Seanad debates

Thursday, 22 October 2020

Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020 and Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020: Motions

 

10:30 am

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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I remind Senators that both motions will be debated together and decided separately.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I move:

That Seanad Éireann resolves that the amendments effected by Part 3 of the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020 (No. 1 of 2020) shall continue in operation for the period beginning on the 9th day of November, 2020 and ending on the 9th day of June, 2021.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Mary Butler. She has the floor and there is no time limit.

Photo of Mary ButlerMary Butler (Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Seanad for giving me the opportunity to address these resolutions that seek to extend the sunset clause in two pieces of legislation, namely, the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020, and Part 5 of the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020, both of which are due to expire on 9 November.

First, I shall address the extension of the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020. The spread of Covid-19 has created an unprecedented situation both in Ireland and globally. I do not believe it is possible to overstate how serious a threat Covid-19 continues to pose to our economy, society, health and wellbeing. To date, Ireland has recorded over 53,422 cases and, sadly, 1,868 deaths. I know this House will wish to extend its sympathies to the bereaved families and friends of all who have lost loved ones.

When the Government brought this legislation before the Oireachtas six months ago we were really at the start of what has turned out to be a continuously evolving and uncertain journey. While we managed to suppress the virus to very low levels of transmission over the summer, recent trends and the current disease profile are very concerning. All indicators of disease incidence and severity have continued to worsen in recent weeks. In the last week alone we have had almost 9,000 cases and the national 14-day incidence rate now stands at 291 per 100,000. We have also seen outbreaks of Covid-19 continue to occur in the community, hospitals and, most worryingly, in long-term residential care settings. In response to the rapidly deteriorating epidemiological situation across the country, this week the Government has had to make some very difficult decisions to protect public health by moving the entire country for the next six weeks to level 5 of the plan for living with Covid-19.

While progress has been made in terms of the development of possible vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, it is internationally accepted that Covid-19 will continue to represent a grave public health threat in the medium term. Unfortunately, this means that there is still a need for non-pharmaceutical public health measures of the kind that came into effect overnight and are facilitated by this legislation. Ireland is not alone in this crisis. Indeed, all across Europe and much of the rest of the world, Covid-19 infections are on the rise and increasingly countries are having to introduce more restrictive measures in response. I fully accept that these measures place extraordinary limitations on lives and livelihoods, limiting who we can meet, how far we can travel and requiring some businesses and services to close their doors. Government does not take these decisions lightly and always seeks to balance all considerations, including public health, economic and societal, to ensure that any measures taken are proportionate to the level of threat, but regrettably we need to retain these measures as part of our national response. They proved essential in allowing us to suppress the virus in the first half of this year and they will do so again. Critically, they will support us in protecting our key priorities of maintaining health and social care services, keeping education and childcare services open and, above all, protecting the most vulnerable members of our communities.

These laws are necessary for now, and their main aim is to protect people and save lives. However, in the spirit of proportionality, I recognise that the extension of these extraordinary measures must be temporary, and I will repeal them as soon as it is safe to do so. I assure Senators that they will be continually reviewed and assessed in light of emerging evidence. Therefore, I am proposing an extension of seven months up to 9 June 2021, as this is in line with the timeline of the Government's medium-term strategy, Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with Covid-19. I am asking Senators to support this motion.

I turn now to the extension to the measures in the emergency measures Act amending the Mental Health Act. The measures in Part 5 of this Act amend the Mental Health Acts 2001-2018, specifically relating to the role of independent consultant psychiatrists and the holding of mental health tribunals. Mental health tribunals are made up of a solicitor or barrister, who acts as chairperson, a consultant psychiatrist and a layperson. Tribunals review the detention of every person involuntarily admitted and detained under the Mental Health Act within 21 days of admission and thereafter every three or six months. The tribunal either affirms the order detaining the patient or refuses it, following which the patient is released.

The Mental Health Commission, the independent regulator of mental health services in the State, approached the Department of Health in March of this year to raise its concerns over the need to ensure that these tribunals continue and that each patient's right to a review of his or her case is protected. In addition, there was a need to protect the health of both patients and healthcare staff and to ensure that the potential for Covid contamination was minimised.

Following detailed discussion with the commission and the HSE, the Department, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, introduced the measures to ensure that these tribunals could continue. These measures provide for a cascading approach to the role of the independent consultant psychiatrist and mental health tribunals. This approach means that, where possible, the current system of review is conducted as normal. In the event where, due to Covid, this is not possible, alternative measures are in place to protect the rights of the patient. The measures allow a consultant psychiatrist conducting an independent examination of an involuntarily detained patient to do so remotely in scenarios where a personal examination cannot take place. They also provide for mental health tribunals, the bodies which review the detention of every involuntary patient, to consist of only the chairperson if members cannot attend due to the spread of Covid-19.

I emphasise that all patients are examined in person by their responsible treating consultant psychiatrist at the point of admission and throughout their care, as appropriate. The independent examination by a second consultant psychiatrist still takes place, be it in person or remotely. The Mental Health Commission has been monitoring the implementation of the new measures on an ongoing basis. It has informed the Department that the new measures have worked well overall given the circumstances and that, while the current situation is not ideal, it has ensured that the rights of patients are upheld and that every patient has received his or her hearing.

As of this week, no one-person tribunals have been required, and the full complement of a legal professional, a consultant psychiatrist and a layperson has reviewed all involuntary detentions, either remotely or in person. This, however, does not lessen the requirement to have these contingency measures in place since they may yet be required to protect the health of both patients and front-line healthcare staff. Furthermore, other supports have been provided to patients during this period, including the additional involvement of interpreters and the use of videoconferencing for interactions with legal representatives and the independent consultant psychiatrist.

I reiterate that both resolutions propose a new date for the sunset clause of 9 June 2021, and these measures will not be continued indefinitely. The measures are also subject to ongoing review. I note that the temporary measures may be ended earlier by ministerial order should the public health situation improve to such a point that the measures are no longer needed.

The measures temporarily amending the Mental Health Act must continue beyond 9 November as part of our efforts to protect our most vulnerable and our healthcare workers. The proposal to extend the measures is supported by both the HSE and the Mental Health Commission. I ask all Deputies to support the continuation of these measures in a timely manner.

Photo of Catherine ArdaghCatherine Ardagh (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House today. We in Fianna Fáil support the extension of the sunset clauses for both Part 5 of the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020 and Part 3 of the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020.

Regrettably, the ongoing presence of Covid-19 still presents a significant public health emergency and poses a considerable threat to human life. The latest Covid figures, as the Minister of State outlined, showed yesterday that three additional deaths were recorded. That brings the total of deaths in Ireland to 1,868 people, that is, 1,868 families who have been affected directly by Covid-19. As of midnight, Tuesday, 20 October, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, HPSC, has been notified of 1,167 confirmed Covid cases and there is now a total of 53,422 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland. As of 2 p.m. on Wednesday, 314 Covid patients were hospitalised, 34 of whom are in intensive care units, ICU. There were 27 additional hospitalisations in the previous 24 hours. All of this is extremely worrying.

On 20 March last, the previous Seanad of which I was a Member was convened on an emergency basis to discuss the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020, as outlined. Not many amendments were made. However, the Seanad brought forward and included the sunset clause, the extension of which we support today, which puts a temporary timeframe limitation on these emergency powers that the Government is introducing.

Many people are directly affected by these regulations. It is not ideal to have to enact them. They include restrictions on moving from geographical areas, restrictions on working, the prohibition of events, and introducing safeguards in central workplaces, such as our own, schools and crèches so that they can continue.

Ultimately, there is a significant societal impact. There are significant mental health pressures on many people in society, not only the elderly living alone. Those who have businesses are massively impacted. Some businesses managed to scrape through the previous lockdown but, unfortunately, they may not survive the next period because it is uncertain when, in fact, it will end.

The Government has included considerable financial supports, from extending the wage subsidy schemes and the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP. These may not be enough to help the small businesses throughout the country. It is regrettable and upsetting that the virus has had such a stronghold on us, not only in Ireland but across Europe. These measures are obvious important in the face of this public health risk but the outcomes, every which way we look at it, are disastrous. Many of us have our own ideas and would say that if we were in government, we would have done X, Y and Z, and would have imposed curfews or fines earlier. Ultimately, however, when faced with the decisions on protecting public health and the economy, these decisions are hard made and they are not made quickly. A lot of consideration and thought are put into these types of decisions to ensure there is a balance between protecting public health and the economy, with public health supreme, as it should be.

I support the emergency measures in regard to allowing mental health tribunals to continue in a Covid environment. We know psychiatric reports can be done on a remote basis, which is welcomed by the HSE, by psychiatrists and by members of the tribunal, who have asked that this temporary measure be extended. We are happy to support that and the details have been outlined by the Minister. Over the Covid period, we have seen there has not been a drop in the work of the mental health tribunals and the increase in their work shows the worth of these temporary measures.

We in Fianna Fáil support the extension. I am glad to hear the Minister of State say that if the public health situation changes before June, she will recommend these measures are revoked, which is welcome. Hopefully, we are not here before 9 June to extend them again.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, back to the House. Of course, we would prefer if she was here in better circumstances. We think back to last March, when we passed the emergency legislation in the Seanad. The sunset clause was an amendment that was put into the legislation and we were looking at a timeline of November. That was how optimistic people were that we would get this virus under control, and that this public health emergency would be under control and well on the way to recovery, but, sadly, that is not the case. Sadly, the situation in October is that in excess of 50,000 people have contracted Covid-19 and we have lost more than 2,000 people on the island of Ireland. It is appropriate that we would send our sympathies to the families of the people who, sadly and tragically, have lost their lives to this awful disease. To the 50,000 people who picked it up, we wish them well.

Unfortunately, we are back here to deal with the sunset clause and it is appropriate that we would extend it until next June. I am glad the Minister of State has given an undertaking that if the public health emergency is dealt with, if we are fortunate enough that a vaccine is found, if this six-week period results in a flattening of the curve and if, post-Christmas, we are on the road to recovery from this virus, she will look to delete the sunset clause and will come back to the House to do that. However, it is appropriate at this time that we would extend it to next June.

Of course, this is emergency legislation. It is legislation that would not be brought through these Houses except for the public health emergency. It is a once-in-a-generation situation and we have not had such an emergency in close to 100 years, since the Spanish flu. We are here in a time of crisis that we wish we were not in.

The good that is coming out of this is that people do pull together. The goodness, strength of character and determination of people will shine through and is already shining through. We have a very difficult six weeks ahead of us. I appeal to all the people of Ireland that this is a chance for every single one of us to be leaders. We all have a part to play in this battle. All of us in this House are leaders within our communities and leaders in our country. I have no doubt that, across the House, we will show the type of leadership that we should. I have no doubt every citizen, when he or she realises the challenges and the difficulties our country faces, as well as the absolute heartbreak that some of our citizens have already faced, will want to protect the vulnerable and the elderly in our communities.

We need to get the basics right. Social distancing means staying 2 m away from people, even if a person is wearing a mask, and coughing and sneezing etiquette and the washing of hands are all things that make a difference. We have a role to play as leaders. We all need to use our social media channels to keep pushing the message and pushing the narrative. We can have all the legislation we want but unless we come together as a nation, we will not succeed.

I wish the Minister of State well in the very important portfolio of mental health and its other aspects. In my capacity as party spokesperson on health in the Seanad, I look forward to working very closely with the Minister of State because I share her goals and aspirations for the Department and for the people of Ireland, particularly those who need the supports and services of the Department. I look forward to working with her in the next three to four years to rebuild our society and our health service after this crisis. We will get through this crisis, of that I have no doubt. The people of Ireland will come together and we will defeat this virus. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, the scientists and medical experts who are working night and day to find a vaccine will succeed and we will all be able to move on to rebuilding Ireland into the great country it is, has been and will be again.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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Before I move on, I noticed Senator Keogan was looking at me sternly when I called the last speaker. She can check the list at any time. I do not change around the names of speakers. While she might feel frustrated, that is the rota. I call Senator Keogan.

Sharon Keogan (Independent)
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Thank you. I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I strongly object to the extension of the Act conferring power on the Minister to impose lockdown restrictions on the nation from this day until 9 June 2021, as set out in Part 3 of the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020. These repressive measures have been railroaded through both Houses without adequate time for debate and scrutiny as to whether they are actually necessary and proportionate.

As the Government lurches mindlessly into another disastrous lockdown, there are already mutterings from the Taoiseach about future lockdown cycles in the new year and beyond. Lockdowns prolong and increase the suffering of everyone. When is the Government going to learn this lesson? Is it when the people and the State are both broke? Our current hospital waiting lists stand at 1 million people, that is, 1 million people are waiting for a procedure or to see a consultant. Let that sink in. The Government is doing its best to ensure the State and small Irish businesses go bust. It is unforgivable that the Government bases the health and wealth of this nation on football and alcohol. This minor distraction was only for the public to take their eyes off the game that the Government is failing to play to save the lives and livelihoods of its people.

Is the level 5 lockdown all the Government and NPHET can come up with again? We have 34 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in ICU. Is the hospital system overwhelmed by Covid-19 or was it ever overwhelmed by Covid-19?Is a lockdown justified or is it just the only answer because the Government failed to find and provide effective solutions? Even the WHO does not advocate lockdowns. It has urged governments to learn how to coexist with the virus in a way that does not require the constant closing down of economies and yet is not associated with high levels of suffering and death. Our Government is failing to do this.

The Great Barrington declaration has been signed by more than 3,500 eminent scientists and doctors. It sets out a balanced, science-based strategy of focused protection to deal with the pandemic. Essentially, protective measures must be focused on high-risk groups - the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions. The Government failed to protect the vulnerable early in the pandemic, with more than half of deaths in care homes. At the same time, it did immense harm to the health, social life and economic and cultural fabric of the nation with a lockdown. This morning in Galway, 26 out of 28 nursing home residents have been diagnosed with Covid and only one nurse and one carer have been available for the past 72 hours because all other staff have tested positive. It is unconscionable that a GP would have to resort to Twitter to get help for this nursing home from the Minister for Health.

The latest fiasco in tracing is just another calamity for the Government. Why are the Department of Health and the HSE not on the same page? Does the left hand not know what the right hand is doing? Why did the HSE hide the tracing mess from the Minister? Why is the school tracing and reporting system so slow? In the north east, only one phone line is available in HSE offices to answer queries from schools in Louth, Meath, Cavan and Monaghan.

Like the previous Government, this Government is mortgaging the nation's future to the tune of some €50 billion in pursuit of a flawed lockdown policy. My children and grandchildren will be paying for this woeful negligence. Compliance with a lockdown cannot last forever, particularly in a free and democratic society. The measures proposed by the Government last night and now before the House to fine people for breach of lockdown rules are a step too far. How many in rural Ireland live more than 5 km from major supermarkets? There is real fear among the people of the nation this morning. The distance must be extended to 10 km. No home can be entered by gardaí without a warrant - let us be clear about that.

This motion continues the amendment to the Mental Health Act up until 9 June 2021. Could a workable solution not have been found to deal with the people suffering mental health issues who are currently detained under the Act? The Government had even admitted until this week that everything was working fine and these measures might not need to come into effect. Why include them in the Act if they will not be needed? Surely psychiatrists and tribunals could perform examinations with the PPE available to all medical professions.

Once again, this legislation is being rushed through the House with little or no thought for the people it will affect or their human rights. The Government came up with a plan to live with Covid. Compliance with that plan has proven unsuccessful in bringing the public with us, so now the Government is reverting to plan A, which is a lockdown. Punish the people.

The Living with Covid plan could have been tweaked to ensure public buy in and that the spirit of the nation was with us. All politicians failed in our messaging. Some of us have displayed reckless behaviour and it is no wonder that we failed to bring the public with us. Heavy-handed policing and the imposition of ad hocfines is not the way to encourage people to limit their social contacts. We have to learn to live with the virus, not merely exist in a state of indefinite lockdowns. This is not living. We must do better for the people of Ireland.

Elisha McCallion (Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete “9th day of June, 2021” and substitute “9th day of February, 2021”.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Labour)
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I second the amendment.

Elisha McCallion (Sinn Fein)
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Before I begin, I wish to offer my party's thanks to the many thousands of health workers who have been working tirelessly for the past number of months. I have spoken to a number of people in recent weeks, and there is no doubt that they are stretched beyond the call of duty. Our thanks and appreciation continue to go to everyone across all levels of the health service.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, and much like many other countries throughout the world, our society has been in a state of emergency for many reasons. This has had an adverse effect on the mental health and emotional well-being of the people of this nation and further afield. Much was uncertain at the beginning of the emergency and there is still a great deal of fear. Indeed, the virus has caused unprecedented levels of fear and anxiety among our communities. Generally speaking, people of all ages and gender have responded well to the pandemic. They have correctly played their part in being responsible and responding positively to the measures taken by the Government in Dublin and the Government in Belfast. It has not been easy for them to do so. No one should underestimate the stress and strain on families and individuals living in the highly restricted set of circumstances required to live with the virus until there is a vaccine. Therefore, it is important that any emergency measure be clearly time limited and subject to review by the Government on a credible ongoing basis.

We supported the emergency legislation seven months ago because it was understandable. There were many unknowns and a great deal of panic and we did not have enough information on the virus. The legislation gave the Minister for Health sweeping discretionary powers. This extraordinary situation was an immediate and necessary response at the time. However, it is for this House and the Lower House, not individual Ministers, to legislate day-to-day for the people. For that reason, Sinn Féin is proposing an amendment to reduce the length of time until the review of the emergency legislation from June 2021 to February. We believe firmly that it is prudent to do so.

This morning, my party colleague, Deputy Cullinane, spoke about the need for the Government to work better with us, the Opposition. I reiterate that point. Due to the nature of the decision-making process that was given to the Minister and his Department by the emergency legislation, we have found ourselves being asked to support Government decisions without having relevant information in advance or the time to scrutinise same. We cannot allow this practice to continue. As legislators, we need to be able to scrutinise properly the Minister and the Department on their many significant decisions that are having a major impact on workers, families and businesses.

It has been very difficult to get any information from the Minister, the Department or the HSE on all-Ireland co-operation. It is prudent that the Government in Dublin and the Government in Belfast regularly review together all aspects of managing the impact of the virus, although not just in the area of health, crucial though that is to the preservation of life and health. In that regard, I will raise the importance of this country being effectively treated as one unit when it comes to the measures needed to control and combat the virus. The full resources of both Governments must be aligned and co-ordinated to ensure that there is no area across the island where the virus is free to wreak havoc on people.

I wish to discuss the system of contact tracing in Border constituencies. I have been concerned for some time that the testing and tracing systems here and in the North are falling short of what is required to control the virus in those constituencies. Several times in recent months, I have asked questions in the Seanad and written to the Minister for Health in Dublin and the Minister of Health in Belfast asking for information about their respective systems of testing and tracing.To this day, I have not received relevant information from either jurisdiction, which gives me any comfort to suggest that there is anywhere near enough sharing of information that allows appropriate contact tracing for those of us who live in Border constituencies and cross the Border daily.

This is absolutely unacceptable. We want to help the Minister in trying to deal with the virus, but he needs to give us the tools and information we need in order to do our job. We cannot continue to work in the manner in which we have been doing with his Government for the past number of months, lacking in information and being unable to scrutinise legislation properly. It is with that in mind that I will press the two amendments moved by our party.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. On behalf of the Labour Party, I wish to express my enormous sympathy to all of those affected by Covid-19. This includes the families and loved ones of the more than 1,800 people who have sadly died, and to the many who continue to suffer, who have had Covid and are still suffering with the after effects of what is being referred to as long Covid. I also express my admiration for, and solidarity with, our front-line workers.

We all recognise the enormous public health threat posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Labour Party has offered constructive opposition over the past few months. We supported the emergency legislation we are debating today back in March, but we also tabled amendments seeking to secure a sunset clause, and we were glad to see that sunset clause was inserted into the legislation. However, at this point, we cannot support the extension that is proposed for seven months. We have not been given adequate time to scrutinise these motions or, indeed, the basis for them. We saw the regulations signed by the Minister at 11.50 p.m. last night, SI 448 of 2020. These are detailed regulations containing extensive penal provisions, with draconian powers extended. I know that the regulations are only to last until 1 December 2020, but if that is the case, why are we seeking to extend these measures for seven months?

As a result of that, I was happy to second the amendment moved by Sinn Féin to shorten the extension to February 2021, rather than having a long extension for seven months to June 2021. There is no difficulty in the Minister coming back to the House in the interim, for example, in February, if indeed a longer extension is needed. We must be given time to debate the issue then. However, it is entirely inappropriate to debate this legislation in such a way that we have six minutes each to debate two motions containing extraordinary extensions of powers. Even in a pandemic, can we not give a little more time for parliamentary scrutiny?

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties, ICCL, has rightly criticised the railroading through, not only of these motions, but of the other legislation that we will consider under guillotine tomorrow. Tomorrow four guillotines will be imposed on legislation and one is being imposed today. The health Bill being debated tomorrow proposes to introduce on-the-spot fines. The Labour Party is not convinced that that is necessary. There is capacity in the District Court and there are existing procedures through the District Court to enable the implementation of the penal provisions. We are not convinced of the evidence that these on-the-spot fines are necessary.

We have supported the Government to try to get through this pandemic together, and we have tried to do so in a constructive manner. We supported the Living with Covid framework when it was introduced, but we have expressed serious concerns about the way in which it has been implemented, about Government communication as to the move between levels and the rapid move from level 3 up to level 5 without, it seemed, sufficient consideration of alternatives. We are all very conscious of the massive impact that this week's level 5 restrictions have for so many people, including workers, businesses and families. What has been lacking, particularly in the past few weeks, has been any sense of a coherent and planned exit strategy, that is, a point at which we can say that the curve is sufficiently flattened and we can move incrementally between the levels of restriction, as were supposed to do. If we are to live with Covid, then that is what we must do.

This week the Taoiseach ruled out the zero Covid strategy, which was being proposed by some very eminent scientists and medics. In order to implement such a strategy we would have needed a coherent all-Island approach, which was not evident, unfortunately. The summer was a missed opportunity, when we had brought down levels of infection and reduced the R number to a point at which it would have been containable, had we put in place the contact tracing system that we clearly need and which broke down so unfortunately at the weekend, and had we put in place a system of rapid testing. Deputy Alan Kelly has asked repeatedly in the Dáil about why we do not have a proper rapid testing system and a contact tracing system in place. We know that track and test is the only way. If we are not adopting a zero Covid strategy and we are to live with the virus, we must ensure that we have an exit strategy to come out of this level of unsustainable, severe restrictions. We must have a point at which we can say that the virus is containable and we have enough contact tracers in position that we can identify, move and tackle any outbreaks where they occur. That is what we failed to do in the last flattening of the curve. We cannot fail people this time.

We have six weeks now, and we will work with all in government, our front-line workers and society to ensure that this works, however we need to be given a coherent strategy to ensure that it does. We have supported the Minister of State and the Government in keeping schools and childcare open, which is hugely significant and important. We have supported reasonable measures where the evidence is clear, but we cannot support open-ended extensions for seven months without adequate time to debate and scrutinise them and without a clear plan and timeframe for coming out of this level of restrictions.

We will have an opportunity to speak on the health Bill tomorrow, albeit very briefly, because we have two and a half hours to pass All Stages of the Bill because there is a guillotine, which is most unfortunate. Through the regulations and the extension motions railroaded through today and the Bill tomorrow, we are going to see the blunt instrument of criminal law being used to try to encourage social solidarity. In my view, as a criminal lawyer, that is not the most effective means to tackle Covid-19. What we have seen over the past seven or eight months is enormous social solidarity, goodwill, efforts and energy put in by so many people to suppress Covid. A much better way to build social solidarity is to ensure that we bring people with us and that we have continued goodwill, rather than to use the blunt instrument of the criminal law.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Butler to the Seanad. I have to remind myself we are in the Dáil Chamber in which the Seanad is sitting for the purposes of this exercise. I read the Minister of State's speech. It is clear and is unambiguous, and I thank her for that. I also acknowledge the enormous work of the ICCL, not only on this legislation, but on other legislation that is coming before the House.

These are critical times for all of us. There is a crisis and a pandemic, and an emergency response was made. I remember the day when the then Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, came to the Seanad to explain to us what we were facing, and nobody believed it. We were shocked and we thought it might be something that would last for a few weeks or maybe a month or two. Here we are many months later and the pandemic seems to be worse. Nobody had a faint of idea where we would end up.

My concern relates to the Mental Health Commission, so that is the only area on which I will dwell today. The Minister of State said in her speech that the Mental Health Commission, the independent regulator for mental health services in the State, approached the Department back in March 2020 to raise its concerns about the need to ensure that mental health tribunals continued, and that each patient's rights to a review in his or her case were protected. That is a powerful statement. We know the emergency provisions introduced earlier this year are due to expire on 9 November 2020 as per the sunset clause for which many of us argued at the time. There was some doubt at that stage as to whether we would even have a sunset clause.

The HSE and the Mental Health Commission wanted to extend it, or they considered it, and they have now expressed concern. The ICCL and other organisations and advocates for mental health practices and supports have also expressed concerns. The commission told the Department of Health that it was worried about the mental health tribunals and the issues it would face. The Mental Health Commission wanted to ensure that the tribunals would continue, and that patients' rights would be fully protected throughout the process. We have a duty of care to protect the rights of all citizens in this country. We particularly have a duty of care in respect of people who are under the care of the Mental Health Commission, which has an independent remit to safeguard these people. It is important the mental health tribunals proceed as normal, where possible and practical.I accept that there are exceptional circumstances in terms of Covid but where at all practical and possible, we must protect and safeguard the rights of these people. As pointed out by the Minister of State, a tribunal has three members that are made up of a solicitor, barrister or, indeed, a retired judge as the chair, and a consultant psychiatrist and a layperson. The membership has been given some thought and is balanced because these are the safeguards and advocates for the system, and all of the people involved.

The tribunal reviews admissions or renewal orders for involuntary patients. The tribunal either affirms the order or, in some cases, refuses it so the process is all open, which is important for protecting people.

A three-person tribunal is the norm but where that is not possible, as the Minister of State has said, a one-person tribunal comprised of just the chair can be used. Such a situation may arise due to the unavailability of a consultant or, in this case, issues around Covid but also the cross-contamination of the same people going to another tribunal engaging with another set of circumstances or another group of people, of which I also am mindful. On the basis of what the Minister of State has said, I am glad to say that it has not been a problem. There has been an issue with one or two cases but the system seems to have worked well on the whole, which is encouraging.

The rationale for the motion is that these are emergency measures. I think we need to consider a lesser period. No patient was denied a hearing, if he or she wanted one. I have not heard of anyone being denied a hearing but it is of concern to me, as I know it is to the Minister of State as the person with responsibility for this whole area.

The Department states that if the emergency provisions are not extended, consultant psychiatrists and perhaps others will have to attend different approval centres. Again, I understand those issues. I have considered this whole issue and talked to the various people involved. I have also listened to Senators, particularly from the Sinn Féin Party here today, who have tabled an amendment to shorten the duration of the extension to only extend to 9 February 2021 rather than 9 June 2021, which is a reasonable proposal. We are here to safeguard. We are a second Chamber and revise legislation that comes to us from the Lower House of Dáil Éireann because, as politicians, it is our job to be vigilant. I would like to think that the Minister of State will accept the amendment but I do not know. She has taken advice from her officials, which I accept and respect. I find that having reflected on what I have heard in the contributions made here today, I have decided to support the amendment tabled by Sinn Féin that proposes to shorten the duration of the extension to just 9 February 2021, as opposed to the Government's proposal of 9 June 2021. Sinn Féin's amendment is reasonable, prudent, cautious and right so I hope that Minister of State is in a position to come somewhere near the proposed date because it makes sense.

I thank the Minister of State and thank the Senators who made very considered contributions to the debate here today.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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I owe Senator Higgins an apology because she should have spoken prior to Senator Boyhan as she represents the Civil Engagement group. The mistake was my fault and I apologise.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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Senator Higgins and I work well together.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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We do. I welcome the Minister of State to the House. When we initially reviewed the legislation back in March we were in a different situation and, sadly, in some ways we were in a better situation. While we knew that there was a crisis, and many of us knew it would be a long-term crisis, to some degree we had a clarity of message and purpose, in that we would flatten the curve and during that period we would see a huge investment in ICU capacity. At the time I pushed for ventilators by asking for enough of them to be purchased, sought greater ICU capacity and called for a huge recruitment drive. We praised the fact that thousands of people came forward and volunteered to work for the HSE. It is extraordinary that so many of the people who volunteered for contact tracing and to work in front-line healthcare are still not in our system.

We were promised at the time that there would be huge measures to scale up our response and capacity but that did not adequately happen. As a result, people's trust was damaged. Moreover, not only did we not use the time as fully as we should have, we did not even follow through on the mission to fully flatten the curve because when we were at the point where the number of cases were very low, and zero Covid was a very real and practical possibility with many experts advising it, we decided to jump a step and to short-circuit. Again, lobbying by various industries meant that we jumped ahead but were premature. I was against the loosening of restrictions at that exact moment because zero Covid was in sight. Trust has been damaged in that context.

My group and I understand the severity of this health emergency. We absolutely send our wishes to all of those who have suffered. I refer to the 500 people who have gone through ICU, the 1,583 people who have lost their lives and those who live with the long-term effects of Covid. We also sympathise with the front-line workers. It is because of all that that we need to hold the Government to account.

During the debate in March I raised a number of concerns. Like many others, I called for the sunset clause. I also raised specific concerns about the mental health provisions in terms of what supports or advocacy might be involved. We were given lots of assurances that there would be engagement. Since the debate, I sent as many as seven queries to the Department of Health and not one of them was answered. I had to get Deputies to table parliamentary questions in the Dáil asking the Minister for Health to respond to my question that it was said would be answered in the Dáil. He gave a very weak answer in May that the HSE was "finalising protocols and procedures and support arrangements". I would like the Minister of State present to commit here as to what the channel of communication will be between the Department of Health and Senators. How can the Government ask us to abdicate our scrutiny?

The Government's priorities seem to be somewhat skewed. I am shocked, frankly, that horse racing and greyhound racing, whose only purpose is to serve the gambling industry, are moving ahead yet women cannot have their partners with them during very difficult maternity situations, including miscarriage.

There was a problem in terms of a lack of information in the interim. We have not been given the information that we need. There is a real concern that at times the Government seems to lack the information it needs. Can we be assured there will be proper contact tracing, and not just future contacts but sources? If not we will be in a cycle forever.

Again, it is inappropriate to review these measures without reviewing how the previous powers were used. It is in that context, recognising the emergency we are in, the severe health circumstances and number of cases, I support the Sinn Féin amendment. Also, before next February we need to see a review of how the powers given were implemented. The Government has not earned a seven-month blank cheque in terms of provision in this area. We can give a three-month extension that allows for proper scrutiny and debate, and a clear robust exchange of information in order that collectively, we can fulfil our responsibility to address the pandemic and these urgent circumstances.

I urge the Minister of State to accept the Sinn Féin amendment, as it is a fair and reasonable compromise. I ask her to commit that she will review how the powers are used and give the information to the Minister.

We have been told on a number of occasions that more powers are needed. Let us be clear. Ireland has had successes but where it has failed in its response to Covid, it has not been due to an absence of powers but to a failure of policies. Therefore, those policies must be accountable.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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The final speaker is Senator Rónán Mullen and he has six minutes.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State and wish her the best of luck with her brief.

"I never cry and I have spent all day crying."Those are the words of Patricia McGowan, owner of the Nightingale Nursing Home in my parish of Ahascragh who is contending with the awful situation of 26 of the 28 residents testing positive for Covid-19 and who feels abandoned by the HSE. Senator Joe O'Reilly mentioned this morning in his contribution this tragic and upsetting situation. Since all but three staff tested positive on Tuesday night, only one nurse and two care assistants were available to care for the 27 residents of the nursing home. We are back in a dreadful place with this morning's news about that nursing home, and I wish to call for the immediate reconvening of the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response and for the Government to treat this issue as the national emergency that it is and to do finally what should have been done more than six months ago, which is to make the residents of nursing homes and other residential settings its top priority in the fight against Covid-19.

As far back as April and May, I and other Members of this House and the Dáil went to great lengths in trying to get the Government to take the issue of Covid in nursing homes seriously. The word "abandoned" was justifiably used at the time to describe the Government's response regarding its failure to protect the lives of residents of nursing homes during the first wave. Six months on from that, it is beyond devastating to hear the owner of the nursing home at the centre of today's story reported in the Irish Independentas saying that she feels "totally abandoned" by the State as she comes to terms with trying to save the lives of residents under her care.

It is highly regrettable that some members of the Government parties back in April and May sought to scapegoat individual nursing homes for the deaths of residents rather than accepting that it was, first and foremost, a responsibility of Government to do whatever was needed to safeguard the lives of older people and those most at risk. That is what the national effort was supposed to be all about. On one occasion, I heard the then Minister for Health point out gently that these were privately owned nursing homes in many cases, as though that mattered. The reality is the same if there are old and vulnerable persons being cared for, whether with a State subvention or not. There is a responsibility in a crisis to ensure that everything is done to protect them.

I regret to say that residents of nursing homes and other residential care homes were overlooked and not given the attention that they deserved in phase 1, and to think from today's news that little may have changed is an absolute indictment of the failure of the previous Minister and the current Minister for Health to come to grips with the situation and to right the wrongs of the failure to get it right the first time round. I am not seeking to lay the blame on any one person but the buck has to stop with the politicians in charge of the relevant Departments. There can be no excusing the situation we find ourselves in today. We do not want to hear any more lofty words of concern from Ministers that are not backed up by appropriate action. This is a national emergency. Even if it is six months too late putting in place what is necessary to minimise the loss of life, let the decisions be taken today, but not later than today.

We were put to the test six months ago and we failed the most vulnerable. Let us not have a repeat of the same. I am making as impassioned a plea as I can to the Taoiseach and the Government to treat this issue with the urgency it deserves today, not tomorrow or in the days to come. It is the least we owe our older and most vulnerable and dependent members of the community.

I know what I am talking about. I wrote about this issue in April in the Irish Independentarising out of contacts I was having from people who were involved in contact tracing. At that time, they knew what the Government presumably knew but what the media was not yet covering, which was that there was a serious outbreak in nursing homes. They were asking me to try to get the ball rolling and to push Government and anybody who was listening to make the appropriate arrangements for people who were working in nursing homes, or indeed in private homes giving care, to seek to provide accommodation options, probably with the assistance of shuttered hotels at the time and supported by local authorities, so that there would not be a circular spread of the disease. What I found remarkable at the time in contacting journalists was that they were waiting to see what the Government would tell them at the next briefing and the knowledge on the ground was coming in way ahead of what was being heard on the television and radio news.

The situation has changed. Now that we have public permission to disagree with the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, there are people, including me, taking issue with aspects of the new restrictions. I remain firm in my call for facilitating public worship, not because I think that they have some special entitlement but because I believe that the evidence will show that public worship has been organised in a highly responsible way by highly compliant people and it should be possible for us to facilitate those aspects of our social and national life which are bringing consolation to people and which are supporting people mentally, socially and spiritually, subject, of course, to overriding public health requirements. However, it seems that they are still lacking. There is a desire to get it right but there is something missing in approaches that come down too hard in some areas and seem to stand back then from other areas. Sporting activity is one that many people have been questioning, but all of those issues pale into insignificance compared with the challenge facing our most vulnerable citizens in nursing homes. That, to me, is the most important point that should be galvanising us today.

The Minister of State will not disagree with anything that I have said. I ask her to take the message back to Government that we have failed people previously. It is appalling to think that we could be in the same situation again. That is an indictment of what has not been going on. For God's sack, can we have action now?

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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I want to add a few words to those which have already been spoken from these benches. When the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, then Tánaiste, came to the Seanad to announce the provision of the health Act earlier this year, I supported him and said that I was strongly behind him because I saw what I believed to be the alternative - the military trucks in Bergamo ferrying bodies away from hospitals in huge numbers, mass graves being dug in New York, and scenes from the around the world - if there was no adequate response from the State's health service and law-making services to the problems which were confronting us in Covid. I believed in my heart that the truth of the situation lay in what was recently stated by Dr. David Nabarro of the World Health Organization, that to contain a really serious emergency situation it was legitimate to have extensive clampdowns on people's economic, social, employment and other activities to avert a similar disaster. However, Dr. Nabarro also said and the World Health Organization not merely said but appealed to all governments in the world not to use clampdowns or lockdowns as the primary response to the Covid virus in our midst. I believe that the three Ws are hugely important - wash your hands, wear a mask and watch your distance - and a growing number of people are quite happy to adopt those measures and values in their own lives. However, we also agree in our hearts with what Dr. Nabarro said, which is that the use of a lockdown is simply to buy time so that the necessary resources and organisational measures can be taken in the health system to confront the problem and to minimise it.

Dr. Nabarro also said that the damage done by lockdowns is very substantial - people dying from non-Covid conditions, people failing to diagnose non-Covid conditions, people failing to avail of preventative measures in respect of other serious illness, depression, suicides, and damage to people who are confined to their homes with violent and disruptive members of households, be they abusers or people who are suffering from disability or whatever. There are many hundreds of people for whom a lockdown is a very serious personal challenge to their psychological, not to mention their economic, well-being. Economic well-being and psychological well-being are two not utterly different things.Someone may be near the breadline and dependent on a job in the entertainment business, for example. He or she may live in shared accommodation, as many people do. When such a person is told there is no reason to go to work and there is little or no money because he or she might not qualify this way or that for State support, and when he or she is told to stay at home and that home involves sharing a bunk bed in an overcrowded, multiple-occupancy house, there are very serious consequences to measures of this kind. We do not all live in the kinds of home that I or most people in the House have, that is, our own home where we are the master or mistress of our own activities. It is quite different for many people.

There cannot be any sense in continuously repeating the same mistakes. The HSE was given an opportunity to put in place in Nightingale hospitals and it did not do so. It was also given an opportunity to put in place a proper test and trace regime and it simply did not do so. I do not want to berate public servants, but some agencies are good at implementing policy decisions and some are poor. I recall a prominent civil servant who became frustrated with the slowness of the reaction of his Department. He used to say that if a job was worth doing, it was worth doing badly, and that if it could be got over the line, they could clear up the blood. There has to be a can-do attitude from now on. These six weeks that we now have must be used to do something about NPHET and about the imbalance between it and the tiny group of people who exercise control over it, namely, Ministers and their special advisers. These six weeks must be used to put in place a voice for enterprise and those whose businesses have been closed, and to introduce an entirely new regime of transparency in order that everything NPHET says behind closed doors to Ministers will be said in public to the people in order that we can evaluate what is appropriate.

There will be no point in opposing the motion because it will go through. Nevertheless, we cannot do it again. It is up to the Government to show that it really is a government and not a caretaker group, to avail of the six weeks of hardship it is imposing on the country, and to do its job and make a difference.

Photo of Mary ButlerMary Butler (Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I thank all Senators for their contributions, all of which were constructive and well thought out. As they all will know, we face a very difficult period. All indicators of the incidence and severity of the disease have continued to worsen in recent weeks, while in the past four weeks alone, there have been almost 9,000 cases. The national 14-day incidence rate is now 229 per 100,000. Ensuring a balanced and proportionate response to Covid-19 is a complex task. Since the beginning of the crisis, the dilemma facing us concerns how to implement public health measures in response to the pandemic in a way that is fair, reasonable and proportionate. This is neither easy nor straightforward, but I assure the House we will continue to use these powers responsibly.

The nursing home matter that was raised by several Senators is an issue on which I have been receiving updates all day. There are 585 nursing homes in Ireland, of which 45 are experiencing outbreaks. It is, therefore, a serious issue. As for the specific nursing home that was mentioned, I do not want to go into too much detail. The director of nursing on that Covid response team, of which there are 23 in the country, has been on site this afternoon. She is assessing the stability, safety and staffing there. The HSE has advised that it will provide supplementary staff, including a night nurse, for the next three nights. I do not for a moment deny that it has been a very difficult week for the nursing home. The HSE was informed on Sunday and testing of all the patients and staff was carried out on Monday. As was noted, the figures arising from those tests are very frightening for the community in question, given that the nursing home is their home from home. The real issue, however, is that the nursing home is finding it impossible to get agency staff to cover for the staff who are out sick due to Covid or because they are self-isolating with symptoms. That is where the matter is really difficult.

I have been very concerned about nursing homes throughout the pandemic, and I have spoken about this issue weekly in the Houses. A total of 54% of deaths in the first surge happened in the nursing home sector, where 985 people lost their lives. Much work has been done since. I spoke to Tadhg Daly, the chief executive of Nursing Homes Ireland, NHI, less than two hours ago. NHI has responsibility for 480 nursing homes. All nursing homes currently have sufficient personal protective equipment. Fortnightly testing has been ongoing for three months and has been very helpful because it allows a nursing home to know if an asymptomatic staff member is positive, and he or she can then be asked to self-isolate for 14 days. Accommodation is still being provided by the HSE for staff members who feel they cannot go home if they are worried about passing on the virus to children or elderly parents. The temporary assistance payment scheme has proven very important for nursing homes, whether private, public or residential, so they can ensure they have the correct infection prevention control, sufficient staff and tip-top cleanliness.

There is an issue with staff; I will not pretend otherwise. Nursing homes are finding that difficult at the moment. All nursing home employees are entitled to leave their job and move to another. I was talking to management at a nursing home this week where three members of staff, who had been working there for quite a while, have decided to move. They have now been employed in testing and tracing. Many people have been employed in that regard, at an average of 70 people per week at the moment. Unfortunately, everyone is entitled to apply for another job and to move on, which is proving difficult. I was speaking to officials from the Department and the HSE all afternoon before I came to the Chamber. The supports are in place but it is very difficult.

There are 45 outbreaks currently in nursing homes in various parts of the country. We were reduced to having just window visits on level 3. When the virus is rampant in the community, even with the best of intentions it will enter nursing homes. Our older people, unfortunately, are the most vulnerable. As Minister of State with responsibility for older people, I am very conscious of this and we are doing everything we can. On Thursday night last, for example, the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, and I held a meeting with Mr. Paul Reid and Ms Anne O'Connor from the HSE and other representatives of HIQA, the Department and the HSE. We were all there until 8 p.m.

My main worry relates to the staff at nursing homes. When seven of eight nurses have been infected with Covid, it is very difficult to replace them overnight when agency staff are not available. I compliment all the people who have worked in the residential sector. We always speak about front-line workers, who are fantastic, but people working in nursing homes have worked so hard. Nursing homes are a home from home for the community of 25,000 people who live in them. We are doing everything we can to protect them and will continue to do so.

The issue of testing and tracing was raised. As Senators will be aware, the HSE has worked intensively over recent months to put in place comprehensive testing and tracing capacity, which is currently at 20,000 tests per day. While I acknowledge there were issues earlier in the week, more than 400 people are now working at contact tracing centres and the HSE is bringing on board a further 60 to 70 every week.By the end of next month, there should be up to 800 people doing that work.

I assure the House that work is continuing on developing and enhancing our broader public health response further, for example, our capacity, our testing strategy, including the potential use of alternative diagnostic approaches, and our testing and contact tracing service. Significant progress has been made and we now have a solid platform, but we need to build on it. One can never do enough and always has to do more.

While by no means a panacea for managing the disease into the future, a robust and timely public health response to cases and clusters will continue to form one of the most important elements of our overall response. Unfortunately, however, it is unlikely to be enough on its own. I was struck by Senator McDowell's three Ws - wash, wear and watch your distance. That is a fantastic mantra. Members should take that message with us today and get it out into the public domain. The three Ws are the basics to which we must return.

While we all accept that the imposed measures are, by their nature, blunt instruments, they are nonetheless essential to enable the level of virus suppression that is now required. The extension of these regulations is time-bound and aligns with the timeframe of the Government's current strategy, which we believe to be reasonable and proportionate. These temporary measures may be ended early by ministerial order should the public health situation improve to such a point that they are no longer required. They will be subject to ongoing review and will be repealed if the circumstances allow.

This motion will allow mental health services to plan appropriately for the medium term. Senator Keogan asked why we were doing this, but it has already been done for the past seven months and the Mental Health Commission has not flagged anything about it as not working. A measure was put in place whereby, if necessary, only one person would attend the tribunal, but such a situation has not arisen. On all occasions, the three people were able to attend the tribunal.

The amendments to the Mental Health Act have helped to reduce cross-infection within inpatient psychiatric facilities. If the measures are not extended, we will be putting at risk the health and well-being of patients and healthcare workers. Anyone who is involuntarily detained is entitled to have a tribunal hearing within 21 days. The most important element is that tribunals proceed, but in order for that to happen, we had to move them online and insert the caveat that, if two people were not available to attend, one person would be sufficient. However, that situation has not arisen and there have been three people present at every tribunal. It is important to note that.

I thank Senators for their time, but I will make another point before I conclude. Between 85% and 90% of all mental health services were retained during the lockdown. Obviously, I have only been in this job for three or four months - I believe it is approximately 15 weeks. These supports were kept going even when other supports, for example, for children with disabilities, could not be retained. Admittedly, some mental health supports had to change to a blended approach. They were not always provided face to face and many supports moved online, but the most important aspect is that they were retained.

Facing into the winter, there will be six weeks of major challenges, including to people's mental health, finances and businesses, but I honestly believe that we have no other choice. There seems to be an acceptance among people, especially older people, who are so resilient, that we need to get through the next six weeks. Senator Bacik was vocal on the issue of social bubbles. They are a fantastic idea. We are not asking older people to cocoon. Rather, we are asking older people who are living alone, single parents caring for a couple of small kids and someone who is caring for a person with dementia to pair with another family or household so that they have support during the six weeks. We have to learn, and we have certainly learned where cocooning is concerned. It was very difficult on people and their mental health. They were fantastic and resilient and they did it, but the bubble approach can work and should make a difference.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Labour)
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On a point of information, I thank the Minister of State for her kind comments, but it was my colleague, Senator Moynihan, who was eloquent about the need for a social bubble. I am delighted to see it included in the paired household rule under regulation No. 7 in the new regulations.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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Another example of Senator Bacik’s typical modesty. Not a common condition in our profession.

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 11; Níl, 28.



Tellers: Tá, Senators Elisha McCallion and Ivana Bacik; Níl, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Seán Kyne.

Amendment declared lost.

Question put: "That the motion be agreed to."

The Seanad divided: Tá, 28; Níl, 11.



Tellers: Tá, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Seán Kyne; Níl, Senators Elisha McCallion and Ivana Bacik.

Question declared carried.

Photo of Regina DohertyRegina Doherty (Fine Gael)
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I move:

That Seanad Éireann resolves that the amendments to and other modifications of the Mental Health Act 2001 (No. 25 of 2001) effected by Part 5 of the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020 (No. 2 of 2020) shall continue in operation for the period beginning on the 9th day of November, 2020 and ending on the 9th day of June, 2021.”

Elisha McCallion (Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete “9th day of June, 2021” and substitute “9th day of February, 2021”.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Labour)
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I second the amendment.

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 12; Níl, 28.



Tellers: Tá, Senators Elisha McCallion and Ivana Bacik; Níl, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Seán Kyne.

Amendment declared lost.

  6 o’clock

Sitting suspended at 6.25 p.m. and resumed at 6.33 p.m.