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 Mulherin. Even though this is a time of great emotion for people, it is actually a time for calm and cool heads. As many others have commented, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, Ministers and the Chief Medical Officer have been very calm and the tone has been one of reassuring people. I thank my colleagues in the caring professions and the HSE for the work they are doing. I also thank our civil and public servants who are changing the way they do business to accommodate a semblance of normal life, especially our teachers who are continually innovating new ways of carrying on.
I would like to comment on a number of matters. A silver lining was mentioned. The air in Beijing is the clearest it has been in 50 years and there are fish in the canals in Venice. When this is all over, we will need to reflect on our approach to climate change. Yesterday, at my surgery, which is located upstairs in the building, there were three young boys in the foyer with bicycles, one of whom was lying up against the chrome handlebar of his bicycle with this tongue up against the rail which people hold onto going up and down the stairs. The Government has spread its message and the HSE has spread its message. Parents now need to talk to their children. They need to impress upon them the seriousness of this crisis and how it can affect the many people these children no doubt have in their extended families whom they love and cherish.
I welcome the sunset clause. As a general practitioner, I call on people, who in the main have been very patient, to be patient with us because there is a huge volume of work that we have to deal with day-to-day as well as the coronavirus. It is changing the way, and may forever change the way, that general practice works, particularly in regard to telephone consultations and, perhaps, audiovisual consultations as well. It is important that people, particularly elderly people, stay away from the surgery as much as possible. If their problems can be addressed over the telephone that is what we should do and will do. I refer to Dr. Michael Ryan and what he learned from the Ebola virus: "Be fast, have no regrets." We needed to act quickly and I think the Government has done that.I thank the Opposition for its co-operation and all Members of both Houses for their understanding of the seriousness of this situation, putting politics aside and looking after our people by putting in place the sensible advice and precautions we are going to need.
I ask people in general to be sensible, be aware and, most of all, be safe by observing the social distance rule, sneezing and coughing into a tissue or into one's elbow and washing hands frequently. Most important, however, is keeping in touch with friends and neighbours by phone, Skype or WhatsApp, whichever way people choose. It has never been truer that old age is not a problem, but loneliness is. As others have mentioned, the isolation older people feel generally, but particularly at a time like this, means they need as much support as we can give them.
People need to stay calm, be mindful there are things they can do and can change, and they should do those things. They should not, however, lie awake at night worrying, fretting and being anxious about things they cannot change. I know we will get through this and I am absolutely certain of that. If we follow the advice we have been given we will lose fewer loved ones, friends and colleagues. Like most people in this House, I never thought I would see a Bill like this before us and yet we all know it is essential it is passed. On that basis, I commend this Bill to the House.