I greatly appreciate the opportunity to speak on this matter this evening. I also greatly appreciate the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, being present for this debate. This is an issue that she and I have discussed at various fora in the past few extremely difficult weeks and months. I know this has been a particularly difficult week for the entire country as we deal with this rising pandemic and the new restrictions that regrettably but necessarily were introduced.
I listened to quite a bit of the previous debate. With the restrictions under level 5, there are so many things that people are rightly questioning because they are concerned. Sometimes they are even picking holes to find ways to get around restrictions. People are raising very real concerns over the impact of these restrictions on all aspects of society.
One of the great differences between the previous lockdown and now, as the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, said in his earlier remarks was the fact that so many more medical treatments and services are remaining open. People will still be able to get in to get those essential services, which is vital. However, this one is a bit closer to home. I pay credit to Deputy Cairns and my Fine Gael colleague, Senator Currie, who have raised the issue in this House and in the Seanad many times. It is something very personal.
On 5 May at the height of the first lockdown, my wife and I very happily welcomed our second child, a daughter, into the world. It was a bizarre situation as I found myself in a row of 12 cars on Merrion Square waiting. As my wife was in the maternity hospital under wonderful care from the doctors, midwives, supporters and everybody else, I was sitting outside waiting. As I said, it was our second child. When we had our first child a couple of years ago, I was there for the entire 26-hour process. I do not expect any sympathy, nor do I deserve any. However, this time I was left outside to wait, to worry and to hope that the phone call would come in time for me to be able to be there for the birth of my second child, my daughter. Thankfully, I was.
However, that process and everything that has gone with it, including the inability to attend prenatal appointments was extremely stressful. I am talking about my own personal experience, not looking for any sympathy but trying to paint the picture of what is happening to couples and individuals around the country every day.
Despite the guidelines, which I have gratefully received from the Department, there is still considerable concern that birth partners will not be able to join their partner for the birth of their child. I deliberately say "birth partner" because it does not necessarily have to be a husband or wife. It could be a mother, a sibling or anyone. Going into labour on one's own is a very daunting process, as is going to those very difficult appointments such as the 20-week scan and others one one's own. They must also face the postnatal care alone, trying to understand what the doctor is saying.
We need to have absolute clarity. As I read it, level 5 allows the visiting policy to be suspended, aside from critical child-centred and compassionate circumstances. Everything about those appointments prior to the birth, during the birth and after the birth are critical, child-centred and compassionate. We need to have clarity that every maternity hospital in the State will ensure a birth partner will be there, not just for the delivery but for the appointments before and after the birth. It is vital and we need to ensure over the next six weeks that expectant mothers around the country do not need to go in on their own and, crucially, that the father, when it is fathers, have the right to attend the birth of their child.