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 thank the Minister for his response. I know he addressed similar issues in the Dáil. He spoke about when we emerge from this. It is important that when we do, we reflect in terms of what we have just heard about the idea of anything being balanced against the common good - the common good to which everybody, including responsible business, is stepping up.We have seen the businesses that have put the welfare of their community, staff, society and public health ahead of profit. We have seen those who have done that, and we have seen those that have not made that choice. The common good is our remit, effectively, as representatives of the public. We are elected by the public for the public good. The social, public common good is our core responsibility but I recognise business and property within that also have a role within society. I note simply that if it is the advice of the Attorney General that the common good needs to be balanced and that we are not able to address the very serious health-related and social good-related consequences that need to be addressed following Covid-19, such as the health emergency and housing emergency we had previously, as well as the social cohesion issues that arise from a fractured society where people do not have the basics of shelter or food, then that will need to be addressed in a constitutional referendum in the future or we will have to challenge it at the highest level through the courts. We need to have law, including constitutional law that can fully serve the common good.

At a European level we have seen state aid rules put aside and rightly so. We have seen a renewed focus on public services. We cannot have laws with, for example, the ratchet clause, that make it impossible for public services to be fully delivered and for states to respond through public services as they need. Again, it is just a useful balance and a reminder when we discuss these issues and when we plan for the future. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, has read books and discussed the role of the State. We have seen that it is the public delivery of public services that has been the core front line of response to this crisis across the board. It may be that services will need to be delivered nationally again such as public housing and public transport. If those are areas that we need to take within our own control as states and on a European basis so that we can ensure that they function for the good of citizens, then that is what we must do. That will be part of the architecture of our future response also. I understand the advice the Minister has received and I think it is disappointing. I hope he understands too that things in that regard will need to change in the medium term.

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