Seanad debates

Friday, 4 June 2021

Health and Criminal Justice (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2021: [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] Report and Final Stages

 

9:30 am

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)

I thank the Minister for effectively accepting the amendments that I put forward in the Seanad. They dealt with a very serious issue whereby the Bill, as drafted, was indefinite. The Bill allowed for indefinite extension by three months' resolution, followed by a three month's resolution, with no final end date. I made the case in the Seanad on the seriousness of what that would mean in terms of the balance between the Executive and the Legislature. I thank the Minister for taking them on board. I would have liked if my amendments had been accepted in the Seanad.

I note there is a concern that there has been a habit, sometimes, of not accepting very sensible amendments in the Seanad but waiting to accept them in the Dáil. In fact, these are effectively the same measures that I put forward. There is a concern about the timing and the guillotine in that respect but I acknowledge that the legislation at least sets a final date, which is important. There are slight differences but effectively the same principle will apply and there is a final date. It is a final date that is very far away, which remains a concern for many and I understand that concern.

I highlight the amendments that the Minister did not accept, unfortunately, in either this House or the Dáil but I hope that he will deliver in practice on the call for a review. He has heard the distress of the House at being asked to pass Bills without all of the information Members need in terms of the review. With respect, the 28-day annulment of a regulation is not sufficient because we are responsible, we have that nuance and we will not risk a danger to public health because we are concerned about one aspect. That should not be taken for granted.

I urge the Minister, although he has not accepted it in this Bill, that the request made in my amendments and in amendments tabled by others in the Dáil, that before he comes back in November, if he comes back in November, to request an extension that, in a timely manner, of at least one month before that, we would publish a review in respect of all of the regulations and how they have operated. Being able to pull an emergency break is something that we do not necessarily want to do but we may want to be able to steer things in a different direction. We may want to bring the information that all of us have in terms of how those have operated. We may, therefore, want to bring nuance when or if the motions, to extend these four different pieces of legislation, were to come before us in November.

I ask the Minister not come to us in November and tell us it is an emergency again, yet not give us what we need, which is a full scrutiny of the regulations and the humans rights aspects of the implications of the regulations before we are asked to extend further. I say that again acknowledging that at least there is an ultimate final date but very much conscious that even five months, six months or eight months of time in which we have measures that are not properly balanced where we do not know how they are panning out in reality, and where we do not know how they might be improved, is regrettable. I regret the process. It is unacceptable that a review was not published prior to this discussion. It would have eased the discussion a lot if we had been able to respond and I refer, for example, to the nuance that we have not been able to discuss and to the changes happening in terms of the mental health provision Act. There are certain other concerns about some of the other laws that came through last November or December. There are differences and nuances here that we are not able to discuss. We have only addressed the core danger of an indefinite process, which is good, but more is needed.

The Minister has pointed to the different stages but those are all of the stages that lead to the regulations and immediately after them. What we need to look at now is the experience of citizens in this State under those regulations so that we adapt and respond in our law, accordingly, because those regulations are more far reaching than regulations usually would be.

I thank the Minister for acknowledging that the powers did not sit easily with him. At least he has ensured that they will not sit indefinitely with him.That is an improvement but, nonetheless, I ask the Minister to commit to publishing a review in a timely manner before he comes back to the House for an extension. I must say one final thing, which I say every time. One of the factors that will affect whether we are asked for an extension in November will be whether Ireland and the EU have supported a trade related intellectual property rights, TRIPS, waiver and have taken the actions they can take to ensure a wider global level of vaccination.

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