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
Michael McDowell (Independent)
I want to echo what Senator Boyhan has just said. The Minister's contribution here today has been very powerful indeed. If the media are interested in the proceedings of this House, the broadcast media in particular, the portion of the Minister's unscripted remarks about the seriousness of the obligation to comply with the guidance the Government is giving and the potential consequences of failing to do it should be broadcast, particularly where they can be seen by the younger cohort of the population, to whom perhaps that message has not come home as strongly as it might.
Some of the powers in this legislation are very far reaching. There are civil liberties implications to some of them if they are wrongly implemented but let us remember that our Constitution states that the State guarantees to vindicate the right to life of citizens. The truth is that if we did not implement legislation of this kind now, it would be a failure of constitutional duty for the organs of government in this State to take the necessary means to protect those most vulnerable in our society. The sunset clause that is in the legislation is, I think, appropriate bearing that in mind. I believe this is proportionate and necessary to vindicate the State's obligation to its weakest citizens.
I want to make a third point of a practical nature. Citizens over 70 who want to renew their driving licence are obliged to personally attend at their GP's office and to personally attend at the national driving licence centres in order to renew their licences. This is being insisted upon even in present circumstances. Clearly, somebody somewhere is not getting the Government's message. It cannot be right that GPs who are on the front line are spending their valuable time now collecting elderly people at their office for the purpose of driver licence renewals. That cannot be right. I would ask the Minister to do whatever he can to reverse that at an administrative level.
I also want on this occasion to pay tribute to our colleague, Senator Swanick, who is not seeking re-election here.I had a conversation with him this morning. He operates a general practitioner service in Mayo. The picture he painted to me, the details of which I will not go into because of patient confidentiality, reinforced in my mind the gravity of the situation we are facing and the likelihood of really horrific consequences if we do not all pull together in the way that has been suggested. In regard to every aspect of the State, from the National Driver Licensing Service to the courts, there must be a clear understanding that normal business must be suspended, interrupted and modified to the greatest extent possible to allow people to comply with the Government's very strong advice. Lives are at stake. Those who are making decisions of an administrative nature should understand that they have a responsibility as servants of the Irish State to implement the State's obligation, which is to vindicate the right to life of every citizen, particularly the weak, the elderly and those whose health conditions make them extremely vulnerable to what is the equivalent of a plague of olden times. I have not spoken about the economic tornado that is coming at us which will require other measures on other occasions to be dealt with. This Bill must pass. Senator Boyhan mentioned that many amendments have been tabled to this Bill. I hope they do not impede the immediate implementation of this legislation because its provisions are the very least that we can do to confront the situation which is threatening us at this time.