Seanad debates

Friday, 27 March 2020

An Bille um Bearta Éigeandála ar mhaithe le Leas an Phobail (Covid-19) 2020: Céim an Choiste agus na Céimeanna a bheidh Fágtha - Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages


12:00 pm

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent) | Oireachtas source

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 8, to delete lines 3 to 6 and substitute the following:
“(i) the nature and potential impact of Covid-19 on individuals, society and the State,

(ii) the capacity of the State to respond to the risk to public health,

(iii) the need to restrict the movement of persons in order to prevent the spread of the disease among the population, the making of such order is in the public interest,

(iv) the policies and objectives of the Government to protect the health and welfare of members of the public, and

(v) the role of adequate housing in protecting public safety,”.
Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 are, effectively, two alternate proposals. I note that certain other provisions in the Bill have wider descriptions in how they might be extended, whereas the description around the extension for the stay on evictions, for example, is a lot narrower. For the other areas there is quite a number of iterations and explanations of the public health emergency and the form it might take, which would allow for extension as necessary. I concur, of course, with Senator Clifford-Lee that, whenever possible, we want this to be in public consultation with the Legislature, which is important.

On the core issue of the emergency period and the measures for safety that are taken under that time, I am concerned that the framing in the Bill is quite narrow. The framing is specifically on the threat to public health as related to Covid-19, it is contiguous to the Covid-19 disease and not to the after effects or consequences, and on the need to restrict movements of persons. Those are the narrow bases. The Minister has heard articulated very well on the Order of Business in the Seanad and in Dáil Éireann that we were already facing a crisis in housing. There are many public health emergency consequences that will flow from this crisis that may affect a person's ability to pay, a person's ability to respond to an eviction order, and whether or not persons can find suitable or other alternative housing within a period of time. I am concerned about the framing of this. Consider the rationale in a stay of eviction, similar to the rationale in the stay of a rent freeze, both of which were pushed for as measures for the common good in the past. If, however, we have an extraordinarily narrow definition of those, and which is too narrow in this case, I am concerned that the common good that may be served after a period of time when contiguation is not explicitly a risk but where persons may have lost income, lost livelihoods, have other underlying conditions, have other health concerns, and do not have anywhere to go to. I am worried that the Minister might not be giving enough flexibility to allow, for example, an extension of a stay on evictions to cover those related public health and common good concerns.

When we come out of this, there will be other very serious consequences. We certainly do not want to reach a point where we see large-scale evictions or a number of stayed evictions all being enacted at the same time creating a different and related kind of health crisis.

That is the spirit of amendments Nos. 6 and 7. I have tried, in the case of amendment No. 6, to echo the language that we have elsewhere in the Bill. If we are providing for all of these kinds of criteria elsewhere in the Bill, why make it so narrow when it is the bit that protects vulnerable citizens and protects people from evictions? Why is that a harder bar than those applying to some of the other protections?

Amendment No. 8 is to insert these other issues which are recognised as concerns elsewhere in the Bill, specifically, the policies and objectives of the Government to protect the health and welfare of members of the public, and the role of adequate housing in protecting public safety. Both of those are good reasons when the Minister may need to extend a protection against eviction or extend a rent freeze. That is my concern. That is the basis for these amendments. I hope the Minister can address it.

Lastly, I refer to the role of adequate housing in promoting public safety. I have mentioned that direct provision is not adequate housing in this time in terms of public safety and well-being, not only of the individuals in direct provision, whether or not those with symptoms are isolated. Simply in terms of congested dwelling, it raises safety concerns. I note that as part of a public safety concern.


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