Friday, 20 March 2020
An Bille Sláinte (Caomhnú agus Cosaint agus Bearta Éigeandála eile ar mhaithe le Leas an Phobail), 2020: An Dara Céim - Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Bill 2020: Second Stage
I am sharing time with Senator McDowell. I welcome the Tánaiste and thank him for his comprehensive statement. More importantly, I acknowledge the sterling work he, the Taoiseach and the acting Ministers have done. It has been impressive. As I said earlier, this is not a time for playing politics. It is about politics, of course, but it has been an impressive performance. People on all sides of the political divide have told me in the last few days of how impressed they were by the co-ordinated response of the Government. It is important we acknowledge that because we are all in this together.
As the Tánaiste said, this is a long-term concern that will go on for months. It is imperative to twin track our response in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. We also must be mindful as politicians that a strong, stable Government and continuity of message and policy are needed. The Tánaiste would be exercised about that anyway, but it is worth saying that the public wants it. The public wants that sorted out in a reasonable amount of time.
It is worth noting that 83 amendments were tabled in the Dáil yesterday and most of them were ruled out of order because of Exchequer funding or because they were considered not relevant. Today, there are 34 amendments before the Seanad. I do not know how that will go, but we will see. The Bill was passed last night without a vote in Dáil Éireann, but good, meaningful work and engagement took place and I expect that to be done here today. I said earlier that the public feels powerless and we are now beginning to question if the so-called powerful are powerless too. Yes, they are. Nobody knows where this disease is heading.
I am glad the Tánaiste reassured the House regarding the sunset clause. It is important that if there are any further extensions they should be brought to the Dáil. I am glad the Government recognises the need for a rent freeze and a ban on evictions in this crisis. It is also addressing the welfare payments. However, those payments are not enough. It is all very well for us parliamentarians with a few bob in our back pockets, but I know people who do not have a shilling in their back pockets. They do not know how they are going to pay their rent next week. They do not have VHI or private health cover. They are in rent arrears and some of them are being threatened with eviction.
I know people who are in direct provision, away from their families and loved ones. When there is a crisis in our lives we turn to our loved ones and turn the sail back to our homes. We gravitate back to where we belong, where people understand and believe us and, more importantly, where people will bail us out. We are all doing that. We touch base more often with our homes on the telephone. We make sure our loved ones are cared for. That is a natural response. As legislators, we must be mindful of that fact.Tonight, what solace can we give to the person who is waiting for shelter? What can we give to a family from a war-torn country that is here waiting to be processed and wants to touch base with loved ones, wants the reassurances? It is about a compassionate response to people's needs and we must never lose sight of that. Someone mentioned the undocumented here. There are so many of our Irish people undocumented all over the world. I think of all the people who are in the States undocumented. How are they going to find assistance, support and help? I hope through our own negotiations with our contacts in the States and all over the world, to which I know the Minister is fully committed, that we are looking out for the Irish diaspora, our people who are stuck away. This is a world response and it is something we need to be mindful of. I also want to hear, if the Tánaiste can tell us, what engagement and synergy there is between the public and private sectors, in finance and in terms of the health response. We have private health capacity in this country and we need to fully use it and maximise it. That is important. I had Councillor Lynsey McGovern on to me the other day; she was in touch with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and was helped and supported in terms of making representations for people stuck in Peru. The Tánaiste might share with us how that is going in his own Department.
I thank the Tánaiste and leave him with one final message. I had a call yesterday from a lady who is 98 years of age and she asked me to come and help her plant an Irish oak tree. What a nice thing to do; she was full of hope, full of brim, full of enthusiasm and concerned how it would progress for the next hundred years. There was someone with hope. We have to have hope and belief and we have to work together. I thank the Minister. So many people have talked about him, the Government and the Taoiseach and all the people and all the other groups across the political spectrum. I thank him for his support, help and guidance but, more importantly, for the national leadership that we need, want and deserve.