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
I thank Senators Higgins, Mulherin and Ruane for their questions.
We are going to have to look at what our economic and social architecture is going to be after Covid-19. While we will go back to a normal, that normal will not be the one we have just left. That is certain. There are going to be big questions that we will have to answer regarding the role of the State and the commitments that citizens have. Those questions will not only be on a national level but at a European and global level. While this is straying ever so slightly beyond the terms of this section, anybody of the view that we are going to go back to something similar to what we have just left is underestimating the effect of Covid-19 on public health.
On Senator Mulherin’s points, I have made no change to the funding available to approved housing bodies. I am very much hoping that I will not have to. It is incredibly important that, even as we are battling with a health emergency of this scale, we can still stand by the commitments we have given to citizens on the provision of housing and accommodation. One of my personal lessons from the period between 2008 and 2012 is that when one makes decisions that cut back on expenditure in those areas, one just defers greater social need into the future. I am going to do all I can to avoid all that happening in these circumstances. I cannot guarantee that all funding, as is currently made available to everybody, will stay the same indefinitely.
On Senator Mulherin’s second point on capital expenditure, I want to do all I can to preserve levels of capital expenditure that we have particularly in housing. We are going to need to rebuild our economy quickly. We are already well aware of the housing needs that we have. If we begin to say we are going to cut that expenditure now, what will certainly happen is that this need will grow in the future. I am very much hoping that we can avoid having to make those kinds of decisions.
On Senator Ruane’s points, the advice from the Attorney General on this issue is that it is a public health challenge that is of an extreme nature.It appears that a crisis that is, in fact, an emergency is required to trigger the ability to suspend practices such as the collection of rent and eviction. This relates to the point made by Senator Higgins, that is, that the balancing of private rights and the public interest is always worthy of debate and evaluation. The advice we have received is that we have to have a genuine emergency that affects all and basic abilities, such as the ability to congregate, to allow the provisions of this Bill to be triggered.
I am very much aware of the point the Senator made in concluding. What she referred to is probably the reason I am recommending to the Seanad this afternoon an income subsidy scheme that is simply without precedent in the history of our country. I am very much aware that those who are at risk of income loss and employment loss, and those who may already have suffered these because this problem arose so quickly, are those citizens whose terms of work may be less settled than those of others and whose average incomes may be lower than those of others. That is why the latter part of this Bill contains a provision for an income support scheme that has no precedent.