Friday, 27 March 2020
An Bille um Bearta Éigeandála ar mhaithe le Leas an Phobail (Covid-19) 2020: An Dara Céim - Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill 2020: Second Stage
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Go n-éirí leis an Aire agus leis an Rialtas agus iad i mbun a ndualgais sna seachtaine agus míonna atá romhainn. This is a time when every dimension of our civic, civil and economic life is being subjected to a sustained, unprecedented and profound series of shocks. Our language and discourse, both public and private, is now dominated by idioms of virology and disease containment measures and our naturally fluent manner of interaction with each other is now shaped by a cautious and necessary distance. We have been returned once again, reluctantly and through no fault of ours, to the economic language of emergency fiscal measures and possible recession.
It is fair to say, however, that we are experiencing a surge of the right type, not the one we hope and pray will not overtake our health system. Communities have dug deep and displayed their resilience. There has been a surge in compassion, bipartisanship and humanitarian outreach. In the starkness of our predicament the ethos best expressed in the gospel of John, that greater love nobody has than he who lays down his life for his neighbour, is also on view. Of course, there is sadness. There is also the best and worst in human nature. It was troubling to see the case in Spain, although I do not know the detail of it, where elderly people were abandoned in nursing homes and some of them were found deceased. Even here some members of our community have still to wake up to the need to be selfless in their behaviour in terms of coming together and so forth. We must bring out the best in each other. There are great exemplars. There is the story of the old priest in Italy who gave up his ventilator so a young person could have it. There are also our healthcare staff who are doing wonderful things. They risk laying down their lives when they knowingly go into a more risky situation on our behalf.It makes all of us wonder what we as individuals can do. We are all in different circumstances and will all have different ways in which we can play our part in being patriotic and good, responsible and caring members of community. We need to see the best side of our nature now.
I compliment the Tánaiste, the Taoiseach, the Minister for Health, the Chief Medical Officer and all the experts for giving the country the leadership it needs at this time. We have disagreed on matters, some of them serious, but it is good that they are effectively bringing people together. With only one or two exceptions in all the discussions and debates I have heard, the language and the examples given have always sought to unite people by emphasising what we all in society believe in and are on board with. I urge them to continue giving the leadership they are giving and not to be afraid to speak out strongly to any group or section of the community about the need to avoid modes of behaviour that may be unthinkingly selfish or not sufficiently heedful of the impact they might have on others.
We are all most certainly our brothers' and sisters' keepers now. The institutions of the State have demonstrated their capacity to respond with speed when the common good is threatened and when the architecture of our national and international financial system was moving towards collapse. That gives us all hope that a pathway through this suffering and discomfort is possible. We as a Legislature can scrutinise legislation only in a limited way compared with what we would normally be called on to do. We depend on the Government and Civil Service to get it right as much as possible, as often as possible, in these fast-changing circumstances. The Tánaiste will understand, therefore, that there will be issues we will wonder about, and we will wonder whether certain aspects are being covered, although we know that some aspects will not be.
In recent days, I spoke to an elderly person who receives a limited State pension and is dependent on the small income they receive from a small rental property in a rural town. That income will be gone, of course, because the tenant can no longer pay the rent and they are not in a position to get any kind of relief from their bank. I was not able to give an answer to that person and it would be difficult for the Government to give answers on such cases in the short term. One thinks in particular of people in the disability sector, who have asked whether disability service workers might be prioritised for testing alongside hospital workers, a forceful argument. They hope that the costs arising for section 39 employers with regard to Covid-19 will be met equally to those of the HSE and section 38 agencies. They are all legitimate claims from people coming from different areas of social contribution.
To touch briefly on a fraught issue, I heard the Minister for Health's response on the workings of the abortion legislation in respect of remote consultations. All I would say in that regard is that we should think carefully about the matter. There were debates on the issue in the UK House of Commons and House of Lords in which it was confirmed that a physical meeting would continue to be necessary as a safeguard for the woman and to protect her health and well-being. I acknowledge that given that the situation is moving fast, there will be issues on which we might agree or disagree, but in whatever measures are taken, I ask that the Government think carefully about unforeseen consequences of a kind that none of us would want.
It is our job as legislators to urge the Government to consider all such matters. We accept that not everything will be got right and that mistakes will be made that will have to be undone as soon as possible. For now, however, I thank the Government for what it is doing. It will have our support in getting the legislation through today. Go gcuidí Dia linn uilig sna laethanta, míonna agus seachtainí atá romhainn.