Monday, 22 February 2021
Ábhair Ghnó an tSeanaid – Matters on the Business of the Seanad
Councillor Frank Roche in Cork and Councillor Brendan Fay in Cavan have asked me to request an extension to the hedge cutting season by two weeks due to poor weather conditions, as called for by the Association of Farm and Forestry Contractors of Ireland. The hedge cutting season ends on 28 February so urgent clarification on this issue is required for farmers and hedge cutting contractors.
I was greatly dismayed to learn that Ulster Bank is winding down its operation in Ireland. My first thought was for the 2,800 employees of the bank who face the imminent threat of redundancy and their families. We already face an economic and unemployment crisis. Many businesses and jobs are effectively on life support. As soon as State supports for businesses and workers, such as the temporary wage subsidy scheme, are withdrawn, we could see a considerable lengthening of dole queues.
I am also concerned about the fallout of Ulster Bank's decision for small and medium businesses and consumers, as well as the erosion of competition in the already uncompetitive banking sector. This is a grave threat to the economy, which already has to contend with the impact of Brexit and the Government imposed shutdowns. It is another unwelcome storm cloud when the mood of the nation is already gloomy. People are living under a cloud of fear and negativity being generated by sections of the media, the Government, the political classes and the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET. People are not being allowed to live. It is not right to permit the country to be ruled as if it were a hospital ward and our people to be treated like they were all vectors of a disease.
The Government's so-called living with Covid strategy is a fraud and has been an abject failure. Is being permitted to leave one's home only to go to a supermarket or a pharmacy living with Covid? Is being fined by the Garda for going for a walk in the hills or swimming in the sea living with Covid? To my mind, this is a dystopic vision of living. Even the term "strategy" is a misnomer. It gives the impression of a plan that is fully thought through, nuanced and sophisticated, that takes account of its consequences and provides predictable clarity and stability. This muddled approach by the Government is anything but that. It is a series of arbitrary and ad hocpolicies like the €9 meal with a pint policy, locking people down in their homes, shutting down businesses, squeezing the life out of society and bungling attempts to roll out vaccines.This is the Government's living with Covid strategy. It is a dubious one which is having a terrible effect on the health and mental health of this nation. I am deeply concerned about what short, medium and long-term effects the lockdown will have on people. I am concerned about the ballooning public debt and the prospects of businesses collapsing. I am concerned about the fallout from the closure of Ulster Bank. This nation needs a fresh approach that requires and provides real leadership. We need a Government that provides hope and opportunities to people to flourish in spite of the virus.