Seanad debates

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Vaccination Programme

10:30 am

Photo of Garret AhearnGarret Ahearn (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber. She is always welcome and I thank her and the Cathaoirleach for facilitating this debate. I am raising this issue because the Minister of State will remember that a couple of weeks ago there was a lot of controversy about the continuation of the Covid digital certificate and the recommendations being brought in by the Government. The issue that seemed to upset some people was the continuation of the Covid digital certificate.

My question is how successful that digital certificate has been in recent weeks. I ask that because I was supportive of this initiative and I have seen the advantage of it in recent months. I refer to how people have embraced it, how it has encouraged people to get vaccinated and, most importantly, and this is the part people frequently forget, how the Covid digital certificate is there to support businesses. It is not impeding businesses in any way. It is a little bit of an inconvenience for people to have to check it when people come in, but the whole point of the digital certificate is to allow businesses to remain open.

Some weeks ago, about 370,000 people over the age of 12 were not fully vaccinated. My question is where are we now in respect of those 370,000 people, and I am asking because the impression I get is that there seems to have been an increase in the uptake of the vaccines. If Clonmel is anything to go by, and we are very lucky to have a vaccination centre there, as well as one in Nenagh in Tipperary, there has been an increase in the number of people receiving vaccinations. I have seen that myself. There was a sense before 22 October that if people who had not been vaccinated - for whatever reason, some people have genuine reasons and some people just do not want it or do not want to do what the Government is asking them to do, and it is always going be the case that we will have a percentage of people like that - just got to 22 October, they would then have got over the end line and that would have been it.

I get the sense now, though, that people realise the Covid digital certificate is not going to be gone any time soon. One of the major and positive decisions we made in respect of the Covid digital certificate is that there is no end date for it. There is talk that there might be such a date in future, but I strongly encourage the Department not to have an end date for when the Covid digital certificate will be phased out, because a date, such as 1 January 2022, would give people the ability to decide to wait until that end date arrives and try to get past it that way. If we have learned anything from our experience over the past 18 months, it is that we cannot predict anything and therefore we should not have an end date because it just causes us more problems.

One suggestion I have concerns what is happening in other countries, such as Spain, where it has been successful. I refer to the fact there seems to be a lower uptake of vaccinations among non-English speaking residents in Ireland. If we could start a campaign to encourage those people to get vaccinated, that would be very helpful.We know many people are either sceptical of this or come from countries where there is a scepticism about vaccines even in their governments over years. We could set up a campaign within the Department of Health to encourage such people to get vaccinated.

I welcome the discussions between the Taoiseach and representatives of the hospitality sector, such as the Restaurants Association of Ireland, the Vintners' Federation of Ireland and all the other groups that participated in yesterday's process. Now is the time to encourage all businesses to use digital Covid certificates. It is the mechanism to keep the industry open over Christmas but we need everybody on board. I am sure the Minister of State knows businesses that have not been checking the certificates and I have gone to bars and restaurants where it does not happen. It is different everywhere. Some places are very positive and engaging while others are not. Even the businesses that are quite good may not look for photo identification, and I might refer to that in my concluding remarks. Now is the time for businesses in the hospitality sector to ensure as many bars and restaurants as possible can continue checking the digital Covid certificate over the next two months.


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