Seanad debates

Friday, 30 April 2021

Business and Covid-19: Statements


10:00 am

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Tánaiste to the House, and I agree with him on congratulating Senators Maria Byrne and Horkan on their election. As the Tánaiste said, it is a long time since he has been in this Chamber physically and in the Seanad. There is unfinished business regarding Seanad reform, which we will return to another today. The roadmap outlined yesterday by the Taoiseach, and which the Tánaiste has reiterated in part, is useful and welcome. People's hopes have been raised and there is a sense of confidence that as the vaccination process kicks in, the likelihood of increased hospitalisations and a fourth wave is diminishing. That is a welcome state of affairs.

We must, however, address some serious issues we have left unaddressed for a long time. One of them is the unique vulnerability of the Irish health system to these kinds of pandemics. We also have a low rate of ICU capacity, which makes us uniquely sensitive. We have to press the emergency brake far faster and more aggressively than other countries because for more than ten years, we have failed to generate adequate responses concerning increasing ICU capacity. In addition, we must prepare for the contingency of a fourth wave and consider the seasonal aspect of these types of coronavirus infections. We must plan against the contingency that there may be a fourth wave of Covid-19 in the winter of this year. I would like to hear the Government tell us what those plans are, because there are lessons to be learned.

I also wish to reflect briefly on the need to examine where things have gone right and wrong. Our testing and tracing system did not seem to be robust. On the other hand, the vaccination programme, once we had the vaccines, seems to have gone very well. I have received the first jab and what I saw in the Aviva Stadium was very effective. I compliment everybody involved. However, there are things that we must look at regarding the whole approach of the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, in providing advice to the Government. I would like to have a critical analysis of whether it was really necessary to close the construction and ordinary retail sectors to the extent that they were. I fully appreciate that general mobility was one of the things NPHET had in mind in respect of the closing of those individual sectors. Regarding the economic damage done by some sectoral decisions, however, the setback in the provision of housing was a significant choice and I would love to see some objective analysis conducted in that regard. It should not be carried out by NPHET and should not be self-examination. There should be an independent examination of whether we got things right or wrong or if we did too much or too little in certain areas. There are many things which remain to be done. The Tánaiste correctly stated that we face into a slow reopening and rebuilding of the economy and that we are well-positioned economically to do both. I ask the Tánaiste to pass on to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, the real need to reconsider the rate of capital gains tax for the next two years. When we reduced the rate of capital gains tax from 40% to 20% in 1997, we noted that there was an increase in yield of the order of 500%. It is not just the yield to the Exchequer I have in mind - though we will need increased Exchequer funding - it is also the need to make assets more available and sales and transfers of assets more practical for those people who are trying to help the economy recover.

There are many other things I would like to say but time does not permit me to do so. We have many lessons to learn and it is essential that the people who made the decisions are not the judges of the correctness, incorrectness or efficacy of those decisions. Other people have to put their mind to assessing those issues.


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