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 Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)

I will save most of my points for Committee Stage. I welcome the contribution by the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, earlier. It was encouraging but it was also sad and stark to hear of the numbers still gathering in public. Senator Mulherin mentioned funerals which struck a chord with me. My nanny is dying during the coronavirus outbreak which means that we have had to stop visiting her as well as stopping much of our contact with my mother, who we live with, so that she can continue to spend these final days with her mother. I think of the amount of people in nursing homes who will not have access to their loved ones which is extremely sad. I hope that there can be some support given to nursing homes and care staff in those homes to try to be creative in ways to enable people communicate with their family members, whether supporting them in making video calls or access to iPads, so that they come up with a response to combat that isolation, even a little.

Today I wish to raise the issue of prisons.Obviously, public health and prison health are the same thing; prison health is public health. I am not aware of any measures so far to reduce the prison population. It has been mentioned but nothing has begun to be put in place. There was some communication about prisoners who were due for release in the next six months and then possibly looking at 12 months. We might need to move away from considering how much of their sentences is left because some prisoners with longer sentences may pose a lower risk of reoffending.

I have some suggestions for the Minister to discuss with the Cabinet regarding the open prisons at Loughan House and Shelton Abbey. One of them has 127 prisoners and the other has 103. Those prisoners could walk out at any minute. They are fully committed to their rehabilitation and reintegration which is why they are in an open prison. They are near the end of their sentences. When considering prisoner release, we should first look at the open prisons. There are also two premises there. I am thinking of them because I know Keltoi has been asked to stop taking in people who are on the waiting list for its addiction recovery and detox services. It is the only residential addiction detox centre in the country. I wonder if we can reduce the prison population all at once and keep Keltoi open for a very vulnerable group.

I know we have mentioned the number of people who have signed up to help front-line health services including nurses who are coming back from career breaks and so forth. There is also a system put in place for crisis cover for other services. Our homeless and addiction services will also come under the same strain with their staff becoming unwell, working in long-term accommodation, short-term accommodation, the rollover beds. There will be a major shortage in homeless services. As I obviously have a background in working with addiction and homelessness, I was able to sign up to go on that relief panel and cover for staff when they are out sick. I ask others to spread that word. It is not only our hospitals; we will also need to keep our homeless services open as well. Anybody with a skill set in social care or support work on addiction and homelessness should also sign up to that relief panel.

I will deal with other matters on Committee Stage.


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