Seanad debates

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


11:00 am

Photo of Michelle MulherinMichelle Mulherin (Fine Gael)

I join the welcome given to the Minister as the Seanad plays its part in introducing this important and necessary legislation at a time of emergency in our country and throughout the world. Often in our lives things happen where we realise our limitations or things happen that are outside of our control. Never in our own lifetimes, however, have we as a people faced something showing us our limitations and that everything is not within our control. We are dealing with a virus, a disease that is, at the very least, challenging our healthcare and presenting fears of people suffering and dying. This is also presenting us with an economic crisis as we try to go on with our daily lives and businesses, which cannot go on as they did not so long ago.

I join in with all the tributes paid to the people on the front line, those people really taking the risks. I refer to healthcare workers, people working in the shops to ensure we can get food, taxi drivers and all the people who have to come into close contact with other people. This virus is an attack on our social fabric. When we see people congregating, which we know should not happen, especially with young people, we know it is a natural reaction at a time when there is a crisis. People will want to come together. We have to be counterintuitive, however, because we have important public health advice that tells us to do so. Even with funerals, which we normally do so well in this country, and I am not talking about the funerals of people who have died of Covid-19 but regular funerals, people cannot attend them and cannot reach out in the way they did. People are being tested in every which way.

Everybody has their own fears, and as we self-isolate we face these fears even more. We are not alone, however, but we will be further tested. It is at times when we are tested that we look around for inspiration. That inspiration is everywhere as I speak, even though this is far-reaching legislation that can curtail our liberties, if it is necessary to invoke it. I refer to people everywhere and the guidance. Fair play to the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Tony Holohan, who has set out the picture and to the Minister, the Taoiseach, the other Ministers and everybody who has a job of communicating.The responsible media are showing what is happening in different parts of the world and have set out the implications for what will happen if we do not follow the public health advice. Pubs have voluntarily closed, and while there was a direction for schools to do so, parents are also being proactive. People are reaching out, with teachers offering support online through distance learning and home tutoring where people feel they are stuck. Gym instructors are telling people how to stay healthy at home. People are reaching out to those in self-isolation by offering to collect their groceries, prescriptions and medication. It is fantastic that people are doing this even without the legislation being in place, although we know that not everybody will have the same appreciation of the circumstances.

I take issue with recent commentary by Joe Brolly. I have a certain admiration for Mr. Brolly, his background and some of what he has done in his life, including donating a kidney to a stranger. He was way off the mark, however, in his comments on the Taoiseach's speech and on the manner in which he is handling the crisis. We are in unprecedented times, as we all know. We are bringing in legislation that in normal times would be draconian and that would not be even contemplated. We are asking people to act in concert for the public good and they are doing that. We are acting as one. The Taoiseach is the leader of our country in a caretaker Government, which is challenging in itself. I commend the Taoiseach and say to Joe Brolly that he got it wrong on this occasion.


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