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
Ian Marshall (Independent)
Extraordinary events demand extraordinary measures. Ultimately, this crisis has demanded responsibility from every citizen, man, woman or child, old or young, in this situation. However, the State does need the tools and powers to manage and steer a path through this pandemic. I support the Bill and support the provision of enough latitude and flexibility within it for Government to react to what is an ever-changing situation. No one knows what lies ahead in the next weeks or months but we need the flexibility in that Bill to deal with this. The first killer is undoubtedly the virus but the next is a breakdown in society with a lack of cash in circulation to buy food and essentials, especially for the most vulnerable in society. It is this lack of cash that will bring everything to a grinding halt. With that in mind, I am encouraged by the support mechanisms that are being put in place for the tens of thousands of people who are staring down the barrel of a gun with job losses and lack of cash in their private finances. Cash is king and ultimately cash in the pockets will be the thing that will kick-start the economy again after this. I refer to the provisions for "preventing, limiting, minimising or slowing spread" of this disease. We cannot emphasise enough that there is responsibility with individuals to take action and to be responsible. We need to create a stigma around those who are seen to be irresponsible or careless or who have a disregard for the protocols. Anyone who ignores these protocols or the recommendations should be shunned and should have a stigma. This Bill should stand as the last resort. We need to encourage a sense of social responsibility and for people to act responsibly and let that be the preferred choice rather than defaulting to the legislation.
Something that has not been mentioned this morning that is very important, and that anyone would expect me to mention, is that Covid-19 does not recognise borders. Everyone was frustrated last week and in the last number of weeks by the different positions adopted north and south of the Border. No more than the citizens of Northern Ireland, everyone is frustrated by this. This is a time more than ever when good communication, co-operation and collaboration North and South must be the order of the day. We need dialogue between Dublin and Belfast, and between Dublin, Belfast and London. I take the opportunity to encourage open and transparent dialogue with the Executive in Northern Ireland. We are going to need it until we see some light at the end of this tunnel. It is vital to take note of the importance of local radio, as we looked at the media this morning. We are bombarded at the moment with information from disreputable and dubious sources. I highlight the importance of local radio to get a credible, substantiated and validated message out to citizens to know what the course of action should be and where we are with this crisis.
The Irish Government's handling of this crisis, and the Minister, Deputy Harris's handling of it especially, in conjunction with all public servants, has been exemplary. It is has demonstrated more than ever in both Houses of the Oireachtas that when a crisis kicks in, the green shirt goes on and team Ireland comes into play. That team spirit inside Government will be equally important when we emerge from the Covid-19 crisis. I encourage the Minister and all elected Members to remember that it is the team that will get us through and lead the country back after Covid-19.