Seanad debates

Monday, 29 March 2021

Living with Covid-19: Statements


10:30 am

Photo of Malcolm ByrneMalcolm Byrne (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

We very much appreciate that the Minister of State, along with the other Ministers of State, Deputies Butler and Feighan, and the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, come to this House regularly. She is willing to listen to the views of all Members of this House. I join her in commending the front-line workers. This vaccination programme is the biggest ever in the history of the State. We sometimes forget that, nine months ago, we did not even believe we would have vaccines. While it has to be acknowledged that there are problems, we have got to a position where there is a vaccine. Unfortunately, the Minister of State is following the Minister, who in the previous set of statements pre-empted many of the questions I wanted to ask.

I found it disappointing during the last debate that Senator Keoghan once again decided to launch attacks on the Minister. The Senator has had more positions on Covid than Deputy Paul Murphy has had political parties. It is pretty clear from her raising doubts about the Pfizer vaccine in November to her complaining now about not getting jabs into people's arms quickly enough that, in terms of policy direction, she sort of adopts the Ever Givenapproach, but it is rather clear that she is now foundered.

I would like to ask about a number of issues and specific problems that arise concerning how we are living with Covid. I want to talk about the unfair competition that still exists between supermarkets and some of the independent retailers. It remains a problem. I commend the supermarkets. They, particularly their retail staff, are doing a very difficult job at these times. On Mother's Day recently, I could walk into a supermarket and buy flowers. With Easter coming up, I cannot go into the local florist to buy flowers in the same way. The same applies to children's clothes in that the supermarkets are allowed to sell children's clothes off the shelf but the independent children's clothes retailers are not. I acknowledge we have had the discussion on click-and-collect purchasing but where there are examples of an unfair competitive advantage given to the supermarkets, the issue needs to be addressed.

The Minister of State referred to those in cohort 4. There is still a problem associated with some of those with serious illnesses. I am aware of the case of a student with muscular dystrophy who is afraid to go back into school until she gets the vaccine. I heard the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, say it is really urgent that the people in this cohort get vaccinated as quickly as possible to provide them with security.The Acting Chairperson referred to the sense of relief when these people and their families know that vaccines are available.

I wish to raise with the Minister of State the question of family carers, in which respect she has been a strong advocate. It is essential that family carers be designated as key workers. My colleague, Senator Dooley, tabled a Commencement matter on this issue. We need to know who will be designated as key workers in the next cohort. I would include the likes of gardaí as well, but being included is important to family carers. They are not looking to jump ahead of the elderly or vulnerable, but they want to know whether they will be categorised as being within that cohort.

The debate will move quickly once a large number of people have been vaccinated and a question about vaccine certificates will arise. We need clarity, and not just about travel, although clarity will be important for the aviation industry, tourism and so on. We also need clarity regarding live events. I would love there to be live outdoor theatre or music events. We could learn some lessons from Israel. If we are to come back together as a community, this is important. Giving some indication to the hospitality sector would be useful as well - the Oireachtas committee chatted with the Vintners Federation of Ireland last week - even if it were just to say that it could reopen on 15 June subject to certain targets being reached. That would provide the sector with some certainty. It needs lead-in time.

I wish to mention an issue that I always raise and about which the Minister of State is also passionate, which is the impact of Covid on young people. They have missed many rites of passage. I am passionate about this issue, but I will not discuss it now because I am out of time. In our strategy, we must ensure that young people's voices are heard and they are given a fair deal when we recover.


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