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 Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)

I do not think any of us expected to be back under these circumstances. I wish to pay tribute to our team, which is essentially "Team Ireland", including the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Health. The job the Minister for Health has done in recent weeks has been heroic. I do not think anyone could contradict that. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty, as has been rightly pointed out in the House, did not get re-elected to Dáil Éireann. Yet, she rolled up her sleeves and is performing a phenomenal job. I salute the people who are leading and working in our health service. They are heroes - fantastic people. What we need to do as a society is emulate what they are doing. We need to play our part.

I am often critical in the House of repetition but I think today repetition is important. We need to repeat the simple messages of social distancing, proper hygiene and washing hands. These are simple messages but if they are repeated often enough, they may actually filter down into the hearts and souls of the people who are not observing what they should be observing. Most organisations are playing their part, including the people working in the shops, supermarkets and hauliers. They are frontline staff as well and they are doing a great job.

There are probably some quirks in the system. I understand not all supermarkets have hand sanitisers at the entrance. I got a telephone call this morning about one in a certain part of the west of Ireland. The message from the head offices to put in place hand sanitisers needs to be implemented in all public places and spaces where people are engaging. The supermarkets are making particular times available for older people to shop and that is most welcome.

Our responsible broadcasters are doing a fantastic job as well. I listen to Ryan Tubridy in the mornings. He is doing everything he can to lift the hearts of the nation. He is a fantastic person with a wonderful way of articulating hope. I hope that people keep hope in their hearts. We will get through this. As the Taoiseach said on 17 March 2020, when things are at their worst we are at our best. That is what he wants the history books to say about us. I believe we have made a damn good start at that.

I salute the people in our communities. There is a councillor in north Clare, Councillor Joe Garrihy, who has put together a whole structure of engaging with people to ensure people have access to supplies. Leaflets are being delivered through An Post with telephone numbers so that people can ring a neighbour or friend. We might think these types of things are done, but they are not done unless someone does them. I have to say "well done" to those heroes as well as to our priests. I went online for a couple of evenings because our local priest is now saying the rosary online. I see people going on Facebook whom I never saw inside the door of a church - not that I am there much myself. Fr. Des Forde is giving hope to people and giving people space and some reflection time. All these people are playing their part in knitting together a meitheal that will get us through this.

The sad reality is that we are all going to know someone who will be lost to Covid-19. The challenge is to ensure that we do not lose more people. We want to avoid knowing whole communities lost to this. We need to keep the deaths to an absolute minimum. We need to do what we are told and listen to the advice. We need to implement the advice.

We need to show leadership and we are showing leadership. We are here today. I took the view that it was my duty to be here today to support our Minister, our Government and political leaders. The Minister for Health will have tough days ahead but I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that he will rise to them and play a critical part in pulling us through.


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