Our apologies for the delay in starting. The wheels of legislation move a little slower than we might wish. We were rather ambitious, perhaps, in planning for a 5 p.m. finish. We are now in a position to proceed. The Minister wishes to table three amendments to section 2 of the Bill and those amendments are about to be available. Under Standing Order 184 the Minister may move to postpone the consideration of sections 1 and 2 of the Bill until all the other sections of the Bill are disposed of. Does the Minister wish to so move?
Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages
I move: "That under Standing Order 184 the Committee postpone consideration of sections 1 and 2 of the Bill until all the other sections of the Bill are disposed of."
Is that agreed? Agreed. I want to advise Members that I have received-----
Gabh my leithscéal, a Cheann Comhairle, but I do not understand the logic behind that.
We do not have the details of the amendments to sections 1 and 2 yet. They are on their way. Standing Orders allow us to proceed with the other sections. Perhaps Deputy Ó Snodaigh can be helpful.
Briefly, I understand the logic behind what the Minister is trying to do. When those amendments arrive can we ensure that they are discussed and that they are not left to the end?
Your point is valid. I propose that we allocate a half an hour to those and that we seek to deal with the other matters in the first hour.
How far away are we from getting the amendments?
Can we not wait minutes? If we waited an hour and a half, we can wait minutes.
If it is agreed to allocate half an hour to them, can we not just get on with the others rather than sitting here twiddling our thumbs?
Is there a particular reason we could not discuss all the others during the afternoon?
The sitting was suspended for three hours. We could have been discussing other amendments.
We are in a state of preparedness now. We were not earlier. I wish to advise Members that I received 86 proposed amendments to the Bill. Unfortunately, I was obliged to rule 49 of the amendments out of order on the grounds that they impose charges on the Exchequer or they are outside of the scope of the Bill. All the amendments have been carefully examined by the officials. By way of general information, the scope of the Bill is quite narrow so a number of matters raised in the amendments are not relevant to the provisions of the Bill.
A Cheann Comhairle, I accept that ruling but it begs the question of whether there might be private time for us if we need to put forward legislation to enact the amendments that, clearly, Members put forward with the best intentions and in the belief they were necessary. I have one relating to repossessions. The Government says it is dealing with that next week. Is there an option for us to suspend Standing Orders in respect of particular amendments to overrule the decision you have made if the House thinks it is urgent enough?
We have legislation before us that is absolutely imperative.
If we start setting aside Standing Orders, we will not get to deal with the legislation we have here. The matters raised by the Deputy are of the utmost importance and we are assured they will be dealt with next Thursday.
I wish to be helpful as Deputy Thomas Byrne makes a very valid point. Members of this House, across the aisles and across parties, have made very constructive suggestions and proposals across a range of areas, including the issue of protection for homeowners and people who rent. The Government will table legislation in the Dáil next Thursday to protect renters. It is important, taking on board Deputy Byrne's point, that the Government must and will engage with all Deputies in advance of that. My understanding is that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, are making contact with all groupings in the House to arrange for engagement on the matters. I suggest this as a way of bringing forward proposals.
It would be helpful to all the Members here, including new Members, to have the amendments ruled out of order read to us. That list has not been circulated.
It will be circulated. There are no amendments to section 3 so is it agreed that the section stand part of the Bill?
Could we get a written copy of the amendments ruled out of order because we do not have them? I know the list was circulated electronically but could they be circulated in the Chamber?
They can be read out.
We will suspend for a few minutes while the information sought by the Deputy is circulated. This is eating into the time allocated to the debate.
We can twiddle our thumbs.
Thank you. I am not going anywhere.
We will now proceed through the amendments in an orderly fashion.
There are no amendments to section 3. Is the section agreed?
No, I am not happy that some of the amendments have been ruled out of order.
There are no amendments to section 3.
I am sorry, they relate to section 5.
Amendment No. 12 in the name of Deputy Barry has been ruled out of order. Amendment No. 13 in the names of Deputies Boyd Barrett, Bríd Smith, Gino Kenny and Paul Murphy has also been ruled out of order, as has amendment No. 14 in the names of Deputies Catherine Murphy and Gannon. Amendment No. 15 in the name of Deputies Connolly, Pringle and Joan Collins has also been ruled out of order. Amendments Nos. 16 to 28, inclusive, have also been ruled out of order. Is it agreed that section 5 stand part of the Bill?
The amendments that have been ruled out of order in our case and probably in others relate to who will be entitled to the €305 payment. I understand this is a charge on the Exchequer but it has to be debated. The public need to know that a decision has been made by the Government, which frankly I do not agree with. Every person who loses their job as a result of public health advice to stay at home and to socially distance, including a person with an underlying condition who makes a decision to stay at home and a person who feels he or she is being forced to go into work, as many workers are, which is incompatible with the public health advice, and makes a responsible decision in the interests of the-----
The Deputy is making a speech.
I have a minute and a half to do it.
Not a matter that is out of order.
People who are doing right by society and by others whose health is threatened by this virus and make the decision to stay at home or who as a result of public health advice have their workplaces closed are doing every bit as much as those who are diagnosed or encouraged by a doctor to stay at home and they should get the same payment. There should be a universal Covid-19 payment of €305, not a two tier payment such that some get a lower payment given everybody is making an equal contribution by staying at home to stop the spread of the virus. The Minister should respond to that point. I do not see the justification for a two-tier payment.
I want to make a drafting proposal to the Minister. The new subsection (7) of section 40 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 refers to a medical officer of health. This term is not included within the definition section of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 but it is referred to in the definition section of the Health Act 1947. For clarity, the Minister should include it in the definition section of the 2005 Act when it gets to the Seanad.
When I spoke earlier I made reference to the correspondence from the Irish Congress of Trade Union which gave examples of how €203 per week would represent a cut of two-thirds in household income for some workers' families and a 50% cut in income for other workers' families and so on and I contrasted it with the position that exists in a number of other EU countries where there is a far greater guarantee for working people and their families in this crisis than is being offered by the Government here. This is a key issue.
On the issue of a charge on the Exchequer, the amendment does not direct that the Government take any action other than produce a report within a week on what the terms of a workers' guarantee might be. I do not think that asking the Government to produce a report imposes a charge on the Exchequer. I would argue that the amendment should be taken on board. This is a key issue for working people and their families.
I understand it is outside the scope of the Bill.
I had intended to withdraw amendment No. 27. On the other amendments ruled out of order, the intention of the Government is to raise the basic rate of illness benefit from €203 per week to €305 per week.
As the Minister knows, a person with dependants receives a certain percentage - I think it is 70% - of the adult dependant rate and there are also certain rates for child dependants. Are those rates going to be raised commensurately, or at all? I would also like to know the position regarding someone who is diagnosed with coronavirus and is entitled to receive illness benefit at the higher rate. If that person's spouse or dependant is working and is not, on income grounds, entitled to a medical card, has the Government any views on whether a medical card should be made available to those people in the short term?
I would like to understand the situation regarding someone who is told by his or her doctor to self-isolate, perhaps because of a compromised immune system. Those people are being given a medical direction to self-isolate, but they are not symptomatic. It is difficult to see how it is fair that someone is paid a different amount. It is also possible that someone in that category may not be paid at all.
I have three brief points. The first follows on from Deputy Catherine Murphy's issue. During Second Stage I highlighted that the Covid-19 payment is for people who have to self-isolate because they are infected with the virus. I refer, however, to people who have a medical certificate because they could end up dying if infected with Covid-19, as they are in the high-risk category. Those people are not eligible for this payment and that is an anomaly. People in that category have a similar medical certificate and have to self-isolate and yet they are not eligible for this payment. This anomaly needs to be addressed.
The second aspect is that employers who made top-up payments in the last two weeks to comply with social distancing are now being advised those payments cannot be recouped from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. Those payments were given out in good faith and this should not be the case now. The Minister might address that point.
The third issue is that some companies have an official policy not to allow people work remotely. I have instances of people using computers continuously daily and their employers are refusing to allow them to work remotely, although technically they can. What mechanism is there for those people to deal with employers or for the Government to engage with those employers?
The term "medical officer" should be clearly defined for the avoidance of any doubt. I state that because serious powers are being invested in him or her. A draft order should also be provided for the medical officer to sign and it should be a uniform order. The terms of the order should be included in any annex or Schedule or in the regulations. The regulations should also provide that a detainee must be informed of his or her right to request a review of the detention under section 38A(6). It is unfortunate, but experience tells me the medical officer should have reasonable grounds to detain, as the Minister outlined in his speech, rather than what is in the legislation regarding operating in good faith. This is a simple protection that will ensure the medical officer has a basis for his or her view and he or she exercises it in a proportionate manner.
We have seen extraordinary events since the weekend, with over 140,000 workers being let go. It is forecast that up to another 200,000 people could be made unemployed as a result of this crisis in the near future. We heard today that there have been more than 58,000 applications for the new payment. Some 43,000 of those have been processed. Full credit to the staff in the Intreo offices, who are working under huge pressure. We are in a difficult position here today, however. Every amendment to this legislation dealing with social protection has, essentially, been ruled out of order. I do not think that is helpful.
We have a caretaker Government. At the very least, all parties should have been part of trying to put this legislation together. We have a situation now, however, where every amendment in the social protection element has, essentially, been ruled out of order. Looking at the amendments my party put forward, they are constructive. I argue that there is not a cost to the State associated with those amendments. They actually give the Government more powers to look at areas such as parents' benefit. I believe that could be utilised to put money back into the pockets of young women who may be in a situation where the creche or childcare facility to which their children go may have closed.
Their employment may not have ceased and there may be still work for them, but they may have no one to look after the kids. That payment could be utilised to put back money in such people's pockets.
Clarity is needed in respect of jobseeker's allowance. The amendments tabled by Sinn Féin would actually give more power to the Government. In correspondence from SIPTU and other trade unions, they asked for measures to be put in place to put back money in workers' pockets, which is what Sinn Féin was trying to do in our amendments, and to allow for increases to jobseeker's benefit and allowance. Unfortunately, however, all the amendments relating to social protection have been ruled out of order because it is argued there would be a cost to the State. That is not right and it will not help workers.
I ask the Deputy please not to direct his criticism at the Government, because it does not rule amendments out of order. When the Deputy is in government, he will not be able to rule amendments out of order, either. The House has to make a decision, based on the criteria that exist, as to what is or is not in order. The amendments in question have all been ruled out either because they are not relevant to the scope of the Bill or because they would impose a charge on the Exchequer.
A Cheann Comhairle-----
If I could just make a point-----
You cannot. I will come to you in a moment if you want to speak. I call Deputy Connolly.
It is no reflection on you, a Cheann Comhairle, but this is rushed legislation. We understood that it had to be passed by 5 o'clock because of health and safety and because of staff. I appreciate we are trying to reach a consensus but it is becoming more difficult. We have talked about the definition section and agreed to it, but it should not have been agreed to. I support Deputy O'Callaghan in respect of the definition and now it is up to the Seanad. That was already clearly defined in the 1947 Act, whereas the words in the Bill are quite inconsistent. It refers to a "medical officer" and an "officer". It is most inconsistent but that is just one example.
Amendments Nos. 14 to 16, inclusive, have been ruled out of order but they were tabled in good faith to protect people. For example, the HSE guidelines state that those with an underlying vulnerable condition should self-isolate. We are seeking simply to protect such people if they cannot work and have to stay at home because they have diabetes, cancer or other illnesses that I do not have the time to list out. Without the amendments, they will not be protected. They will have to self-isolate but we will not look after them. This goes to the heart of what is happening here today. I find myself thinking more and more that I cannot support the legislation if it will go through in this manner. There should have been two separate items of legislation, one for health and one for social welfare. It would have been much more helpful. I understand, subject to correction, that our respiratory-illness rates in Ireland are much higher than in other countries, as are the rates of other illnesses. We are simply ignoring that vulnerable group of people now.
The legislation has to go through, although I understand that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has been operating the Bill's social welfare provisions on an administrative basis in any event. Deputy O'Callaghan raised the issue of the definition of "medical officer" that I raised last night at the briefing, and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties contacted us about the matter last night. While the provisions in the Bill have to be brought in, we never achieve anything by rushing through matters. We have to come up with some kind of balance between ensuring that staff are okay and that Deputies are satisfied with the voting arrangements.
On the pandemic emergency payment, there is a great deal of confusion over the position of part-time workers. It would be helpful if the Minister set out the position on that payment for such workers.
I appreciate the Ceann Comhairle's clarification that the Government has no role in ruling amendments in or out of order. This is a dynamic and evolving situation that I have no doubt the House will be dealing with in many ways, in many fora including on the floor of the House, in the coming days and weeks. We will debate further legislation next week and there will be another opportunity to consider another ambit of measures. I will certainly reflect on the drafting issue that Deputy O'Callaghan raised when I appear before the Seanad tomorrow. I will seek further guidance on that and revert to the Deputy.
We have to remember what we are trying to do here. The purpose of the higher rate of payment for those who self isolate is to ensure that those who have been instructed to self isolate because they are at risk of spreading the virus find themselves in a position to do so. I understand that there are many other good calls that may be made on the Exchequer but the purpose of this higher rate payment was to stop the spread of infection. We arrived at this in consultation with many people in the House who highlighted that a higher rate would be needed in this regard. However, it is not the only payment or support available to people who will be impacted by Covid-19. Sadly, as we have already seen, many people will lose their jobs, as Deputy Brady has mentioned. The decisions we are making are having impacts immediately on people's lives and economic well being. There is the pandemic unemployment payment. In the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection's regulatory ability, if we arrived at a point whereby a specific group of people in the population have to self-isolate for the public health good, these issues can be examined by regulations, so we will keep all of these under review.
On Deputy O'Dea's questions, the Department's intention is that the dependant ratio would remain at the standard rate. The proposal is to increase the basic payment to €305 but the dependent rate would remain at the standard rate and would not be specifically increased. I will reflect on the Deputy's point about the medical card. By virtue of the fact that most people, God willing the overwhelming majority of people who are diagnosed with this, will have a mild illness for a very short period of time, and we have already put in place a number of arrangements with GPs to ensure that telephone consultations and so on are covered I need to reflect further on how much of a legitimate issue that would be.
Deputy Naughten made an important point about people who could work remotely whose employers do not allow them to do so. That should not be acceptable to any of us. We need people to work remotely where they are. I will follow that up with our agencies.
We are looking at childcare for essential workers and will bring forward proposals in coming days. I have been informed by officials that if a part-time worker loses his or her job that the pandemic payment is applicable to that person.
Amendments Nos. 30 to 32, inclusive, are out of order.
I am inclined to agree with Deputy Brady. Practically all the social welfare amendments have been ruled out of order on the basis that they are a charge on the Exchequer. I put down an amendment to prevent the Government from introducing regulations to impose additional conditions of entitlement to the increased illness benefit payment in section 40(A)(1)(e). For the life of me, I cannot see how that could be interpreted as a charge on the Exchequer, yet it was ruled out of order on that basis. I was trying to ensure that the Government does not impose extra conditions in the regulations which will appear at some time in the future which might result in some of those people having to repay the Department of Employment and Social Protection.
I have three brief questions on my excluded amendments. First, what is the situation when someone is in receipt of jobseeker's allowance or benefit and their employer wishes to top up that payment? I know the Government's arrangement is that they pay them the whole lot and get back €203. Many employers are not in a position to pay out the full amount but they do wish to top up the payment. Second, what is the position relating to someone who is already in receipt of family income supplement, a widow's pension or working family payment? Third, the Minister is aware that if an individual's income is below a certain rate he or she is not entitled to the full rate of jobseeker's benefit. Will people who fall into that category be in a repayment situation when they submit the other form within the six week period?
I raised the same point during Second Stage earlier on employers who do wish to top up the payment and are clearly prohibited from doing so. There is no cost to the Exchequer in enabling employers to do that. Will the Minister explain why this is the case?
I raised this point on Second Stage. If childcare providers and others, who are in receipt of State subvention to operate their businesses make this payment , there is concern that if after six weeks they look for it to be paid back they will be told, "Well, you're okay. You got State funds through a subvention previously." The subvention is not enough for them to run their businesses. They are at a loss from private childcare fees. Some facilities want to make the payment but are concerned that they will not be able to get a refund. The body that represents childcare providers has sought clarification on this and has been unable to get the clarification.
When the subsequent application form for this payment goes out, will self-employed people be means tested and run the risk of having to make a refund after the six-week period?
I note the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection made reference to the top-up or solidarity payments at one of her press briefings today. She said that Government is looking into it and she hoped to have some clarity on the matter today or tomorrow. I am not sure what is being considered, but it certainly needs to be considered immediately because it has knock-on consequences for people and their applications in terms of means testing if that is to be taken into consideration - these solidarity payments or top-up payments. We need clarification on that immediately.
Obviously, many people are self-isolating. They do not want to go out and cannot go to their Intreo offices. Many people do not have the means to print out forms to complete and send off. In the past few days I - and I am sure many other Deputies - have sent out hundreds of application forms to people seeking to access the new Covid-19 unemployment payment. People are being urged to make an application online, which is the logical thing to do. However, there is a serious problem. In order to make an application online a person needs to have a public services card. Many people do not have a public services card. To obtain a public services card a person needs to go into the Intreo office. First, this puts more pressure on Intreo. Second, considering the need for the social distancing and isolation, it puts people at risk. It would be logical for Government to scrap the requirement to have a public services card to make an online application. Previously the Minister said there would be an online application process for the new illness benefit. If there is also a need to have a public services card for that, it needs to be scrapped.
I call Deputy O'Reilly.
I have a final point. Regarding the under 25s-----
No, there are a number of Deputies offering, please.
Will that discriminatory practice of reduced rates for under 25s also be in place for this payment?
It is disappointing that Sinn Féin's amendment on the solidarity payment has been ruled out of order. We need a comprehensive explanation. We are in unprecedented times. Some employers who have the means want to ensure their workers do not fall completely off a cliff. I ask for a comprehensive explanation as to why those will not be allowed.
To echo what my colleague said; will there be a separate rate for the under 25s or will everyone get the same?
I seek further clarification on that issue. Some employers wanting to retain their staff for the duration of the emergency were of the belief that they could subsequently apply for a refund from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. My understanding is that still applies. I would like confirmation.
As I said earlier on Second Stage, I am also concerned about employers who want to have a good relationship and solidarity with their employees. They may be unable to pay the €203 which can be reclaimed after six weeks but would like to pay €100, €50 or whatever they can afford in an effort to keep a floor on the amount of money going into a household.
They are now very confused about this. I do not know what the position is but they definitely could not make those payments today. They would be prohibitively expensive. That part of the Bill needs to be amended. We will need that good employer-employee relationship when we get over this crisis and back to some semblance of normality.
Carers who do not work 18 hours per week are also apparently being victimised in that they will not get the payment. I would like clarification on that.
I refer to another cohort that had not occurred to me; I am not sure whether it had occurred to the Minister. A 17-year-old young man called Ross asked whether the payment of €203 will be available to people under 18 who are working. He seemed to believe it will not but he and his family rely on that income. There are young people under the age of 18 who work part-time, and that money is critically important to them and their households being able to sustain themselves. I would like to think they will receive that payment if they have lost employment and income as a result.
Like my two colleagues, I would also like to raise the position of childcare workers, the simple reason being that at the end of the six weeks we could have a crisis of continuity within the service. The sector could be at serious risk if childcare workers cannot get the confirmation that the €203 can be reimbursed to the employers themselves, that it will come off their transitional funding or the subsidy funding they are already receiving and that a penalty will not be put on them.
Earlier I asked the Minister a question about employers who have already made the top-up payments over the past two weeks. They are being informed they will not get a recoupment from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. Will the Minister clarify that?
Second, what is the position of full-time students who had part-time work that was supplementing their income? Are they entitled to a proportionate share of these payments?
Third, regarding childcare workers, we have an anomaly at present whereby we need to provide childcare for people within the health service. We are now making social welfare payments to thousands of childcare workers across the country who are fully Garda-vetted. Can we join up the dots such that perhaps in the short-term some of those staff could get employment whereby they would provide childcare in the home of a healthcare worker to allow him or her to go into work without the risk in terms of the provisions made in respect of Covid-19?
I have been contacted by League of Ireland football clubs, some of which provide 40-week contracts. Some of the clubs will try their best to pay some of the players, but a lot of the clubs cannot afford to do so for the simple reason that if there are no matches, no revenue comes in. Will the Minister clarify the position of the League of Ireland players? Will the clubs get back the €203 if they do pay them for a short period?
Will the Minister conclude on this matter?
I will do my best. First, one does not need a public services card to apply for this scheme. The details of the scheme are on gov.ie. People are, as Deputy Brady rightly said, for obvious reasons instructed not to attend Intreo centres to make applications. In light of the current unprecedented circumstances, the Department is implementing our own HSE advice on social distancing and is therefore not requiring individuals to verify their identity to SAFE registration levels.
Regarding Ross's situation, we do not believe the provision currently applies, but I see the anomaly and unfairness there, so we will have a look at that and revert to Deputy Boyd Barrett.
To respond to Deputies Naughten and Rabbitte, joining up the dots for childcare workers is absolutely our intention. We have a group working between my Department and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to see how we can come up with a proposal to ensure childcare particularly for essential front-line workers. We need to have a conversation about what an essential worker is at a time of crisis and how we ensure that any such solution does not have unintended public health consequences, but the point is valid. Yes, students will be eligible to apply in this regard. I will follow up on the issue of employers who have paid out already and who will not see those payments recouped. I take the Deputies' point. There seems to be an unfairness there.
To respond to Deputy O'Dea's question about people on other payments, they will be topped up to the €305 level should they qualify for that if they are in receipt of another social-----
If they exceed the level of €305 they can only get one payment. Is that correct?
That is my belief. One can be topped up to €305 but one can only get one payment. On childcare, my understanding is this is a group of workers and employers who should not be excluded but there is clearly a need for engagement with the sector and the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty, will undertake to do that. There is no means test for this six-week period and there is no reduced rate for those under 25 years old.
The three amendments in section 8 have been ruled out of order due to potential charges on the Exchequer and one of them is not relevant to the provisions of the Bill.
These amendments deal with jobseeker's allowance. Sinn Féin had an amendment on this matter as well. I am looking for clarity on jobseeker's allowance because this is a payment self-employed people might be able to access. There seems to be confusion on what self-employed people need to do. I have been informed by a number of people that they have put in applications for this payment and they have been told they need to prove their businesses have been closed down and that they need to prove their insurance has been stopped. That seems to contradict some of the other information we have received. Can we get clarity on whether self-employed people who might be out of work for a short period of time for the duration of this period can put in an application without fully shutting down their businesses?
On the online applications, can the Minister confirm that anyone who goes to register with myGov.ie, which is a requirement to make an online application, does not need a public services card? Up until now, it has been a requirement that one needs a public services card to do so.
My amendment has also been ruled out of order. I simply wanted the Government to say what it intends to do by way of regulation on the face of the Bill in plain language. I cannot understand why that cannot happen. The Minister's colleague, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, announced today that the signing-on process would be on a fortnightly basis from here on in. What is the situation with old age pensioners? Do they still have to collect their pensions every week through a nominated deputy in the post office? Does the Government intend to make any concessions on that? I put it to the Minister that I understand that the system will operate such that one fills out the one-page form, the Department assesses whether one is entitled to jobseeker's benefit or jobseeker's allowance, one then has six weeks to submit the larger form, which means that if one has dependants etc., his or her payments will be adjusted accordingly and backdated. What is the situation if one's spouse has an income that would disentitle one from receiving jobseeker's allowance? Will there be a lot of claims for rebates from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection when this is all over? Will the Minister clarify the situation a number of Deputies asked about in the last section about topping up? What is the precise position? Can an employer top up the €203 per week, whether it be jobseeker's allowance or jobseeker's benefit?
I am taking on another Department and learning as I go. One does not require a public services card at this time due to the exceptional nature of what we are going through with people accessing these payments. A person who is self-employed can apply for these supports without showing he or she has permanently shut down his or her business because as the Deputy said, he or she may only be out work for a brief period of time.
On the issue of pensioners, Deputy O'Dea raised a valid point. The Department tells me that as of now there is no change to the scenario for pensioners and people collect their pensions as planned or they nominate a person to collect it for them. With the evolving public health situation, it is prudent to adopt the Deputy's suggestion to keep that under review. The advice to older people is clear and not every older person may have a nominated person to collect his or her pension. We will keep that under review but there is no change as of now. The Deputy's point merits serious consideration.
I refer to employers who decide to pay their employees. Many people will want to keep that good interdependent relationship between employers and employees going through what we hope is a sharp and short-term economic crisis but one that we will hopefully rebound from as a country. Employers can access the refund scheme and we are encouraging them to retain their employees where possible. Where an employer pays a payment to a worker, it can recoup €203 of that per week.
As the Deputy knows, this is an evolving situation and people are working very hard to put measures in place but the Covid-19 employer refund scheme is in place thanks to the co-operation of the Revenue Commissioners.
The problem is that employers can only look for the rebate if they pay an amount in excess of €203 per week to their employee while that employee is out of work. In such a case, they can recoup the €203. However, where an employer can afford to pay, say, €50 or €100 per week, what is the position?
There is no current provision in that regard.
Amendment No. 36 is out of order.
I move amendment No. 37:
In page 8, line 21, after “homes” to insert “or place of lodgings”.
The amendment is self-explanatory. Not everybody has a home, although I will not get into the politics of why they do or do not. The amendment seeks to ensure that every person is represented as part of the legislation.
I support the amendment. In regard to section 10 on the regulation, prevention and slowing the spread of the-----
I am sorry. We are talking about amendment No. 37.
I want to raise a point with the Minister in that regard. Obviously, the intent is to slow down the spread but some GPs are charging on top of the €30 for the telephone consultation for suspected Covid-19. The scheme that has been brought in is helpful and its intent is to encourage people to have the test done. The fact it can be done over the telephone makes it safer. However, some GPs, although a very limited number, as of yesterday were trying to get a top-up payment when people phoned in. If this is happening, I ask that the Irish Medical Organisation is contacted and told that it should not be happening. Where GPs are engaged in that irregularity, they should not be at risk of losing the €30 from the State. They should not be getting it from the State and then claiming it from the patient as well.
Not everybody regards their place of residence or lodging as their home and many do not have a home. The intent of the amendment is to ensure that everybody is captured, for example, where somebody has to be told to remain in a certain place because he or she is a danger to others, which might be a place of residence which has been allocated to that person by the city council or the homelessness agency, and we have far too many of those cases. The intent of the amendment is to ensure there is no doubt.
Will the Minister clarify the situation with regard to pharmacies re-issuing prescriptions? Will prescription charges be abolished, particularly for older people who are cocooned in their homes at present?
I am not in a position to accept the amendment because I believe we can achieve what Deputy O'Reilly is endeavouring to achieve. We are satisfied that the definition of "home" covers a place of lodging from a legal perspective. More importantly, on Deputy Ó Snodaigh's point, if people find themselves not in a position to be able to adequately self-isolate in their home or place of lodging, or however we refer to it, there will obviously be an obligation on us to ensure they can safely self-isolate somewhere else. The HSE is working on that, whether it will be a hospital setting, as we have already seen, or other accommodation which we are working on securing, such as nursing home facilities, private hospitals, hotels and the like. We are satisfied with that. Everybody has to be treated equally in terms of their ability to self-isolate for themselves but also to contain the spread of the virus.
In response to Deputy Stanley on the GP issue, that should not arise. I know Deputy Stanley shares the view that our GPs have been heroic in their work in this regard and they have gone above and beyond. The position is clear. People should not have to pay for the telephone consultation because we, the State and the taxpayer, are paying for that.
Deputy Naughten referred to the issue of prescription fees, which comes back to an issue of Exchequer funding. I see the logic in what he is saying but I would need to consult with colleagues on it. He makes a very valid point about repeat prescriptions, as does Deputy O'Reilly, who has been pursuing this in recent days.
It is my intention to amend the statutory instrument to elongate the repeat prescription in order to free up vital GP slots and to assist pharmacists.
Amendments Nos. 38 and 39 have been ruled out of order.
Amendments Nos. 40 to 44, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 40:
In page 8, after line 42, to insert the following:
(v) house parties, namely gatherings of people in a private residence who don’t normally reside on the premises, for the purposes of entertainment;”.
We have discussed it here on Second Stage but perhaps the Minister will clarify the position regarding house parties and whether the legislation is robust enough to deal with it. I raise the issue because the definition with regard to prohibition of events refers to events and "the numbers likely to be attending". This is before the fact and I am concerned that the regulations should apply to house parties, which could be a bigger issue in the coming weeks and months, at the time the event is taking place. Will the Minister clarify this?
Amendment No. 41 refers to facilities and centres. While we have already discussed universities, schools, crèches and so on there is an issue around adult day centres, and especially those centres for people with intellectual disabilities, in that they are not incorporated into the definitions as proposed. These centres seem to have slipped through the cracks with regard to the decision last week to close facilities.
With the prohibition of events and gatherings, on Second Stage we discussed public houses. The Minister, Deputy Harris, issued a verbal directive at the weekend that pubs should close. In my constituency however, and in other parts of the State, some pubs have continued to trade. This is shocking and alarming, and local communities are outraged by this. I believe the Minister has engaged with the vintners on this issue. Will the Minister indicate whether he will, subsequent to the passing of the legislation, issue a written directive or a ministerial order ensuring that all pubs do close? We are aware that 99% of pubs have closed but others have gone rogue on us, unfortunately. Perhaps the Minister will clarify this. It is important from a public health perspective. It is also important for those publicans who have closed, who are employers and who hope to reopen at some future point and re-engage the staff, many of whom had to be laid off. These publicans now have an issue whereby their insurance companies are trying to step away from the liability. The companies are getting into a stand-off situation with the policy holders by saying that the directive was a verbal one and is non-binding. The pub trade needs a written directive or a written order from the Minister, Deputy Harris, or from the Government. Will the Minister confirm that he will do this after the passage of the legislation, or that he will do it in any event? We need crystal clear clarity on this please.
The Bill, and this section, include extreme and draconian powers that in any other circumstances we would not consider giving to agents of the State. They are, however, necessary to deal with the public health emergency and the danger it poses to all our society. If we are to impose these draconian measures then it must be even handed but it seems there are certain groups on which the Government does not want to impose these draconian measures. Two of our amendments refer to them. One group is the non-essential retail outlets, but this could refer to any workplace. If workers are forced to go into work in situations where it is not possible to practise social distancing, in which the Government and public health authorities are rightly encouraging people to engage, those people should have the right to say "I am not going to work", to report those employers to the authorities and for the authorities to move in on those employers and support workers who are trying to protect their own health.
If there are sectors of industry, owners of property, laboratories or production facilities that can produce goods such as ventilators, masks, personal protective equipment and sanitisers who are refusing to submit those capacities to the public health authorities to help to deal with this emergency, we should enact the power to requisition those capacities, resources and properties. Everybody else is rightly being asked to pitch in and so should private industry, laboratories and producers of, for example, testing equipment. I suspect that one of the reasons the infection figures spiked today is because we have had a shortage of swabs and testing equipment, although I might be wrong about that. Much of that testing equipment is produced in this country and yet we have a shortage of it. There is something wrong if that is the case when such equipment is produced in large quantities. We should have the power to take those production facilities for use in addressing the public health emergency.
I echo what Deputy Niall Collins has said. I got reports of house parties on St. Patrick's Day. The reaction of the constituents who contacted me about those parties was one of utter fear and trepidation as to what might be the results. Those constituents are not party poopers, they are simply afraid. They are doing their bit, as is 99% of the population, and they want to make sure everybody else does their bit.
I do not have evidence of it but I am also getting reports of pubs that are open although I have also seen evidence of people play-acting by accusing pubs of being open when they are not. There is an issue there and an order will have to be made to address it.
I have been contacted tonight about groups of teenagers playing and I do not know is it okay for three, four, or 20 to play together. Could the Minister set out, for the information of parents and teenagers, what the advice is on social gatherings of young people? That would be helpful for the country as a whole.
I am also concerned. Goodness knows that the vast majority of publicans, especially in rural Ireland, have been under pressure for the past number of years. We know that 99% of those publicans do an excellent job and I want to support them and ensure that they have a business to go back to. Those publicans need all the support they can get. However, where pubs are open, and lock-ins have been reported, will the gardaí or appointed medical officers or health personnel have powers to close those pubs? Is the Minister going to make an order to that effect? That badly needs to be done. We need to treat this seriously, as is clear from the spike we saw today in the numbers of people infected, and the further spike we anticipate in the coming days. We need to have full co-operation.
There is a situation around gangs of young people. I have heard reports of gangs of young people on the railway line in Clare town. These young people are not that young, they are teenagers. Is there a number that is acceptable? We do not want people gathering and ask parents to be responsible, but teenagers are out there and getting up to no good, or just congregating. Those teenagers have to go back to their houses and mingle with people and there are concerns about transmission of the virus. Will there be powers to limit those kinds of activities? I am not talking about gatherings of 100 people, but maybe ten or 15. I would appreciate clarity on those issues.
Many people are doing their very best, observing social distancing, and did so all weekend. Those people are washing their hands and minding themselves, their families and communities. On Monday morning, those people went into work, an environment they cannot control. They can control the environment at home but when they go into work there might be 100, 200 or 300 people there. I know of a building site, not too far from this House, where there are only two hand sanitisers, one of which is empty. These people are doing their absolute best but employers need strong direction from the Government. We cannot rely on everybody doing the right thing, or on every foreman and manager consulting the HSE. Those people need clear direction.
I will pick up on what was said by Deputy Boyd Barrett. There are draconian provisions within this Bill, particularly regarding civil liberties and the rights to assembly and liberty. I am disappointed that the Minister seems not to have accepted the amendment that, instead of it being "appropriate" to detain somebody, it must be "necessary". We talk about many of these measures being necessary and accept that laws are necessary but to detain somebody when it is deemed appropriate is a loose standard. Surely, at the very least, if a person is to be detained and deprived of his or her liberty, it ought to be necessary. I want an explanation from the Minister as to why legislation introduced in this House is outside the ambit the European Convention on Human Rights, which we are supposed to respect. Deprivation of liberty must be necessary in the interests of public health - not "appropriate", but "necessary", and there is a difference between those two things.
I do not know why "necessary" poses such a difficulty for the parliamentary draftsman.
The other thing that Deputy Boyd Barrett alluded to was necessity. We proposed an amendment that medical goods and equipment necessary to treat people with Covid-19 could be seized by the Minister for Health, if necessary, and diverted to that purpose, with compensation subsequently paid. Now, giving the Minister the power to make that order is not a charge on public funds. If the Minister subsequently makes an order, it could of course be a charge on public funds.
This was a facet of proceedings which I watched from the outside during the last Dáil. Legitimate debate was shut down in this Chamber by the use of Standing Orders. It is a big problem and it is a particular problem in the context of emergency legislation.
That is not relevant to the debate, Deputy. I am sorry, but we are not having a debate now about Standing Orders. This is a critical time with critical legislation.
That is all the more reason to address it.
If you want to talk about Standing Orders, Deputy McNamara, we will find plenty of time on another day to do so. Please resume your seat.
We asked people to come back to this House. We are saying we do not have the power to requisition equipment to protect them. This equipment is being manufactured in Ireland.
I agree with the sentiments relating to the pubs. Is it intended that the Minister will give a directive to restaurants and cafes? Many restaurants and cafes are actually busier than some of the pubs. I believe it would be a worthwhile directive.
Minister, we do not have time to respond because a one-hour time limit was agreed earlier for discussion on sections 3 to 11 and that period has expired. I now propose to return to the debate on sections 1 and 2.
I wish to make a point of order. Can we get a brief response from the Minister, if the House agrees, on these important issues?
We can do that but we can take it from the time allocated.
Minister, will you correspond with the Deputies who raised questions? Can you do that?
I am more than happy to respond.
We do not have time - I am sorry.
I am in your hands, a Cheann Comhairle.
Can you correspond with the Deputies who have raised these matters? The Minister will correspond with the Deputies who have raised legitimate questions.
I will make a helpful suggestion. I do not think we will need the 30 minutes for the final section.
Deputies have raised some important issues. The Vintners Federation of Ireland has behaved highly responsibly. The federation's representatives came into Government Buildings on Sunday evening. They said to the Chief Medical Officer and senior Government officials that federation members were not in a position to comply with social distancing. There is an obligation if a group of businesses cannot comply with social distancing to do the responsible thing and close the businesses for a temporary period. The severity of that is not lost on me. It meant 7,000 public houses closed and 50,000 people temporarily lost their jobs. However, they are doing it for the public good. I certainly hope that when this country bounces back - we will get through this - people will support the responsible businesses which have done this. The House is hopefully going to give the authority to me and my Department to shut down events and places if they do not comply. That is certainly a power we may have after this legislation passes.
I was asked about restaurants and cafes. I believe, frankly, it is a little different. I am seeing several restaurants converting to providing take away foods. I am seeing several cafes impose proper social distancing. I am seeing people putting things on the floor to help. There may not be a one-size-fits-all for this, but the position is clear. If a person works in a business or anywhere else and that person cannot socially distance like we are doing in this Chamber, then that business should not remain open. Today, we have put on the website of the Department of Health some helpful guides on how to socially distance. They include information on things people can put on the floor to mark out in the workplace. We will also be asking the Health and Safety Authority and environmental health officers to try to assist businesses. We all want to try to keep businesses open and keep our country open but we want to do so in a way that is for the public good, safe for workers and safe for everyone in society as well.
The word "draconian" was used several times. Let us be clear: the definition of "draconian" is excessively harsh. We are doing nothing excessively harsh here, because there is nothing excessive we can do to try to protect public health. We are about trying to save lives. I reject the word "draconian" where it is used.
I am sure Deputy Boyd Barrett did not mean it in this way but there is no sector that I want to see avoiding compliance. Every decision that has been made by the national public health emergency team, which is chaired by the Chief Medical Officer, has been implemented in full. We publish the advice of the team in full for everyone to see. That is what we will continue to do.
The question of house parties is really important. We know in some other countries people have been more likely to get the coronavirus in their own homes rather than anywhere else.
This idea that the Government can shut down everything and "I'll be all right, Jack" is not grounded in the public health evidence. My officials are satisfied that the powers in this legislation will give us the ability to cover private gatherings as well. On adult day centres, we are also satisfied that they are covered and that there are adequate provisions within this legislation. I would finally say, a Cheann Comhairle, that they did not slip through the cracks. We are making very conscious decisions that in the case particularly of disability day centres and the like, on some occasions it actually is safer for people to go to those day centres, once they are appropriately socially distancing, than it might be to spend a day at home with elderly relatives. This is something the national public health emergency team will be keeping under review.
What about the requisitioning of private capacity?
If I believe as Minister for Health that we require any more powers or authority to make sure we can keep our people safe, I will be back to the House. People have the luxury of coming into this House and doing their jobs and representing their people but I want Deputies to know that the work being done by officials on a 24-7 basis flat out is addressing all of these issues and there are really good conversations going on to make sure we can increase the supply of ventilators in our country.
Can the Minister address the issue of the children?
Rather than taking up too much time in this House, we have published very useful guides for parents on the Department of Health website. Children will be children. We need to keep our children safe. We need to keep our older people safe from children who might carry the virus. However, we also know that children are going to need to see their friends on occasion. If the children can socially distance, there is an appropriate way of socialising. Parents need to get this right and need to be supported in getting it right. There is lots of really good information on the Department of Health website in that regard. The basic advice is to try to lessen the socialising, try to do other things with the kids; taking walks outside and all that is really appropriate and good for our health as well. If children are meeting up, it should be in small groups and with proper social distancing measures.
And on "necessary detentions"?
My officials and I are happy that the wording of this legislation is entirely appropriate to deal with the public health emergency.
That is why I am asking.
If the Deputy does not believe it is, he can call a vote. That is my position.
We cannot call a vote.
The matter has been dealt with. We are moving to sections 1 and 2. We have 23 minutes remaining.
Are we not moving our motions?
We are going back. We can have any of the motions the Deputy wants at the end. We are going back now to consider sections 1 and 2. The Minister's amendments have been circulated and will be considered with amendments Nos. 1 to 11.
Amendments Nos. 1 to 11, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 4, to delete lines 16 to 35 and substitute the following:
“(3) Subject to subsections (4) and (5), each of the amendments effected by this Act shall continue in operation for six months from the passing of this Act and shall then expire.
(4) An amendment effected by this Act may be continued in operation from time to time by a resolution passed by each House of the Oireachtas before its expiry, resolving that that amendment should continue in operation for such period as may be specified in the resolutions.
(5) Where the Government by order declares that an amendment effected by this Act and specified in the order shall expire on a date earlier than six months from the date of the passing of this Act, the amendment so specified shall expire accordingly.
(6) Where an amendment effected by this Act expires, the Act to which the amendment was made shall apply and have effect as it applied and had effect before that amendment was effected, but subject to–
(a) any other amendment to that Act effected by this Act which has not expired, and
(b) any amendment to that Act effected by another Act passed after the passing of this Act.”.
I have looked at the Minister's own amendment subsequently, which moves a long way to capturing the essence of what I want to do. In the Bill as published, section 2 envisages that the Act would have effect until 9 May. It is then envisaged that the Act can be extended indefinitely - that was the original draft - by Government order, unless it is annulled by the Houses of the Oireachtas. Certainly I think there was a very strong argument across all the benches here that we needed a clear sunset clause. However one categorises the authorities being given to the Minister and health officials, draconian or otherwise, they certainly should not be open ended. Everybody on these benches understood they would pertain exclusively to this crisis. We provided an alternative in the wording I have given, and I am conscious of time, that both provisions, which the Minister has separated out now, namely the social welfare side and the health side, would last for 12 months and then would automatically end.
Also key in the amendment in my own name and that of Deputy Kelly are two other sections. One is that if the emergency ends before that, the power would rest with the Government to excise those powers immediately. The amendment the Minister has circulated goes some of the way to achieve what I have said. It provides for six months and, in terms of that side of it, provides that it can be extended beyond that only by a resolution of the Houses. However, it does not allow us to end the provisions sooner if they are not required six months from now.
Just on a technical matter, I refer to the final part of what I think is a better amendment in my name and that of Deputy Kelly. A Bill like this, an emergency Bill, alters other Bills.
When this ceases to remain in force the amendments it makes to other Acts do not automatically expire. The last part of the amendment, for technical reasons, would achieve that objective. That is not achieved in the Minister's amendment. Often the argument is not to accept an amendment from the Opposition, but technically our proposal achieves what the Minister said he wants to do in a much more comprehensive way.
I formally second the amendment.
My understanding from you, a Cheann Comhairle, is that we can speak to the Minister's amendment as well. It has been included in this group. The Minister's amendment probably strikes the right balance. I acknowledge that. The Minister took issue with Deputy Boyd Barrett for using the word "draconian", perhaps on a technical interpretation of the word. However, the measures here are extraordinary. They allow a Minister to shut down parts of the country, shut down events, shut down business premises and give powers to medical health officers to detain people in their homes. There is little in the Bill that allows for review or appeal. The reality is that in terms of democratic accountability, the combination of a caretaker Government and it being difficult for the Dáil to assemble because of the virus means that there is not the normal level of parliamentary scrutiny, so it is essential to have a sunset clause. I welcome the fact that this automatically terminates all these powers unless there is a vote from both Houses of the Oireachtas.
I welcome the introduction of the amendments by the Minister because there must be a sunset clause in the legislation. To be frank, six months will not be enough. The reality is that we have to get through a winter with this virus so it will have to be extended for another six months, regardless of whether we like it. First, we need a vaccine and, second, we must survive a winter with this virus and have those safety provisions in place. One never knows when there is going to be a resurgence of the virus. My amendment referred to 9 May 2021. I wished to flag that.
There is an issue arising with regard to older people refusing to let home care workers into their homes. They are too frightened to let them in. The Minister must provide reassurance to older people that the home care workers are fully trained in infection control and do not pose an unacceptable risk. It is important to point out to them that home care staff are there to try to keep people in their homes rather than have a situation where they end up going into hospital or into long-term care, where there is a far greater risk of them getting the Covid-19 virus.
Whatever about technical definitions of "draconian", these are very serious powers to give to the State. They are powers that could potentially be abused. They certainly must be reviewed. In other circumstances we would not accept giving a Government these powers. We are dealing with an extraordinary situation so extraordinary measures are necessary. People would wish to see anything done that would prevent the transmission of the virus, and they are right to do that. However, I do not understand why the Minister is afraid of this House giving him the power to extend those powers in May, the date they are due to lapse. What is the problem? Does he not trust the House to give him the right to extend those powers? In addition, when there are serious problems with the definition of the "authorised medical officer" who can make the decision to detain people, why will he not entertain amendments which provide that it should be a specialist, a practising doctor? It should be a practising doctor, not just an official, who makes these decisions.
We want it to be health-led and it should be but the wording does not indicate it will be health-led. People who may not necessarily be practising doctors could have the power to detain people.
I will come back to the dates. The Minister is happy the social welfare provisions will continue until 9 May and thereafter can be rolled over by the Government. Everybody is happy with that. What is so wrong with this House having the power to determine whether it is necessary to detain somebody when an ill-defined person deems it merely "appropriate"? Some official somewhere could deem it appropriate.
I agree powers are necessary but it is Kafkaesque to think somebody somewhere would think it "appropriate" for a person to be detained for medical reasons. This is not necessarily a medical doctor but an ill-defined person. We raised the concern and we were told the power would extend to six months, which is an acceptable compromise. We now see it is November. I would welcome it if the wording brought it back to September but a draconian measure is not necessary. All the modelling we have suggests the worst of the crisis will have passed by November.
I made the point when I spoke earlier that the proposal represents the greatest curtailment of civil liberties seen in the history of the State. We have seen it with the power to force someone to remain in his or her home or area or to block people from leaving a village or town. The point was just raised about preventing parties in people's homes. We should not forget the power to prevent public gatherings. I made the point earlier that I am opposed to the package on this basis. We are discussing amendments so I will make some brief points. Somebody said this was a six-month sunset clause but it is not. It is closer to an eight-month sunset clause. The key date is 9 May. Does a Government, possibly a caretaker Government with a couple of Ministers, have the ability to extend these powers on 9 May by laying a report before the House? Does the House, the Members elected by the people, get a chance to vote on it? It must be the case, given the extreme nature of the measures, that the House would have a vote on these matters by 9 May.
I welcome the attempt to come to some agreement on this. I used the word "draconian" and I will use it again. There is no doubt in my mind that this is absolutely draconian legislation. I have read it in detail, which has been difficult because of the manner in which it was presented to us. I know the staff are under pressure. It is almost impossible to have a rational debate about this in the limited time we have. We came prepared for 5 p.m. Looking at the Bill now, I have no idea why an arbitrary date of 9 November has been picked. Why not keep the original date because of the draconian nature of the legislation and the failure to make the measure proportionate and non-discriminatory? There was an utter failure to set it in any context so why not leave the date as 9 May to come before the Dáil? We need oversight of legislation and people need to see leadership. People need to see the Dáil in action overseeing this legislation to give confidence and empower them on the ground so they can trust us.
It is important to remind Members that since 1947 a Minister for Health has had the power to issue regulations to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. It is a power that exists under section 31 of the 1947 Act and it has not been abused since that time in any way. It is important to point out that Covid-19 was included in a regulation made by the Minister in February 2020. It is also important to note that since 1947 a Chief Medical Officer or registered medical practitioner has had the legal power to isolate and detain people if they believe they are probable source of an infection. These are very strange and broad powers but they have existed for nearly 73 years and have not been abused to date.
Even if there is a sunset clause, and if this legislation we are discussing today fades from our Statute Book, the Minister and chief medical officers will still have these extraordinary powers. We need to reflect upon the fact that they have not been abused since 1947. The proposal put forward by the Minister is appropriate. His amendment deals with the concerns that are being expressed, but nonetheless the powers remain and they have been in place since 1947.
We live in a country where there was a misuse of sectional guidelines with regard to mental health facilities and children's homes down through the years. There is a potential lack of proportionality in what is proposed. All I can do is highlight my experience in regard to the drug trafficking legislation. As a young solicitor in the courts in the Bridewell the first client I met was not a drug baron. Rather, it was a young single mother who was living in a hostel who was going to be detained for seven days. Many said that would not happen. We have a duty to get this right now so as to prevent a deluge of applications challenging unconstitutional detentions in the High Court. I think we should stick to the original date in May of this year and not November and so on. While I welcome that there is a sunset clause, it allows the Minister to extend the provisions which would then require the Houses of the Oireachtas to annul it within 21 days. It seems to me that this is a poor sunset clause. It does not provide for proper parliamentary oversight and it is open to constitutional difficulties. There are other examples of sunset clauses in other legislation that we should examine.
We would not be considering these measures except that we are in pretty exceptional times with a very exceptional crisis. The legislation has to be balanced but the sunset clause is necessary. It is not that this legislation is not being brought in in good faith and is not being deemed to be needed but one never knows where abuse might happen. There is a difference between laying a report before the House and laying it in the Oireachtas Library such that one would hardly even know it is there. There is a big difference between that and this House having a role in determining when a measure should end, be reviewed or whatever. That is an important difference. I note that there has been an attempt to go some way towards this and that is welcome but I am not entirely sure it goes far enough.
The Rural Independent Group supports this amendment which will provide the Minister with extraordinary powers that are very important at this time. We must do everything we can to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. There are so many issues involved. I respect that it is difficult for any Minister to tackle every issue but I heard tonight that 14 Spanish trucks are being unloaded in Dinish Island in Castletownbere. The people of Castletownbere want to know what measures are being put in place at the port to ensure that these people are healthy and not infected with the virus. These are issues of fierce concern. If this measure provides the Minister with the powers to make sure everybody coming into the country is healthy and that everybody leaving this country to go to another country is healthy, then I am supportive of it.
There are only six minutes remaining.
On a point of order, it is clear from what has been said that there is not a majority in this House in favour of the renewal provision being laid before the House on 9 May and that the majority believe that if it is to be renewed it should come before the Dáil for decision.
We will hear from the Minister first.
I would welcome the opportunity to speak to the amendment before people determine whether the majority in the House is in favour of it or not. I agree with Members of the House. This is what parliamentary debate and engagement is about in terms of the important role this House has to play in the scrutiny of legislation and the oversight of powers. That is why we are here: I get that. Deputy Catherine Murphy made a point about the primacy of this House and the need for a mechanism greater than just laying a report in the Oireachtas Library. I get that point too.
We need to be conscious when talking in this House that there are an awful lot of people in our country that are scared, anxious, nervous and worried. Deputy O'Callaghan hit the nail on the head. We should not be suggesting to people that we are endeavouring to take steps in this House to enable people to be detained. That is not what we are doing. We are making sure that we have the provision to do so should the need arise in the public interest to save lives.
Many people in this House have called on me to shut this, cancel that and do the other. Did they check whether I had the powers to do that? What we are trying to do here is to ensure we have legislation on the Statute Book to allow steps to be taken if it becomes necessary. I refer to taking steps not on the basis of a whim I or any of the other Members may have, but on the basis of the best medical advice from the Chief Medical Officer so that we can do that and do it quickly. If the Department of Health and the Chief Medical Officer believe these powers are necessary in the time of a public health emergency, then I am with them all day long. I really hope there is a majority in this House for that.
The Deputy is right. Picking a date is somewhat of an arbitrary process. Deputy Naughten suggested next May and other Members suggested a shorter time. Let us be clear. We cannot wish this virus away. It is going to be with us for many months and none of us knows exactly how long. It seems prudent to me that we would put in a date in November to ensure, if there is a point in time when this House cannot meet or other gatherings cannot take place, that we still have the powers we need. These are powers we do not ever wish to use, but they are powers that should be there. Let us not forget why we are doing this. The only reason we are doing this is to support our public health experts in saving lives and keeping people well. That is the only purpose of these measures, measures we hope we will never need to use.
I should say that without this legislation, and thanks to the support, collaboration and decency of the Irish people and Irish business many events have been already cancelled and many businesses have already closed their doors because everyone has pulled together. When we are bringing forward legislation on social welfare grounds, however, which was the original purpose of this Bill, the prudent and sensible thing to do seems to be to give these powers. I respectfully ask, therefore, for support in this House. I have tried to reach the best consensus or middle ground that I can from a variety of views and many amendments. I am sure there is no perfect one, including mine, but it is an honest attempt based on the legal and medical advice I have.
The time permitted for this debate having expired, I am required to put the following question in accordance with the Order of the Dáil: "That the amendments set down by the Minister for Health for Committee Stage and not disposed of, are hereby made to the Bill, and in respect of each of the sections undisposed of, that the section or, as appropriate, the section as amended, is hereby agreed to in Committee. The Preamble and the Title are hereby agreed to in Committee, and the Bill, as amended, is accordingly reported to the House. Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed".
The Bill will now be sent to the Seanad, which meets tomorrow.