to support the Bill because the Minister has made a complete pig's ear of it.
I support the amendment. The sunset clause for this legislation should be in black and white. It should be set in stone that the legislation should not be extended beyond 9 October.
I genuinely believe this legislation is unworkable. It could have been workable if the provision for antigen testing was included from the start. We could be opening up restaurants and pubs later this week using antigen testing and giving people access on the exact same basis as someone who is fully vaccinated. Over the past 12 months the Government has not addressed the issue of antigen testing. It has referred continually to the health experts regarding it. The health experts have taken a particular interpretation based on the fact that the public would not understand a result received from an antigen test. The Government can take a decision tomorrow morning that the result of an antigen test should be sufficient, rather than waiting and plámásing the medical profession to come round to the view that the public are mature enough to understand what an antigen test means. I plead with the Minister to open up more of society but let us do it in a safe manner, which I agree with, and antigen testing can allow that to happen.
We have this bizarre situation that I referred to in my contribution on Second Stage where one must have a vaccination certificate to access indoor dining, yet one can go to a cinema and one does not need it. The Chief Medical Officer tells us now that children under 18 years of age should not go into restaurants but we can have children going into cinemas in the exact same atmosphere. There is a contradiction regarding the advice that is being given. The fundamental issue is that vaccination status should never define someone's access to pubs, restaurants or wider society. We cannot have a situation where this particular law extends beyond 9 October. I for one would actively encourage every single citizen in this State to take the vaccine if he or she gets the opportunity and where it is safe to do so when it is made available to him or her. There is coercion in the legislation and I cannot accept that. I urge the Minister to look at antigen testing as an alternative avenue and to implement it in tandem with the provisions that are made in the Bill.
When responding, could the Minister provide some clarity on the certificate for someone who has recovered from Covid-19? The public commentary to date is that for six months after a person has recovered, he or she can go into a pub or restaurant and certification will be provided for that. Who is going to provide the certification? I do not know. There is confusion regarding it, but that is a direct contradiction of what is on the HSE's website, which clearly states that someone is immune and protected for nine months after infection. If that is the case, he or she should be able to go into a pub or restaurant but we are saying they will only be allowed in for six months. Why the contradiction in regard to that when it is public health advice and when this is what the medical experts are saying to us?
The final point I will make to the Minister is that the public health advice is that a PCR test allows someone to travel and to come into this jurisdiction but does not allow someone to go into a pub or restaurant. Again, there is a direct contradiction here with the public health advice. We could get on an aeroplane with a couple of hundred people in a very confined space where there is a potential risk of spreading the virus. A PCR test will allow people to do that but it will not allow them to get off the aeroplane and go into a pub or restaurant with the exact same results. These contradictions are adding to the absolute confusion. This legislation is completely unworkable. Premises will open and will find that they cannot remain open because they cannot enforce the legislation and will be forced to close. That is in no one's interest. We want to see society open and remain open. At a very minimum, I urge the Minister to accept the amendment and set in stone 9 October as the final date for this legislation.
I too support amendment No. 1. I again appeal to the Minister, but I know it will fall on deaf ears.
Guillotining a Bill of this nature is disgraceful. How can the Minister do that, given his pronouncements while in opposition and at leaders' meetings that Deputies Boyd Barrett and Naughten and others also attended and in light of his questioning of the advice, what was happening and the line from Dr. Holohan? To do such a U-turn beggars belief.
This legislation is unworkable. If it were banished at October, we would at least have some chance, but we are just playing semantics. When October comes, there will be another lockdown and we will be back in this scenario all over again. The people have grown Covid fatigued, media fatigued and Dr. Holohan fatigued. I saw a post this evening where he was again in the media telling people not to bring their children to indoor dining despite these rules. What is going on? There are three leaders in the Government and two are certainly vying for the top job, but is Dr. Holohan and NPHET vying for it as well and trying to scare people? Has he a death wish for hospitality? Is there a death wish on all of our people that we cannot be entertained or dine? Musicians have been confined to history. It is shocking. We are debating this rushed, inept, feeble, draconian and disastrous legislation, but Dr. Holohan is out on the airwaves saying other stuff.
Excuse me. I am talking through the Chair.
I am wondering what is going on. The people are sick and weary of it. This is not the first time. I could speak about the Aughinish Alumina plant and the Geoghegan family in Limerick. They had issues with Dr. Holohan and the now Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin. There was no public inquiry into what happened. What about the cervical smear tests and many other issues? Mind games are being played now. A tweet was just sent to me with Dr. Holohan's statement this evening. Is what we do in the House irrelevant? NPHET is in charge. We have abdicated our responsibility to NPHET, the national immunisation advisory committee, NIAC, and God knows what other quango.
Under this legislation, the Minister will have the power to introduce via statutory instrument anything he dreams up. My concern has to do with the fact that these measures will be policed by 300 HSE staff, 70 Health and Safety Authority, HSA, staff, the Garda and whatever organisations, outfits or cabals the Minister dreams up for inclusion in the statutory instrument. Give them the badge and off they go like sheriffs and posses. As someone mentioned, they will probably only work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. because they will not be given overtime, but I am sure some of them will be zealous in catching people and earning stripes.
This is silly and pathetic nonsense. The Minister knows that because he used to say the exact opposite as he does now. He admitted in the Chamber a couple of months ago that we were right and that he would have been saying the same thing as us were he over here. He is on the record as saying that. What happens when people go into government? What power comes over them that makes their hands sign these measures and changes them so much overnight from questioning, engaging and being responsible? We all engaged in those meetings at first and backed every decision the Government took because we were all worried and frightened about what would happen, but then we saw the figures, which did not stack up anywhere, and the damage being done to our health services, for example, mental health services, late and missed cancer diagnoses, scoliosis procedures and a plethora of other services. People cannot get near a doctor or hospital. It beggars belief.
After the 15 or 16 months and the €4 billion spent on top of the existing €19 billion, we have just nine extra ICU beds. We keep locking down the country and crucifying small businesses and tens of thousands of jobs across all sectors because of an inadequate HSE and health service. If we keep this going on for much longer, we will not have an economy to recover. The Minister might say that I am a conspiracy theorist, but we are beholden to some greater power. It will be in charge and we will eat crumbs from its table. This is mad and is getting madder by the week.
The Bill is being rushed. The Rural Independent Group tabled 11 or 12 amendments, but not one will be taken. At least if amendment No. 1 is taken, people might have some hope that we are not in this for the real long haul and that, when October comes, the Minister will not have the ability to extend the measures for a further three months just as a matter of form. The extension would have to be put to the House, but the Government has its majority in the form of its three parties and some Regional Group Independents who will back it come hell or high water. I do not know whether that is because they expect to fall into government when the Green Party leaves or whatever, but they are in awe of the Government.
We had a great celebration last Sunday in Dublin Castle. I did not intend on principle. How could we celebrate our patriotic dead who got us our freedom, which we boast about and have thankfully enjoyed for nearly 100 years, at the same time as draconian and penal legislation for a medical apartheid was being drafted in some other office of the Attorney General and his staff? I am not naming the Attorney General personally. I am referring to the staff, the drafting people. The Government was down celebrating at Dublin Castle. What rank hypocrisy and sheer brass neck. It is a new low having those two events happening side by side and we are here four days later taking away people's rights.
People will be expected to declare their medical histories to get into hospitality even though, as Deputy Naughten said, they will be able to go to a cinema and get their Coca Cola and popcorn or whatever without a passport. Most of the cinema chains are very large as well. It is all about big business while all the small, home-grown, one-person and family businesses will be destroyed. Their workers will be forced to work even though they cannot get vaccinated, but if they want to have a social drink after they finish their shifts later in the evening, they will not be able to. They will have to go out onto the street to do so.
It is patent nonsense and the Minister should be ashamed to have anything to do with it, never mind signing the legislation. He will not give us any insight into the statutory instruments he might sign, but I say they will be interesting. We will not be here for six or seven weeks and there will be no account given to anyone, not that there is much accountability anyway. The power has been wrested from the Dáil. Actually, it has not been wrested from us, but given away by the Government to unelected cabals. Some of the people in them are certainly good in their own right, but when I asked Dr. Holohan in the Cabinet room - some of the Deputies present now were there on behalf of their groups - for a third time about the science around the closure of churches and the restrictions on numbers and the Taoiseach told him to answer me, he told me to listen, that we were dealing with a pandemic, that we would do the lockdown and that we would deal with the science later. I threw my hat at it. I have not been invited - to my knowledge, no party leader has - to any briefing since, and that was early November. The Government has lost the public and the Opposition groups, as will be seen in the vote, because it did not continue with the briefings and with informing us after the fear and the fog lifted and we wiped the glasses, put on the cap, got a chance to think and asked what really was happening and whether it was a merry dance. I am not making little of anyone who died. I also want a public inquiry - not done by people from Ireland, but from abroad - into the slaughter in the nursing homes and how people were afflicted in hospitals. I am not blaming the front-line staff. I am blaming the bad management and the fact that PPE could not be got for nursing homes. Oxygen that was en routeto nursing homes was diverted away from them. If someone does not go to the Hague to face charges of crimes against humanity for that, I will give up. What happened is a shocking indictment.
If we have another pandemic of any kind, we will have just nine extra ICU beds after all the money that was spent. The Minister should be proud of himself. Some €4 billion plus has been spent, and that is just the amount we know about. Yesterday, Deputy Connolly tried to elicit answers about the cost of the vaccination programme and the various procurement processes, but there has been no procurement process since Covid started. It is just a case of spending whatever with no accountability. People have rang me looking to find out where places were. They had been asked to do work by the HSE. They were told to get it done, to work night and day and that the price did not matter. The HSE threw caution to the wind. If we had a great deal of extra capacity or a new field hospital built, that would be great - China can build a hospital in one or two weeks - but we have only nine extra ICU beds to our credit for €4 billion.
In response to Be On Call for Ireland, thousands of people came home from abroad to offer their services free of charge. According to the figures I last got from the Minister, I believe that only a couple of hundred were taken on. People had the spirit of meitheal, ní neart go cur le chéile and so on. They wanted to help. Everyone got motivated and did his or her bit. "We are all in this together", but we are a long way away from that now. There are a few of you in it.
I have to ask the same question Deputy Danny Healy-Rae asked earlier. Why is the Government so against antigen testing? Do some people who are involved in the system or close to it have a vested interest in the other test? The name is gone from me now. It is the test everyone is doing. Every other country in Europe and all over the world is using the antigen test. We are talking about it. We are setting up an expert group to look at this test, 15 months on.
I asked the Minister in the Dáil yesterday if we would have an investigation. He told me three or four investigations were going on in different aspects of the HSE. I do not want that. I want an outside investigation - outside of this country and with no connection to the HSE or the Department of Health - and an independent inquiry as to how the Government and its advisers, NPHET, the HSE and the Department of Health have handled this crisis. Nothing else will satisfy because we have enough of cover-ups, a lack of inquiries and refusals. The Geoghegan family's blood samples were lost and Dr. Holohan refused to allow a public inquiry and sitting beside him that day was the then Minister for Health, Deputy Micheál Martin. That was a long time ago, in 2003-----
-----and there has been significant cover-up in the past 30 years. It is cover-up after cover-up. Now, we get here and this is the biggest cover-up of all. I am asking the Minister - I know he will not do it, but I hope someday, someone will - to establish an inquiry that will get answers and honesty and restore the integrity and respect people had for our public services.
I will be brief. I said earlier I am against the Bill and this amendment is talking about a three-month review. We should be reviewing it in two weeks. If that means the return of the Dáil, so be it. We have to understand that people's livelihoods, and their whole lives for that matter, are at risk. This is completely unworkable. Common sense will tell you that. There will be legal challenges to it straight away. It is causing a massive division in our country already. It is something on which we were all meant to be working together and bringing everyone along. That kind of romantic thought was going through the Government's mind at one stage but now it does not give a damn about anyone. The Government can split them left, right and centre, as long as it gets its way.
The Government would not be in the position it is now only for the few backbenchers kicking and lashing for a few days, after it had made the foolish decision in the first place to keep them closed. Unfortunately, these backbenchers did not have enough neck to stand up here tonight and force the Government's hand and a change of mind on its part. It is difficult for me and other Deputies to hear them saying one thing on a radio station or in the newspaper and another thing in the Dáil. They think people at home do not hear what they are saying. They failed to support the local businesses and their local restaurant owner or publican, whether it be in west Cork or throughout the country, by accepting this Bill. Even contemplating this type of amendment is kind of kicking the can down the road when it comes to their businesses.
That a member of staff - a bouncer or someone else - will have to stand at the entrance to a premises and question people from A to Z about their health is both amazing and astonishing. I am concerned about people with illnesses which prevent them being vaccinated, those who would prefer to be inoculated but who cannot be because the vaccine is not yet available to them and, as already stated, young workers. What is proposed is a complete and utter attack on the young people of Ireland. It is not attacking anyone else, only the youngest people of Ireland. The majority of the latter are the people who may want to get vaccinated. That is up to them. If, however, they want to be vaccinated but cannot be, they will not allowed in. The Minister is kicking them outside the door in the midst of what has been a difficult time for them. Young people have suffered enough. The Minister should have thought this through.
Part of this Bill is that you cannot go to the counter of a bar. That is astonishing. As already stated, Deputy Denis Naughten mentioned that you can go into a cinema and there is no regulation, as such. It is just commonsense regulation. In this instance, we are talking about a person who is fully vaccinated going up to the counter in a bar. Is the Government going to come up with legislation to say that people can go shopping and then go up to the counter and pay for what they intend to buy? Is this the road we are travelling? The Minister will say it is not, but what is the difference? It is the same story. People want to go and order whatever they want, such as their food and drink, and then go back to their table. They will not be allowed to do that but they can do it in other establishments. The Government deems it to be wrong in one instance and okay in another.
The Government is discriminating against people in the context of their rights. There is significant anger about this matter. The Government has not looked at all the reasons. Businesses were well prepared to take people's temperatures at the door and have hand sanitisers and social distancing in the bar and restaurant. All these things would have been workable solutions and maybe one or two more workable solutions. We talk about antigen testing and stuff like that. Nobody is willing to come up with some kind of workable solution. What the Government wants to do is create a situation where it is going to force these businesses to close. That is what will happen. They have a gun to their heads. They need to open their doors but the Government has had them shut for 400 days. As a result, 260,000 jobs and between €5 billion and €7 billion have been lost to the economy because of their being closed.
I do not want to go on anymore because other people want to speak, but I certainly will not be supporting this legislation.
I will be opposing the legislation and supporting the amendment before us. Essentially, this legislation is asking the Dáil to give the Minister and Government a blank cheque. We should not give them that for one day longer than is absolutely required in the proposal before us. The reason I say that is because I do not trust the Minister. I do not trust this Government to bring forward regulations in a fair manner and one which will build upon community support.
One of the phenomenal outworkings of the societal response to Covid-19 was the sense of solidarity we have seen through the most part of the past 18 months. People have been looking out for each other, supporting our front-line workers and understanding and appreciating the sacrifices others have made. There was a sense that solidarity had permeated through the major part of our society. Despite being demonised at different points during the pandemic, young people were to the fore in that regard. The solidarity displayed by young people during the pandemic has been phenomenal. Consider what they have sacrificed in terms of school closures, missing out on college life and social life at really important times, employment and future employment prospects, travel, love and all those things that are part of those crucial, formative years. These were all sacrificed and there has been a cost to their mental health as a result. Our young people have made real sacrifices. They were not the same type of sacrifices as those made by the people who lost loved ones or endured serious physical illness but they were sacrifices nonetheless. We should commend the young people of Ireland on making those sacrifices. They did it for their grannies, parents, elderly neighbours and the vulnerable in our communities.
My biggest fear is that the Minister has brought forward legislation that trashes all of the sacrifice and effort our young people made and spits in their facts. In the context of those who suffered so much through mental anguish, it was young people who were most affected as a result of all that has happened over the past year. I have seen it in my family, community, town and constituency. Now, the Minister is saying that those people are to be discriminated against.
I want to see hospitality open for all. I want to see it happening in a safe manner and I want to ensure that when we open a service, whatever it may be, it will remain open. On all of those rhetorical points, I am at one with everybody in this House. What if we had to, at some stage, bring forward new proposals for further restrictions? What if there is an "echo" or a "falcon" variant or whatever the next name is? What if there is a variant that beats the vaccine?
What if we have to go back and ask people to make sacrifices again? How can we possibly look young people in the eye and ask them to do that all over again when we have decided to bring forward legislation that discriminates against them after they did it once before? We cannot. That is why I am so angry about this legislation. That is why so many people are frustrated. They cannot believe that the Government has the audacity to do this to them, when they have no choice. Most of them will receive the vaccine when it is available to them but it is not available to most of them right now. They are expected to work in the bars and the restaurants and to wait on people who were vaccinated but they are unable to enjoy the same services themselves. That is plainly, utterly wrong.
We all recall the summer recess last year and the infamous "golfgate". Do Members remember the anger that arose among the public about that? It was not because a group of people met in a hotel and had a meal and a pile of pints. It was because most people were not allowed to do that and they abided by the rules. What really angered people was the sense that there was one rule for some and another rule for others. Essentially, what the Government is doing tonight is bringing forward legislation that legalises one rule for some and another rule for everybody else. That is not good enough. I fear that the Minister is undermining that great sense of solidarity we should be so proud of among the young and old across society. The Minister will be responsible for that. I hope he recognises that and realises what he is doing with this legislation. He is serving precisely nobody well. I will proudly hit the "Níl" button anocht.
On foot of what Dr. Tony Holohan said this evening, the Minister has lost all credibility. He has given different reasons for introducing this Bill but Dr. Holohan said that he did not advise and was not advising that people under 18 years of age should be let into indoor hospitality. That tells me the Government is only making it up as it goes along. What is sad about this, and I support this amendment on the sunset clause, is that the people who will be affected by this are, first, the young people who could not avail of the vaccine yet. As we have been and are debating here, they are doing everything possible to try to get vaccinated so they will not be left outside. We know what they have suffered. Everybody says that it was the young and very old who suffered the most during the pandemic. I agree with that. Our youngsters behaved very well during the time they were not supposed to do this and that. The Minister should know that if he blackguards youngsters, they will never forget. They will never forget this, which is creating a two-tier society. It is undemocratic and unfair. I cannot stand or vote for that.
The Minister has to realise that there are people who, for medical reasons, could not avail of the vaccine. In the medical advice from their general practitioners, they were advised against taking the vaccine. They would have liked to get it like everybody else but they were advised not to and had to abide by their medical advice. Therefore, they cannot go into indoor hospitality, be it into a pub with their husband or into a restaurant with other family members who are vaccinated. They will have to be left outside. A woman on the telephone to me today was very critical. She asked me if I was going to vote to keep her apart from her family. There have been others as well. At this late stage, I ask the Minister to cop on, do the right thing and open it up for everyone.
It is clear that the Government is just making it up as it goes along. It is like a lifetime ago but the sector was supposed to be open for 5 July. However, a few days before that, the Minister did not realise this and that and said he was keeping it closed a lot longer. Then he formulated this very poor attempt for opening up. Why does he not trust the publicans and the people who run the small restaurants and indoor cafes? They can keep people apart. They can do what they have always done, which is run their businesses well in Killarney and in rural places in Kerry such as Gneeveguilla, Scartaglin, Rathmore, Cromane, Fieries and Currow. I think of all those grand people who have provided this service for years and over the generations, with businesses handed down from one to the other, sometimes going back five generations. The Minister will not trust them to reopen like all the other sectors of society.
Consider the North of Ireland. It is only an hour and a half up the road from here. People in all of Kerry are booking rooms and travelling up to the North for weekends, to such an extent that we could not get rooms for people who are going there to get their cataracts removed in two weeks' time or less. It is absolutely ridiculous. What is the Minister at? Why is he trying to hold a grip on the people? Why does he not just be fair about it, rather than have this two-tier society by letting in some and keeping others out? Other Members wish to speak. This is totally and absolutely ridiculous. It is creating a division in our society by leaving people at home and not letting them have a small bit of a social life for the rest of what is left of the summer. The heart is gone out of the summer already.
I intend to speak against the amendment. Before that, however, there is something deeply wrong with the rules of this House. We cannot accuse each other of lying but we can accuse each other of war crimes. There is something broken in the rules of the House. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle was not in the Chair when it happened but I know a lie when I hear it. There were no war crimes committed during this pandemic.
I speak against the amendment because I believe that the Minister and the Government do not wish to have these powers in place for any longer than is required. I say that not only because it is my belief, but because of the proven track record over the last more than a year when we have dealt with Covid-19. We have never leaned hard into over-regulating the response to Covid-19. When other countries were insisting on people applying for a licence to leave their home, we did not go down that road. We always tried to work with the public because we do not believe that over-regulating and over-implementing restrictive measures are the solution. That has always been the case, so I take the Government's word that this Bill is not a sneaky way of introducing a measure that will be with us in the long term. I do not know why the Government would do that and I do not know the benefits of why it would do it.
I know the benefits of taking the public health approach that has been taken. It has always been the middle ground. We have not leaned into the zero Covid argument, nor have we taken the let-it-rip approach we have seen in the United Kingdom.
The people who have spoken in favour of the amendment have come from multiple positions. They oppose the Bill but they do so from different positions. Some people grossly underestimate the impact Covid has had on our society and the threat it is. Other people would rather we lean harder into a zero-Covid approach. In the middle, we have the main Opposition party that seems to have a different position on Covid depending on the whim and mood. The front page of a newspaper will state they are asking to open the pubs and the next month the headline will state they suggest locking down the country. I never know how they are going to come at it but I know it will be always with a populist approach. The Government has not done that. We have done the right thing when we have needed to do the right thing.
I want to respond to Deputy Boyd Barrett's contribution because I thought it was one of the most honest put forward by an Opposition speaker. He said in order to avoid discrimination he would rather not open up now and that he would rather wait. I hope I am paraphrasing him correctly. This is the gist of what he said. This is an honest interpretation. I ask him to consider the word "discriminate". To me it means to treat people differently unjustly. We have treated people differently in this pandemic from the very start but not unjustly. We asked people aged over 70 to stay in their homes when others did not have to. Yes, it was unfair but not unjust. We asked people not to go to school and college when we allowed people go to work. We asked people in some industries to close but have allowed other industries to thrive. This is not because we were unjust but because that was the best way to deal with the pandemic at the time. I do not believe this discriminates. I believe it does treat groups differently but not because of their age. It is because of the protection they have gained from the vaccine.
This is not the first time we have treated people differently on public health grounds. We allow people to smoke outside a public building but we do not allow them to smoke inside a public building. We allow some people to buy alcohol and tobacco and we prohibit people of a different age buying alcohol and tobacco because it is a good public health decision. Many people here are saying this should all have been sorted and we should have known what we were doing. The Government was planning for a full reopening of society with no passes or restrictions. The entire continent was planning on that but Delta came. When a variant comes, as in every other phase of the pandemic, we pivot, change and do whatever we can to pick the middle road between the hard Covid approach and letting it rip. We have tried to do the sensible thing, which is what we are doing here.
I am not sure I would have supported this measure three or four months ago. Being given the option to show my phone as I walk into a restaurant so I can go inside and be safe is not the hardest thing I have had to do in this pandemic. God, people have had to do some really hard things in this pandemic. People have gone to funerals with only a handful of people there. This will not have been the hardest thing we will have asked the Irish people to do. It is not an issue on which we are discriminating. Tonight I will vote to give 2 million people more freedom to do more in this country. This number is growing every week. I say to young people that I understand it is unfair they will have to eat and drink outside rather than inside but the vaccine is coming to them in the coming weeks. In fact, it will probably come within a shorter time than the length of time we asked people aged over 70 to stay cocooned. I will vote in favour of this to give people freedom.
That was an interesting contribution to follow because, in fairness, it was an honest defence of the Government's position. I do not agree with it and I will explain why. This is unjust. It is absolutely unjust and unfair to discriminate against people on the basis of their vaccination status. It is doubly unjust to do so at a time when almost half of the adult population has not had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated if they want to be. It is triply unjust to force hospitality workers who are not vaccinated to go to work in conditions that are dangerous. To say this is not unjust takes meaning out of the term unjust. It is the definition of unjust. The measures are deeply divisive. Unfortunately, they will undermine the vaccination effort, which is extremely important as it is the only way out of the nightmare situation we are in. This is the effect they are having. They are dividing society.
The reason the Government is doing what it is doing in this extremely rushed way with very important legislation is that it wants to open indoor hospitality. It is willing to do all of this. It is willing to divide society so we can open indoor hospitality six, seven or eight weeks earlier than would otherwise happen. This sums up the middle road about which Deputy McAuliffe spoke. That middle road has been a disaster. In November, the middle road was bowing to the pressure of the lobbyists to open hospitality in December and cause the deaths of more than 1,000 people in January and more than 1,000 people in February. The idea Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party can still present themselves as a reasonable middle-of-the-road government after making such a decision to put private profit before the lives of people is quite astounding.
The same basic decision is being made now. It will not have the same level of disastrous consequences because of the level of vaccination we have in our society but the discrimination will be deeply divisive in our society. It will place in danger the health of hospitality workers. It will cause long Covid for a number of young people and it will result in some extra deaths. The Minister and his middle-of-the-road position may be back here in two months' time having to turn back things and going for a lockdown, which would be an absolute disaster and a nightmare for ordinary people.
I want to refer to the comments of the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Holohan, on encouraging those aged under 18 not to go to indoors hospitality. Deputy Mattie McGrath heard that and said he has a death wish for the hospitality industry. Deputy McGrath thinks unvaccinated people and teenagers, who are just as liable to get Covid and be affected by Covid and spread Covid, should be encouraged to go to indoor congregated settings where people are not wearing masks. Does he have a death wish for the population? The last time Dr. Holohan told people not to go into hospitality was in December. Despite the Government's recommendation he advised people not to go into hospitality. He was right at that time. I do not blame people for not taking that advice because the Government's position was that everything was open and that people should go off and enjoy a so-called meaningful Christmas. If everybody had taken Dr. Holohan's advice we would have saved a lot of lives. What I take from Dr. Holohan's comments is not that he has a death wish for the hospitality industry but that it is a real mistake of the Government to do what it is doing. It is a particular mistake to be doing it without legislation on ventilation. It is a real mistake to be doing it while including unvaccinated people aged under 18, as if it makes a difference, as well, of course, as the whole notion of discrimination which we completely oppose.
There is an alternative. There is a very clear alternative staring us in the face, which is to wait for the reopening of indoor hospitality to protect the reopening that has happened so far and to protect lives and then make sure we protect incomes. Why are people asking to open? It is because they are in a crisis.
The Government needs to say that it will protect the supports for small businesses that need them and which cannot open as a result of the Government measures that are necessary for public health. It must say that this section of the economy cannot open at this point in time and, therefore, the PUP will not be cut. That is the very simple choice we can make to protect lives and health, avoid discrimination and protect people's income. It is the choice that should be made tonight but, unfortunately, it looks like the Government will push through and make the very opposite choice.
It is very interesting that we are having this debate in regard to the hospitality industry when the fact is that most people who have died thus far from Covid in the State died in either a nursing home or a hospital, two settings that are either run, owned or managed by the Government. In the past hour, I gave the Minister's colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, a document showing that the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, put money in front of nursing homes and instructed them to take a large surge of hospital transfers in March 2020. Research conducted by Catherine Fegan of the Irish Independentrevealed that patients were discharged from hospitals wholesale during the early months of 2020. In March that year, 1,363 patients were transferred to nursing homes from hospitals, a number that was higher than in any previous year.
The context is important here. Two days before issuing the NTPF letter on 10 March 2020, the Minister's Department issued a statement that restrictions around visitations to nursing homes were not necessary. Nursing homes had voluntarily closed their doors to avoid Covid spread but were, in effect, instructed to reopen. Two days later, a letter was issued to them saying that the Government wanted to clear old people out of hospitals and place them in nursing homes. What has happened since is history. In excess of 2,000 people died of Covid in nursing homes. Of the 1,300 patients transferred from hospitals to nursing homes in March last year, how many of them died of Covid-19? Where was the logic in emptying hospitals, filling nursing homes to the gills with the most vulnerable people at the start of a global pandemic and then instructing those nursing homes not to close their doors to visitors? Why did the Government and the HSE do this? The Dáil sits for the last time tomorrow before the summer recess. The Minister should make no mistake about it that we will spend every hour during the recess researching what happened to our most vulnerable citizens in nursing homes. There must be a full public inquiry into this matter without delay.
I have never seen anything as unique as this Bill in all my life. There is no Bill I have seen that comes close to this one in terms of how different and illogical it is. I have never before seen a Deputy or Minister stand up in the Dáil and make a blatant argument for discrimination. Without making any bones about it, the Minister has called for discrimination between two sectors of Irish people. The Bill is also unique because what it proposes to do is being done nowhere else. Sometimes in this country we have a blinkered view of the rest of the world. We think we are an open, outward-looking country but indoor dining and hospitality are not closed anywhere else at this time. We are having a circular, insular conversation all the time in this country. Nowhere else has it been decided to introduce a pass system where the only threshold is a requirement to be vaccinated. Other countries have included some form of testing because they realise that not to do so is blatantly discriminatory. Even when the travel certificate was being discussed at European level, it was obvious from the start that there was no way it would gain traction unless that discriminatory element was deleted and provision for testing was introduced.
I would like the Minister to respond to a particular point. It has been reported that people can come to Ireland on a travel certificate and access hospitality here, even though that certificate may have been given on the basis of a test, but an Irish person will not be able to do the same. I would greatly appreciate if the Minister could clarify that. I would not be surprised if it is true given that this Bill is so littered with contradictions.
I have never before seen a Government outsource decision-making wholesale to an unelected third party. NPHET has very narrow terms of reference and, in fairness, it is carrying out those terms of reference to the best of its ability. Its only function is to tackle Covid. Everybody here, as an elected representative, has far broader terms of reference. They include provision for Covid, cancer care, mental heath, heart disease and stroke, as well as incomes, poverty and all the other issues affecting society. The Government has outsourced its decision-making in a way that has never happened before. This is unworkable legislation. It is a gallery of contradictions and it is impossible to implement.
There is another issue on which I would like clarification from the Minister. It was reported in the news today that some hospitality staff will have to identify visually whether a QR code is real because not all businesses will have a scanner. If that is correct, we will see people on O'Connell Street buying and selling QR codes at five for a tenner. There is no way there is going to be any regulation in that regard. Given that generations of students aged under 21 who went to the US on a J1 visa were able to make changes to photocopied passports to enable them to drink alcohol in pubs, the Minister can bet his bottom dollar that if there is no proper scanning process for QR codes, the system will not hold water. It will be a laughing stock if that happens.
I urge the Minister, even at this stage, to reconsider what he is proposing and take the advice of the European Union, which was given seven months ago, to introduce antigen testing. The same advice was given by my party a year ago and it was also contained in the Ferguson report. Doing so would remove the discriminatory element of these provisions. It is young people, in the main, who will be discriminated against under these proposals. They will be able to work in a premises serving customers food and drink but they will not be allowed to socialise on that premises. As I said earlier, they will be able to go to a wedding in a hotel across the road to drink and eat all day long but they will not be able to attend a confirmation celebration in their parents' back garden with a dozen other people. I will be able to fly to Copenhagen without a vaccination, have a slap-up meal in a restaurant there and then return home but I cannot go my local to do the same thing.
I honesty believe that if the intellect of the Government was orientated toward designing a more contradictory solution, it could not have managed to do better than what has been devised in this Bill. The reason this is happening is that the Government is trying, again and again, to reinvent the wheel and is coming up with a triangle. Every single country in Europe is doing the right thing. I am asking the Government to do the same. I will conclude now to make way for other speakers.
I support the amendment. I raised the question of enforcement with the Minister earlier. This plan is totally unenforceable. I put 12 questions to the Minister on Second Stage about who will do the enforcement, how it will be done and how the weaknesses in what he is proposing in regard to the digital certificate will be addressed. There are serious problems in that regard and the Minister has not answered any of those questions. I have a 13th question for him and it relates to the digital certificate. The certificate is in the form of a PDF file. What is to stop people from editing that PDF? I saw somebody doing it earlier this evening. There is nothing to stop a person from changing the details and falsifying the file. There are no grounds on which the Government can be seen to be serious about enforcement in this matter. It is as if its plan is designed to fail. It is a joke and the Minister should admit it.
If indoor hospitality is to be opened up, safety must be paramount. The Minister, however, has taken no steps whatsoever to ensure serious safety within the sector for either customers or unvaccinated staff. There are two actions that must be taken if indoor dining and hospitality are to reopen. The first is to recognise that Covid is airborne and, therefore, proper ventilation is essential for the sake of safety.
The second is to ensure that there are clear health and safety guidelines for staff working in the sector. In an amendment I tabled, I requested that updated guidelines be issued on ventilation in hospitality, that there be updated HSA guidelines on workplace safety and that both would be circulated to employers. Incredibly, my amendment was ruled out of order on the grounds that it is in conflict with the principle of the Bill. Is it a case of safety measures being in conflict with the principle of the Bill? Come on now. Why did the Minister not provide for updated guidelines? I have been raising the issue of ventilation with the Minister for months on end, publicly and privately. He told me last week that he was going to pursue the issue. There is nothing on the important issue of ventilation in the legislation. There are no serious attempts being made to ensure public safety. On the basis of that and of many other concerns, it is just not possible for people to support this legislation.
I am very grateful for the little time I have. If the nose of the Chief Medical Officer is itchy this evening, it would be no wonder. I do not like naming individuals, but we must ask what is Dr. Holohan playing at? The Government and the Minister are attempting to pass legislation telling the nation to do one thing and then the Chief Medical Officer is coming out at a critical time, when there is enough confusion and uncertainty, and saying something else entirely. Is the aim to create division, chaos and uncertainty? Is that what the Minister is trying to do here today? Is there communication going on at all? Has the Minister spoken to Dr. Holohan and told him that the Government is trying to pass legislation to allow people to go indoors? I ask because Dr. Holohan has stated that people under the age of 18 years old should stay outside.
This is crazy beyond belief. Father Ted at his best and at the height of his glory with Father Dougal and all the rest of them would not have made this up. No way in the world could they make this up. It is not funny and not something to be laughed at, because it is so serious. I am fearful about what the Irish people are facing. I refer to the way the Government behaved yesterday in respect of the announcements, where one Minister said one thing and then another Minister said something completely different. They did so literally within minutes of each other. They are obviously not talking to each other. They are all on solo runs, The Green Party is doing one thing, Fine Gael is doing another and Fianna Fail something else again. We also have two people who want to be Taoiseach at the same time. There can only be one Taoiseach in the country, not two, but, unfortunately, two people actually think they are Taoiseach. They are going out, trying to outdo each other and trying to make themselves look good in their own right. The people suffering as a result are those in the hospitality sector, the public and those facing all this uncertainty. That is why I am so concerned.
People will come in here shortly and vote blindly, no matter what people are saying. Those Deputies are just going to toe the party line and the Government line. To me, a Deputy is a messenger of the people in the constituency that he or she has been lucky enough to be elected to represent. Deputies come into this House, though, and just row in behind the party, while ignoring the concerns which exist. If we study the legislation which the Minister is asking us to enact tonight, it is fundamentally wrong and will lead to a society divided. I said that yesterday and I reiterate it today. At least I am not like those Ministers who are totally inconsistent in everything they say. I have been consistently saying that this legislation is going to create a division. It is wrong. I have said consistently that the people I represent in County Kerry, including the hoteliers, the restaurateurs and the publicans, should be trusted to open their doors in their own way. In other words, they should be allowed to control the number of people they allow into their establishments. If we think back to how they operated when they were allowed to open last year, they certainly operated their properties in a good and safe way.
I certainly do not want to see anyone getting ill or dying. I am of the view, however, that what is being done now and what has gone on in recent weeks in the context of trying to keep people outside premises, and congregating outside those premises, is wrong. Leaving these vast premises denuded of people inside is also wrong. We should allow for people’s judgement to operate in their premises in their own way, but again the Minister does not trust them. Again, I suggest that the Minister has some kind of anti-publican and anti-business outlook. We also have some Deputies who jump up and down here and who profess to represent working people. They are the very people who would run a million miles if they met a day's work. Yet, we see them jumping up and down here at every opportunity and saying that we should close this and shut that. They are saying that because they have an anti-work ethic. They would not work to save their lives. It is lucky that they are Deputies because if they had to live in any other world and do something, they could not get out of their own way with the height of their laziness. Those Deputies are in here yapping and yapping. Their months are the only muscles in their bodies that get exercised.
I speak in support of this amendment, but it is a damn bad day when we have to introduce an amendment like this and support it. I understand where the proposers of this amendment are coming from and I said that I would support it. I hope, however, that we never do this again and that it will not go any further. I reiterate that I understand where Deputy Boyd Barrett and the other proposers are coming from with this amendment, but, to be quite honest, I cannot see the sense in what we are doing at all regarding this Bill. I state that because the proposers of this amendment do not want such legislation to ever be contemplated again after this three-month period.
With the way this Dáil has gone, I do not think that we can rule out anything. We talked about solidarity for the last 18 months and about standing together. Earlier today, I saw youngsters gathering down at the bridge. They are now being left behind. We must clarify a few things and I would like the Minister to do so. Dr. Holohan spoke today about youngsters not being able to go into pubs. Are we afraid of the vaccine, or is there something we have to be told? I refer to the people inside pubs being vaccinated. Time and time again, right throughout this last year, we were told that youngsters were able to go to school and that there was no problem with that. Now, however, we are saying that they should not go into the pubs. We need clarification in this regard. What agenda is going on that sees the Minister present one proposal and then somebody else chops him off at the knees in the media that evening? I do not doubt that the Minister is doing his best or thinks that he is. We need some sort of clarification in this regard. I just cannot understand why antigen and PCR testing is not being undertaken in this regard. I could go across the Border tomorrow and go into a restaurant anywhere. I could fly to England. In this country, however, those people over 18 years of age who have not been vaccinated will not be able go inside particular establishments with their families.
I have one question that requires an answer. I am going to be relatively brief. There is no point in us standing up here all night, every single one of us, going through amendment after amendment. The first thing the Minister might do is to be honest with the politicians in opposition and indicate whether he is going to accept any of the amendments. There must be clarity in that regard. There is no point in us going around in circles all night when we do not know. The Minister must also come clean regarding everyone during the last year, including himself and Dr. Holohan, having told these kids that it was perfectly fine and mighty for them to go to school. It worked, and I do not dispute that whatsoever. This evening, though, the equivalent of a Scud missile was thrown in even before this debate started. I refer to it having been stated that parents, even though they are vaccinated, should not bring their kids to pubs. The other sickening side of this issue concerns the young people who could be working in bars or restaurants all week or some evenings during the week. When they might have a night off, though, damn me, but they must go outside and look in.
Something has gone wrong with this country in terms of the way we are going. I honestly think that if we keep doing what we are doing and if we keep tantalising and bringing in legislation that divides our country we will see civil disobedience from youngsters down the road. I would be a afraid of that. We should salute them for what they have done to help over the past 18 months. They are young and youthful. There was an odd time when things went a bit AWOL here and there but the media were nearly trying to show them up. Look at the number of youngsters in this country, what they have done and the sacrifices they made. They did that for their grandmothers, grandfathers, fathers, mothers, aunts and uncles. They made that sacrifice and today we are just casting them aside.
While I support the amendment I ask the Minister to look at bringing in a simple thing called an antigen test or a PCR test. If people were not brought out like poodles to toe the party line, if everyone in this Dáil was asked individually in a private vote how they would vote they would say doing that is a bit of common sense. There does not seem to be much of that around here. I sat beside the Minister many a time when he was an Independent, before he went to the Social Democrats, and I do not know what has come over him. I just cannot fathom how we can be ramming through stuff here. There is no such thing as working together the way the Dail should work. The previous Dáil, in fairness, worked better and there was more co-operation than there is in this one. We hear on the radio at the weekend that something is coming. That is the first we hear of it. The media is able to tell us what is coming and we do not even know. We are elected to represent constituents and the media is able to send it out there when we do not have an iota of what is coming. That has to change.
I know that. I am talking about the amendment and I have said I am supporting it. While the amendment is in good faith I do not think we should be going down this road because the Dáil is not functioning in the way a democracy should function. We are heading towards dictatorship in this country.
I am speaking to the amendment but it is becoming more and more obvious as the evening goes on that this legislation is completely unworkable and unjust. I do not care how many Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or Green Party Deputies stand up and try to rationalise it. One speaker from the Government said that it was not too much for them to show their pass at the door and go in and get their seats. It made me think of Rosa Parks because of the segregation that is being done here. To say that people are being treated differently but that they are not being discriminated against is just plain wrong.
This Government will be known as the Government of chaos and confusion because what it says depends on which Minister or Deputy stands up on any given day. As I said earlier, Government Deputies are in opposition in their constituencies and in government when they come to Dublin. It is time they made up their minds. Some of them here this evening will be voting for what they speak against in their constituencies. Those are the ones who have not run for the hills so they can go back and say "well, I did not press the button so it is not my fault." It is absolute chaos.
This evening, the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Simon Harris, said that 10,000 English language students are to now have in-person classes. These 10,000 people are mostly young people and young tutors. They are mostly unvaccinated. They are obviously concerned about their safety and there is no guidance or clarity given whatsoever. This is a very fragile moment of the reopening of our society. In the same week - even on the same day - that the Government is passing legislation to preclude unvaccinated people from indoor dining it is telling staff and students that they have to return to in-person classes. Did the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science ask the Minister for Health's advice on this matter? Did he discuss it with him? The situation is even worse for stamp 2 students, who effectively will be forced to return to in-person classes due to their visa requirements. If they refuse to attend they could lose their visas and be deported. It is more chaos and more confusion. Most of these students work in nursing homes and as carers but regardless of their jobs or their personal health conditions they are being given no choice but to return to in-person classes. Yet they are told they cannot sit in a restaurant, even with ventilation and all the safety measures in place. I just want to know what is going on and young people want to know what is going on. How can we have 10,000 students in this situation and not let others in the door?
I do not care how comfortable the vaccinated Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party members are when they take their seats inside in the restaurants. We cannot segregate society like this. People say we did it with the over-70s but there was proper and evidence-based advice for over-70s to have extra protection at the beginning of the Covid pandemic for their safety. It is not the same as what is being done now. This is unworkable. Restaurant and pub owners are not going to check every individual coming through the door. It is just not going to work.
We are discussing the first amendment. The Minister and the Government seem hell-bent on pushing through this legislation. No matter how much we in Sinn Féin and the Opposition try to make them see sense around this legislation it seems they are going to plough ahead with it. An earlier speaker asked the Minister to tell us if he is going to accept any of these amendments to try to undo some of the damage the Government is about to do tonight. Is he?
I genuinely wanted to respond to Deputy Boyd Barrett in particular because these are his amendments, which were very legitimately tabled. It is my hope that this will be a non-issue before the first period of three months is up. I would genuinely like to engage with Deputy Boyd Barrett on the debate because the position he has outlined is a legitimate one. I take a different position but at least the Deputy has said that in order for there to be no difference, we should just keep the entire sector closed until it is safe for everybody. I have a different view but I respect that that is a legitimate view. There are others who want to open up everything now. That will lead to a considerable number of deaths and families mourning at funerals. If those people are willing to accept that what they are advocating will lead to a lot of families mourning loved ones, then that too is a legitimate position. I am not sure what Sinn Féin's position is because each of its Deputies seems to have come in with a different position. The position in the middle seems to be that we can open up now fully and can do so safely. That is disingenuous. Deputy Cullinane and I do not always agree but in fairness to him there is good and reasonable debate between the parties.
It simply is not the case in the context of this issue. I am sure the Deputy will have looked at the modelling data that NPHET showed this evening on our trajectory, not only with regard to cases but also in respect of hospitalisations. Thankfully, we are coming from a low base of ICU admissions. We could not, however, open up an entire hospitality industry protected only by testing. That directly contradicts the public health advice we have received. The position being taken by Sinn Féin is not a reasonable one. I will not be accepting the amendment but I have a lot of sympathy with many of the things the Deputy said. My hope is that it will become a non-issue because we will be through this before the end of the first three-month period.
Because the result was decided by fewer than ten votes, and given that this legislation is being rammed through without sufficient scrutiny, under Standing Order 83(3)(b) I propose that the vote be taken by other than electronic means.
Colm Brophy, James Browne, Richard Bruton, Colm Burke, Peter Burke, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Joe Carey, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Jack Chambers, Niall Collins, Patrick Costello, Simon Coveney, Barry Cowen, Michael Creed, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Stephen Donnelly, Paschal Donohoe, Francis Noel Duffy, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frank Feighan, Joe Flaherty, Charles Flanagan, Seán Fleming, Norma Foley, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Martin Heydon, Emer Higgins, Neasa Hourigan, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, John Lahart, James Lawless, Brian Leddin, Michael Lowry, Josepha Madigan, Catherine Martin, Micheál Martin, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Charlie McConalogue, Michael McGrath, Joe McHugh, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Hildegarde Naughton, Malcolm Noonan, Darragh O'Brien, Joe O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, James O'Connor, Kieran O'Donnell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Christopher O'Sullivan, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Marc Ó Cathasaigh, Éamon Ó Cuív, Anne Rabbitte, Neale Richmond, Eamon Ryan, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Ossian Smyth, David Stanton, Leo Varadkar.
Chris Andrews, Ivana Bacik, Mick Barry, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Martin Browne, Pat Buckley, Seán Canney, Matt Carthy, Sorca Clarke, Joan Collins, Michael Collins, Rose Conway-Walsh, Réada Cronin, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Pa Daly, Pearse Doherty, Paul Donnelly, Dessie Ellis, Mairead Farrell, Michael Fitzmaurice, Peter Fitzpatrick, Kathleen Funchion, Gary Gannon, Thomas Gould, Noel Grealish, Johnny Guirke, Marian Harkin, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Healy-Rae, Brendan Howlin, Alan Kelly, Gino Kenny, Martin Kenny, Claire Kerrane, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Mary Lou McDonald, Mattie McGrath, Michael McNamara, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Verona Murphy, Johnny Mythen, Gerald Nash, Denis Naughten, Carol Nolan, Cian O'Callaghan, Richard O'Donoghue, Louise O'Reilly, Darren O'Rourke, Eoin Ó Broin, Ruairi Ó Murchú, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Maurice Quinlivan, Patricia Ryan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Bríd Smith, Duncan Smith, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward, Jennifer Whitmore, Violet Wynne.