Friday, 4 June 2021
Health and Criminal Justice (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2021: [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] Report and Final Stages
Stephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
These are essentially equivalent amendments throughout the Bill. To put these amendments in context, I received communication from the health committee expressing its serious concern about the Bill, as initiated, whereby a sunset clause of up to 12 weeks could be rolled over indefinitely pending a vote of both Houses. There was also a constructive and productive debate in the Seanad. On the back of that debate, as colleagues will recall, I undertook to seek the Government's approval to substantially amend the Bill. This required a new decision of the Government. I secured that agreement to table amendments in the Dáil.
The amendments, for which I sought agreement from the Government, will essentially allow only one extension of up to 12 weeks. The Bill would then fall. If it were deemed necessary in the future to have more targeted public health measures in response to Covid, we would need to go through the legislative process again. My understanding is that there was broad support around the Seanad for that approach. Earlier this week, these amendments were brought forward and passed in the Dáil.
There are nine amendments, one of which is a technical amendment concerning wording. The other eight amendments essentially seek to do the same thing throughout the Bill. The Bill seeks to extend the ability of the Government to make regulations for public health measures that are proportionate to the risk posed by Covid-19. There are four Acts which allow for those powers. One of the amendments is a technical one concerning wording. The other eight are four groups of two amendments which seek to make the same change as the Bill pertains to the four Acts which are referenced and which we are seeking to extend the powers within. What they propose is, that after the initial period has fallen, or comes due, which is 9 November, with the agreement of both Houses, we could extend the period for up to 12 weeks.That would bring us up to February, and that would be the end of it. That would pertain to all of the related Acts.
I do not know if I will get another chance to speak so, if possible, I will lay this out. There was a lengthy debate over many hours on Committee Stage in the Dáil and unfortunately I had no time to respond to any of it. There were some who believe that there should be no measures, that people should do whatever it is that they want to do, and that there should be nothing to try to control the spread of the virus. Quite a number of contributors believe that. They voted against the Bill, which I believe would be a rational vote. They fundamentally do not believe that there should be public health measures in place.