Friday, 27 March 2020
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I am cognisant of the time today. Like everyone in here today, I begin by paying tribute to all those committing time, energy and resources to combatting the Covid-19 pandemic. Whether one is a front-line salaried worker or a volunteer, support teams composed of employees and volunteers and tens of thousands of people are giving of their time, energy and money to navigate their way through this crisis and all must be commended. Furthermore, in an era of information overload exacerbated by the global pandemic, it is critically important to disseminate credible, trusted and validated information and the Government must be commended on the publication of the public information booklet on Covid-19. Truth and transparency are central to collectively tackling this scourge.
I fully support this Bill and its capacity and additional mechanisms in exceptional circumstances to underpin an overall multifaceted strategic plan to deal with coronavirus. There is no silver bullet. This legislation will assist in the interim to protect tenants, landlords, medical staff and healthcare workers; support the re-engagement of Defence Forces; support employees and employers; and ensure the State can function through these challenging circumstances. I applaud those behind the testing strategy and I support any initiative that can expand or accelerate the testing regime. Testing and tracing, in conjunction with isolation and social distancing, can defeat this threat. Testing in the Republic has been more advanced and broader than in the North and this must be acknowledged with 15,000 tests a day carried out here compared to around 1,150 per day by next week in Northern Ireland but we can never test enough.In addition, it must be noted that for testing to be effective it must be faster, engaging earlier and driving results quicker to really impact on containing the spread of the virus. We need to continually follow the advice of medical experts and be led by them because testing has limitations around resources and time and therefore, when the case definition has changed we must support expert opinion about utilising resources to best effect. This is in all our interests.
We have good companies in Ireland working flat out to assist in this battle, for example, companies such as O'Neills, who are better known for the manufacture of sports gear and clothing, which is now redirecting resources to the manufacture of protective clothing for medical staff. A number of companies are working hard to develop tests and test kits for coronavirus, something we should support and assist to fast-track the development and supply of test kits. In fact, a reference was made to this yesterday by a Deputy in the Dáil who suggested that contact should be made with Randox, a company in Northern Ireland that is already developing test kits. The interesting point for me is that one does not need to go to Northern Ireland, Randox is already operating in the Republic of Ireland.
I received a phone call on Wednesday evening from Senator Billy Lawless who is in Chicago. He is grounded in Chicago as a consequence of Covid-19 and is unable to return to Ireland for the Seanad sittings and asked me on his behalf to wish all the candidates the very best in the upcoming election, but that was not the purpose of his call. He called to apologise for his inability to vote to support any candidates in the upcoming Seanad election because even though he was able to present himself to an official to mark his ballot paper as supervised, he was unable to vote. This issue was made all the more frustrating by the fact that his wife, Anne, and his daughter Clodagh were both able to vote, unsupervised, on the NUI panel. It was not for want to trying. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, sent a personal note stating that he was unable to propose any amendment to the law or make an exception for any individual. Furthermore, Senator Lawless also asked me to thank Martin Groves for "his Trojan efforts exploring all avenues to enable him to exercise his right", something, unfortunately, he was unable to do. This is a further example of an issue concerning the functioning of the Seanad that must be addressed in Seanad reform to ensure this House remains fit for purpose and can operate along robust protocols and principles in an appropriate manner in the 21st century.