Friday, 7 May 2021
European Digital Green Certificate: Statements
I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber. As a respected and committed European, he no doubt appreciates EU solidarity in this regard. It is logistically challenging. The digital green certificate can serve as proof of vaccination, testing and recovery in order to waive restrictions to free movement put in place in a member state on public health grounds such as testing or mandatory quarantine requirements. When travelling, every digital green certificate holder will have the same rights as citizens of the visited member state who have been vaccinated, tested or recovered, so it is important to hold one of these certificates. I have a green certificate but it is a different type. It is a membership green card for An Comhaontas Glas but that will not get me too far. However, this green digital certificate will. It will facilitate free movement and remove barriers to travel. It is not perfect and I understand the concerns expressed by some civil rights people, who are genuine in their concerns, but we must balance the countervailing rights. I believe this is a proportionate response to get Ireland moving again and to open it up, particularly since as an island we can be isolated.
I welcome this debate but I would like a further debate on a later date. We have EU solidarity but what are we doing about global solidarity for the people who do not have a voice? This is great news for the EU today and we are moving in the right direction. However, I was concerned to read very recently in The Guardianthat according to WHO research, tens of millions of asylum seekers, migrants, refugees and internally displaced people around the world have been excluded from national Covid-19 programmes. The gaps mean that a scattered group numbering at least 46 million people, which is approximately the size of the population of Spain, may struggle to get vaccinated even if a global shortage of doses eases. Among the excluded are 5.6 million people internally displaced by six decades of civil war in Colombia, hundreds of thousands of refugees in Kenya and Syria and nearly 5 million migrants in Ukraine. According to WHO research conducted in March, India, Nigeria and Indonesia are among several large countries whose vaccination programmes exclude displaced people. Other countries like Pakistan appear in the list but have since amended their plans to make them more inclusive. Well done, Pakistan. Is this not the elephant in the room as we help our fellow Europeans? What are we doing?Who is the voice for the Third World? They feel like fifth class citizens. I asked our Commissioner to move on this and yet Joe Biden, the leader of the free world, is ahead of us on this. Fair play to President Biden for waiving the intellectual property rights. Of course there was pushback from the drug makers. I would ask the drug makers if they have made enough money yet. I would firstly say "Thank you so much". Barry McGuigan kept saying that to Barney Eastwood. I could not say "Thank you" enough to drug makers. They have saved lives but they have also made money. When will the drug makers say that enough is enough? Have they made enough money yet? When will their shareholders say that? I do not believe that they will do so any day soon. It will take global leadership and solidarity.
Unfortunately the EU, which the Minister and I are proud members of, is behind the door despite the assurances I got from Thierry Breton when he addressed us at a meeting of the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs. If the call can go out through the Minister's influential office and the Irish Government, we are small in numbers in Ireland but we box way above our weight in the area of influence and leadership. Ireland is a global leader and is on the UN Security Council. Irish voices are needed now. We understand what it is like from the Famine days. Perhaps that is why we are so generous with fundraising at times. Irish people go through the stratosphere of generosity. I ask Irish people to make their voices heard.
I know we are on the right page here but some of our fellow world citizens are dying in the streets because they cannot get beds or oxygen. I did not want this lovely hour to go by today without placing on the record of this House my deep concerns that we are moving far too slowly. A rising tide would lift all boats but I do not see that tide lifting the weakest. One judges a society on how it deals with its weakest, the disadvantaged and the less well off. Many are in rogue states and cannot even raise their voices. They are being left behind and dying because we are hoarding vaccines. We are ensuring that the people who are not in danger of dying any time soon come first, before the most vulnerable in another part of the world. Is it not an accident of birth that, whatever part of the world one lives in, one will have to wait an extra three or four years for this vaccine? That is reprehensible to me as a public representative and to the people of Ireland. We should not accept that. We have to push. Our voice must be heard.
While I welcome this brilliant initiative, because it is a practical way of getting business going again, I hope the Minister might address this and do his best. I know his heart is in the right place and he might be able to update me on the good work he is doing in that respect. It is no criticism of the Irish Government but a criticism of the global economy where the rich get richer and the poor, vulnerable, sick and disadvantaged do not have a voice. The rich do not care about them or they would have looked after them for a long time before now. I hope that as a Seanad, we can put a separate hour aside to put all our collective wisdom and brains together. There is much ingenuity and innovation in this Chamber. Can we do something in Seanad Éireann to redress that grotesque imbalance in the world?