Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Friday, 20 Mar 2020

Vol. 269 No. 7

Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages

Before we start, I make the point to Members that there are 34 amendments, of which 19 have been ruled out of order. Therefore we need to deal with 15 amendments obviously as quickly as we can.

On a point of information, do we know which amendments have been ruled out of order? I do not have that information.

Notification has been sent to those Members by email.

It might be helpful for the Acting Chairman to give that list now.

The following amendments have been ruled out of order: Nos. 3 to 11, inclusive, 15, 18, 19, 24, 25, 27 to 29, inclusive, 31 and 33. This debate must finish by 2.23 p.m.

Section 1 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 4, line 25, after “Government,” to insert the following:

“following consultation with experts in relevant fields and advice which may be published at the request of the Oireachtas,”.

At the end of his speech, the Minister mentioned those travelling home from Toronto and Australia to serve in our medical services.

There are also many highly qualified medics within our asylum-seeking process, and it is very important we do not see qualified medical staff facing both legal stress and potential deportation at a time when they could be of such great use. I therefore urge the Minister to engage constructively with the Department of Justice and Equality on that issue. These people have an extraordinary contribution to make. I know that many of those coming from Sudan, for example, are medics because they were part of leading the revolution in Sudan. There are, therefore, some extraordinarily skilled and conscientious people in the asylum system who want to contribute.

The Minister mentioned public health advice, and I appreciate that the decisions being made are being made on foot of the best public health advice. However, in some sections of the Bill, and specifically the sections to which this amendment relates, extraordinary powers are being given. The Minister has acknowledged that they are unusual powers and beyond what we would normally ever give to a Minister. In this section the Minister allows for new orders to be made of potentially an indeterminate length of time. My amendment No. 1 inserts text in page 4, line 25. Actually, the wrong placing has been given. I was not planning to press the amendment anyway so I will speak to the point. The text was meant to be placed in a further section which provides that if the Minister was to extend powers, he would share with us the rationale. It is mentioned that Ministers will consult with one another, which is of course appropriate, and I understand and expect that the Minister will consult with experts in medical fields and, where appropriate, in seeking legal advice on any new order or extension order that might be made under the Bill. I simply ask, however, that the Minister commit to share with us insofar as possible the advice he is given, especially in situations in which the order or extension order may seem controversial. That would be important in maintaining the political co-operation and confidence of the Houses.

That is very much my intention and the intention of my Department, so much so that I have now taken a conscious decision such that any time the national public health emergency team makes a recommendation to me, quite frankly, to do anything, I get the recommendation by way of written letter from the Chief Medical Officer, which I then publish in full. It is my intention to continue in that regard. If we want people to follow public health advice, they need to know the rationale behind it. In this jurisdiction people can take comfort from the fact that politicians are making decisions on public health issues based on public health expert advice, not political populism.

Amendment, be leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 4, after line 33, to insert the following:

“(6) Every regulation made under this Act shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas as soon as may be after it is made and, if a resolution annulling the regulation is passed by either such House within the next subsequent 21 days on which that House has sat after the regulation is laid before it, the regulation shall be annulled accordingly, but without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done thereunder.”.

I welcome the sunset clause which was put in place in the legislation. It gives me some comfort. This amendment seeks to address a somewhat similar issue. In the Bill as it stands either House of the Oireachtas has a right to make a resolution annulling an extension order within 21 days but there is no equivalent right for either House to pass a resolution annulling a regulation over the Bill in general. Therefore, the current right to annul an order relates only to extension orders. It does not relate to, for example, regulations that the Minister might make under a different part of the Bill. I understand and take some comfort from the fact that there is at least a sunset clause, that we know that these regulations will be in place for a limited period and that they will fall in November. The Dáil will at least have an opportunity - I would like if it were both Houses, but so be it - to send a signal at that point and to determine whether or not we continue. I am just pointing out that there is an anomaly in the Bill. I would like to know the plans for reviewing regulations made under the Bill. This might not be the Bill as a whole; it might be a particular section under which particular regulations are made.

What is the mechanism whereby we can ensure that if they are not working correctly and if they are having unintended consequences, we are feeding back the message that they may need to be reviewed or revoked? We are making a lot of decisions in a short timeframe and we need to have a quick response.

As the Senator rightly says, the Dáil decided yesterday that there should be a sunset clause in the legislation and I was pleased to be in a position to agree with that. It was a significant debate because a variety of amendments were tabled, some of which sought for the emergency powers to continue for 12 months, some of which did not explicitly seek a sunset clause and others which sought for the emergency powers to be in place for a short period of time. In an effort to have as much consensus as we could, we landed on a period up until 9 November. That seems to be a midway point that many were in a position to agree with so there will be a sunset clause. There is a logic in this section in that if one is in my Department at 3 o'clock in the morning, as we were last Wednesday week, and decisions are being made that if we got to a point - we do not envisage getting to this point - where the Houses of the Oireachtas could not be convened due to the public health situation, and the powers this House is passing in this Bill present that as a possible scenario, and because the Constitution is proscriptive in terms of the Dáil having to meet within Dublin, there are limitations we needed to be conscious of. That was the original logic. I am advised that the regulations are under the primary legislation in the 1947 Act, so they would still have to be laid before the Houses under the primary Act, which gives the Houses of the Oireachtas the same opportunity to annul any regulations we lay. The regulations will be placed before the Houses under the existing primary legislation from 1947.

That is very useful. I am satisfied with the answer from the Minister and I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 2 agreed to.
Sections 3 and 4 agreed to.

Amendment No. 3 in the names of Senators Ardagh, Clifford-Lee and Wilson has been ruled out of order due to a potential charge on the Exchequer. Amendment No. 4 in the names of Senators Ardagh, Clifford-Lee and Wilson has been ruled out of order due to a potential charge on the Exchequer.

Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 not moved.
Section 5 agreed to.

Amendment No. 5 in the names of Senators Ardagh, Clifford-Lee and Wilson has been ruled out of order due to a potential charge on the Exchequer. Amendment No. 6 in the names of Senators Warfield, Gavan, Devine and Ó Donnghaile has been ruled out of order due to a potential charge on the Exchequer.

Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 6 stand part of the Bill."

I have two queries on this and I am sure more queries will come up in Senator Higgins's contribution. On the working family payment, there have been no provisions made and no clear indication or instruction on women who are on the working family payment and who also receive jobseeker's transition payment. For example, a women with one child could be on €237 per week of jobseeker's transition payment, is working ten hours per week as a waitress and receives €110 in wages, which means that if she was to change to the emergency Covid-19 payment, she would be on less money because it does not take dependants into account in the amount that is paid. The rate of €203 per week is flat and it does not allow for dependant children so it does not take in the special circumstances of women and mothers in being able to ensure they still have a sufficient level of income. Has there been any instruction that the working family payment will continue to be paid, even in an emergency capacity? Or will the Government begin to look at the fact that women have dependants and increase the Covid-19 emergency payment for them so it will be brought up to a standard that means they are not at a loss when they are temporarily unemployed?

I have one more question on this section. I know there has been lots of discussion on the expansion of HAP. It makes more sense to me that we would look at a Covid-19 emergency payment for rent allowance similar to the €203 per week payment, rather than expanding HAP. Is there room for us to create an emergency access for those in shared accommodation? We have some landlords who do not have a mortgage so will they be passing on the savings they make when their mortgage is in a holiday period?

Some people who are laid off work will not be able to pay their rents unless there is a complete suspension of rents or unless they have access to an emergency rent allowance payment in the interim.

I had considered proposing amendments to the section but I was aware they would probably be ruled out of order. It is my hope that the Minister, Deputy Harris, will be able to engage with the Minister, Regina Doherty. Unfortunately, I have not been able to get answers on these questions and it is important to do so.

The issue of working family payment was raised last night but we did not really get an answer. This is very important. It was mentioned in regard to its intersection with jobseeker's transitional payment but on a wider basis. The working family payment is an in-work payment while the Covid-19 payment is related to the jobseeker payments and the job space. It is almost a fast-tracking of that process and is giving a payment that will maintain a relationship with an employer but allow for a period of unemployment. The working family payment is a payment which is designed to supplement those who have been in low-paid work and who have dependants. A premise of the working family payment is that a person would be working 38 hours a fortnight, or 19 hours a week equivalent. A concern for people who might be laid off but also many others, including cleaners and those who are working in those vital services we have all been praising, is that they could find themselves, for example, working ten hours a week for a period of time, rather than 19 hours a week, or they may find that their employer places staff not on the Covid-19 payment but on the short-term working payment. This is a payment mechanism which allows for some topping up of salary where people's hours have had to be reduced and they go from working two days instead of four days, and so forth. However, the working family payment is not related to wages or tied to that. It is a top-up payment that we give to families so they can survive and keep themselves healthy. What is crucial to know, and many people are concerned about this, is the position if people's hours temporarily dip for a period of time. If they are still employed but their hours have gone down, for whatever reason, and if they are on working family payment now, can they be assured they are not going to, for example, be told in six weeks or eight weeks time their hours were below the threshold? That is something people need clarity on and they need to know going into the summer months that this working family payment will still go through. It is money the State already pays and it is doing very important work. We need that assurance for people so they do not find their employer has put them on short-term working, where they are working ten hours when the working family payment requires 19 hours. These are vulnerable families in a crunch.

The Minister might address the issue of rent allowance, which was mentioned by my colleague. There are particular issues with the jobseeker's transitional payment and the income disregard. For example, does the income disregard apply to Covid-19? There are many intersections but rent allowance is a core issue. People are very nervous of losing rent allowance in any shape or form, so this is something to be looked at.

There were a couple of other issues in regard to social welfare which we need to consider. The Minister might be able to give me an overall assurance that the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection can make regulations in respect of these issues, which is a core question. We have not put in legislative amendments but we want to know the Minister is planning to make regulations and is willing to engage with each of us, as different parties and groups. I know there is a lot of talk about engaging with party leaders but, as the leader of a group, I have not had any engagement or reach-out yet, I am afraid. If we were able to engage around constructive regulations on some of these issues, that would be the way we can resolve them without amendments to this section. Perhaps the Minister can address those issues.

The habitual residency condition is something that creates a lot of anxiety for people. There is the question of the emergency provisions and also the issue of testing, which falls under the Minister for Health's remit. This concerns not just those who do not have enough habitual residency to meet the condition but also those who are out of status in terms of accessing emergency welfare supports or special needs payments, and also those who have concerns around testing.

Can people be confident in seeking those supports and that it will not be the people who are undocumented, who we have already spoken about?

I am conscious that under sections 6 to 8, inclusive, the Minister is given extensive powers to make regulations. In this context I seek clarification on a point raised by me and other Members on Second Stage, which is about the employers' top-up amount. It is a real matter of urgency whether or not employers who pay full wages to people, when those staff are hopefully being temporarily laid off, will be able to recoup the weekly payment of €203. There has been a bit of confusion and some uncertainty about that.

I ask Members to be conscious that we are not dealing with any amendment currently and we still have 13 amendments with 28 minutes in which to deal with them. They will be cut depending on time. I ask Members to be as brief as possible.

I will certainly be brief. I am learning that the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection has a lot of regulation-making powers. We should replicate this in other Departments. This is, however, the answer to many of the Senators' questions. If there are issues that need to be teased through, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection has regulation-making powers on these payments.

On the specific issue of people who are undocumented, and I have heard this a number of times, as the Minister for Health I want to provide an assurance to those people that the health service will treat them with dignity and with absolute privacy and patient confidentiality, as will their social work system, during this time of emergency. We want people to come forward to be tested. We want to be able to find the virus, isolate the virus and contact people who have been in contact with the virus. We absolutely need people to come forward. The thought that anybody would not come forward who may need medical treatment, and who could help us to slow down the spread, is one on which we need to provide reassurance.

It is fair to say that rent matters will be teased out during this week. We will have legislation before Dáil Éireann, I believe on Thursday 26 March, to deal with those particular protections, and subsequently it will be debated in this House. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, intends to engage with Opposition groupings. I will ensure that Senator Higgins and her group are very much recognised in that regard.

I have a note but in the interests of time I will not read all of it out. I will provide some of the information to the Senators around their queries on the working family payment. The Department official has offered very kindly to have a conversation with the Senators post the conclusion of the Bill. If a person is in receipt of a one-parent family payment, the jobseeker's transitional payment, the carer's allowance or the disability allowance then any application for the pandemic unemployment payment is received and processed as normal in relation to the existing payment. If a person is already in receipt of the working family payment and then puts in an application for the pandemic unemployment payment, it is processed as normal and the person receives the pandemic payment in addition to the existing payment. These customers are considered to meet the eligibility requirements for the working family payment in this situation and their payments are not ceased at this time. These customers should not submit an application for jobseeker's payments as it would cease their in-work support. Obviously, if these customers lose their employment subsequently, and it becomes a more permanent job loss, and if the customer applies and is awarded jobseeker's payment then the person's working family payment would cease. There is a detailed note that I can provide to Senators.

I reckon we have not half an hour remaining. With all of the amendments that have been ruled out of order I suggest, to help the House, that Senators would email their queries. I am aware that the Minister is probably overwhelmed but perhaps we could email the queries and questions on this. To discuss amendments that are out of order, and I am aware that people need information-----

We cannot discuss amendments that are out of order.

Okay. I presumed that amendment was being discussed.

We are not discussing any amendments. We are discussing section 6.

I wish to come back to Senators Bacik and Devine and the House. The issue raised by Senator Bacik on the employers' top-up is being looked at as we speak. I believe that the Minister, Regina Doherty, may have said this in the time since we have been in this House. It is the Minister's intention, as the Senator has suggested, to convene a briefing for Oireachtas Members on this. I suggest that Senators email any questions they have to the Minister, Regina Doherty. The Minister will arrange a briefing, with officials, on the various payments and supports being put in place for people during this time of pandemic.

Question put and agreed to.

Amendment No. 7, in the names of Senators Ardagh, Clifford-Lee and Wilson, is out of order as it involves a potential charge to the Exchequer. Similarly, amendment No. 8, in the names of Senators Warfield, Gavan, Devine and Ó Donnghaile, is out of order as it involves a potential charge to the Exchequer.

Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 not moved.
Section 7 agreed to.

Amendment No. 9, in the names of Senators Ardagh, Clifford-Lee and Wilson, is out of order as it involves a potential charge to the Exchequer. Amendment No. 10, in the names of Senators Warfield, Gavan, Devine and Ó Donnghaile, is out of order as it involves a potential charge to the Exchequer.

Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 not moved.
Section 8 agreed to.

Amendment No. 11, in the names of Senators Warfield, Gavan, Devine and Ó Donnghaile, is out of order as it involves a potential charge to the Exchequer and is not relevant to the subject matter of the Bill.

Amendment No. 11 not moved.
Section 9 agreed to.

Amendment No. 12 is in the names of Senators Higgins, Ruane and Kelleher. Amendments Nos. 12, 13 and 16 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 8, line 10, after “necessary” to insert “and proportionate”.

I will speak to amendments Nos. 12, 13 and 16 simultaneously. I was asked to put in a number of amendments in this area and I acknowledge the extraordinary and important work of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties in addressing the unforeseen consequences of this legislation and ensuring that it is rights-proofed. Amendment No. 12 addresses the fact that the Minister would have powers "where otherwise necessary". I am concerned to make sure that necessity and proportionality is applied to every measure made under this legislation. Those are core principles. I have been asked to put a number of substitutions and I did not add five amendments where we should be putting "necessity" and proportionality tests into the legislation. I would like, in the clause to which this amendment applies, for the Minister to indicate that necessity and proportionality will be applied not just to the areas that are listed in section 10, but to the other unnamed areas which he also gives himself the power to regulate. This is a wide power and does not apply only to what is listed. The power can apply to whatever the Minister deems "otherwise necessary". I want to know that anything the Minister deems otherwise necessary will be proportionate to the crisis and that he will give us the rationales on the necessity and proportionality of any steps he will take.

Which other amendments are being discussed?

Amendment No. 13 refers to the restrictions which the Minister may choose to apply. I ask that restrictions the Minister will put in place be for a specific duration, subject to review at regular intervals and subject to appeal. As the Minister is given these sweeping powers, it is reasonable that we are assured that blanket new restrictions will not be put in place and simply left on the books. We must know, as with the Bill itself, that there is a defined period of time for each restriction and a mechanism for review. If there are unforeseen consequences of a restriction or regulation made by the Minister, there must be some mechanism whereby they can be appealed. We will be learning and evolving good practice together as we move forward.

Amendment No. 16 makes the same point about proportionality and aims to insert the word "proportionate" at another key point in the legislation.

It is absolutely my intention to share the rationale for any decisions made, under any such provisions of this Bill, with the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Senator will know this, but for the benefit of people following the proceedings, I remind them that the reason we are bringing in these measures is purely the extraordinary situation of a global pandemic in which we find ourselves. These measures are time limited until November unless these Houses decide to extend that.

The purpose of the text of the provision concerned addresses the circumstances that would necessitate regulatory measures and restrictions being put in place for the safeguarding of public health and human life. The detailed list of the possible regulatory measures outlined in the provisions of subsection (1) outlines a range of possible regulatory options, ensuring that appropriate and proportionate measures can be put in place. A proportionality test is already provided for in subsection (2) of the new section 31A of the Health Act 1947. That outlines, in a detailed list, the matters to which I, as Minister, must have regard when making regulations under section 31A. That obviously includes having regard to the expert advice of the Chief Medical Officer. Proportionality and necessity will be at the core of what we do and we will share the rationale for our decisions with the Houses of the Oireachtas. We believe the proportionality test is met by the new section 31A.

As to the other point, the purpose of regulations is to protect the public by preventing, limiting, minimising and slowing the spread of Covid-19. Regulations, whether about travel or events, will only be in place for as long as is needed to meet that test based on advice. They will be kept under regular, constant review as the situation changes. It was the view of the public health experts in my Department that we did not need to set it out in the Bill. For that reason I would rather not accept that amendment, other than to assure the House that they will absolutely be kept under review and only kept in place for as long as needed and based on expert public health advice.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 13 not moved.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 8, lines 21, after "homes," to insert "or places of lodgings,".

This amendment just makes sense. Not everyone has a home. There are different names. It speaks for itself. Most people would have a home and those who have one are lucky. However, other people who do not have a home have places of lodgings. I do not wish to hold up the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 15 is ruled out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Revenue.

Amendment No. 15 not moved.
Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 not moved.

Amendment No. 18 is ruled out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Revenue.

Amendment No. 18 not moved.

Amendment No. 19 is ruled out of order as it is not relevant to the subject matter of the Bill.

Amendment No. 19 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 10 stand part of the Bill."

Is the Minister aware of any progress on the letter from dental practitioners regarding the aerosol spray? He might make a comment about it. I have had a lot of traffic in my email this morning about clarification on the information from the Chief Dental Officer.

I wish to comment on powers of detention, and hopefully it will not happen, and my question regarding prisons and new prisoners or arresting people with warrants. When we are saying we will detain someone, are we talking about within the prison system or the hospital system? We must be mindful that even though recruitment drives can happen everywhere else, they cannot happen within the prison system unless we bring back retired officers. The only other option is the Garda or the Army whose members I am sure would possibly be dispersed elsewhere. The goal is that if we are picking people up that we already have a warrant or we are detaining them for some reason that the goal would be to keep the prison population down and not increase it because the staffing issue would be difficult to address.

As regards dentists, I gave a commitment yesterday that my Department would make contact which it did. I think there is a meeting scheduled for Monday with the Irish Dental Association. It is important that they engage on this and get clarity on all the issues, which they need.

As to the issue of detention, the Senator will know this is very much a public health Bill. We will be taking a health-led approach. We will hope never to have to use these powers, and if we do have to detain someone it would be for the purpose of protecting that person's health but crucially for the purpose of reducing the spread of the virus. We would be envisaging it in a health setting. The Senator has made some important suggestions regarding the Prison Service and the likes. The Government will examine those and revert to the Senator.

Question put and agreed to.
Amendment No. 20 not moved.

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 15, line 7, to delete "14 days" and substitute "72 hours".

I will be honest with the Minister, this is an amendment which I would press in other circumstances.

It pains me very much not to do it. I and many others need assurance from the Minister on this issue. Both of these amendments relate to the periods of time for which people are to be detained under the legislation. It is a real concern that at the moment, under the Bill, if people are detained under the powers of the Bill based on an appearance that they may be - it is quite wide - potentially a source in respect of Covid-19, they are guaranteed to see medical examination within 14 days. Effectively we are looking at two weeks in which somebody can be detained without a test, without a medical exam, without any contact from a medical person, simply on the basis of the powers of this legislation. I absolutely agree detention can be appropriate where there is a medical risk but this is effectively detention without evidence for a two-week period. I understand the pressures on the health system. That is why I suggest 72 hours, knowing the pressures we may be under. The Minister has already described this as an extraordinary and, he hopes, little-used power of detention. I want to know that he guarantees he is going to be putting regulations in place to ensure that those who are detained under this legislation are seen promptly in terms of testing and in terms of medical intervention. It is really crucial. I have been contacted by some of the older persons' advocacy organisations. They are concerned that the powers may simply be used effectively to move large blocs of people to other places where we want. Older people in particular are very concerned about that. These powers are there for a reason and should be used for those reasons only. They have to be evidence based, as the Minister has said, so let us make sure that detention is evidence based.

On the same issue, the term "practicable" is quite wide in terms of people seeking a review. A three-day period is very reasonable for people seeking a review of an order made in respect of them, people who may wish to have a medical person assess whether they are actually a risk. We will come to amendment No. 23. On those advocacy groups, as I have said before, it is really important that there is advocacy for people facing detention, particularly all those with mental health concerns whom we spoke about previously. I hope I get to speak to that amendment but I want to just note that point.

I raised on Second Stage the concern that we need to see adequate safeguards in place for the exercise of the detention powers under section 11. I am conscious that one particular safeguard would be to provide for right of information about the right to be able to trigger a review on request. I felt that this could be done through regulation rather than by amending section 11 of the Bill. That would be an important safeguard. I am referring to the right of information not only for the detained person but, if he or she is a child, for the parent or guardian.

The second point I raised, to reiterate it, is that there needs to be a standard form order for authorising detention. The concern would be that otherwise, medical officers could be drafting their own individual orders. Clearly that would not be appropriate or ideal and could lead to challenges to the detention of such persons in the High Court if we are seeing inconsistency across the terms of orders. I am grateful to my colleague in the Law Library, Mr. Tony McGillicuddy, who has drafted up an order which I can give the Minister. The point is that it could have been in the Schedule to the Bill. I know the legislation was being drafted with immense time pressure. We are all conscious of that and that it is extraordinary legislation. I accept the need for a 14-day period, given that it is the incubation period of this virus and I understand that is why it is the period specified, but I do think we need to see an assurance on safeguards.

We are facing a really difficult situation. This is only the beginning of it. I commend the Minister, the Government and everybody else, the Opposition included, for the way they have handled this. We could find ourselves in a situation where we are really struggling with health personnel, and the possibility of being able to review a patient within that time could present real difficulties. We are in the area here, dare I say it, of Typhoid Mary, somebody who just will not co-operate. The legislation is clear that the medical officer must reasonably believe, so there is going to be medical input at the beginning. Of course, like others, I would be very concerned that somebody could be detained for 14 days without being actually properly fully assessed, if that is what people are concerned about.

However, consider the situation where we have a very high proportion, proportionate to the rest of the population, of 15% to 20% of healthcare workers infected. We could have a problem with healthcare workers being available to protect people from the very few, hopefully none, who would seek to ignore the advice given and endanger others as well as themselves. I hear what Members are saying and I am sure the Minister will reassure us that, where possible, this will be done within 72 hours and that people will have the right, as is written down in black and white, to get a second doctor's opinion. That will obviously necessitate the patient being interviewed and all his or her medical facts being put on the table.
There are safeguards in the legislation. I know it is not ideal. As I said earlier, it is not legislation any of us ever thought we would be dealing with in the House, but we are where we are. We are facing very hard times and we must stay together and show unity. That is difficult now, but it is going to be very difficult as we get into the thick of this, the numbers go into the thousands and, sadly, fatalities start to rise. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure the Opposition Senators because it is important that we have unity on this and no delay in passing the Bill.

I thank Senators for these questions and I wish to provide reassurance at the outset. I am the Minister for Health and have no wish to detain anybody. We are talking about a situation where we believe somebody could have Covid-19 and we want to assist the person medically and isolate him or her for the protection of people from this pandemic and the person is refusing, for whatever reason, to take that assistance. We believe it is highly unlikely that this will arise. Senator Reilly will know, as a former Minister for Health, that such detention provisions exist for notifiable diseases under the 1947 Act. One already can be detained. The difference here is that sometimes getting confirmation of the existence of the infectious disease can take a little longer than is the case with the infectious diseases we dealt with previously.

I take on board the points made by Senators Higgins and Bacik in terms of trying to provide that reassurance through regulation, particularly with regard to the role of advocacy, in case we do not get time to discuss it, the right to a review and a standard forum. I wish to give them assurances on that. The only reason 14 days is provided for is that it is seen as an outer limit. That is the period of time in which one can become symptomatic. Anything less than that could end up inadvertently defeating the purpose of the legislation, which is to slow the spread of the coronavirus Covid-19.

Senator Devine wishes to speak on the same issue.

When we talk about involuntary detention I also think about involuntary detention for those displaying mental ill health. That requires two medics; this requires one. Presumably, those at risk would be quite vulnerable to Covid-19 because a capacity for awareness may not always be present. Will one medic for emergency involuntary detention be used more frequently for people, as opposed to involuntary detention requiring two medics under the Mental Health Act?

We have referred to those who refuse. As Senator Devine said, there are also those who may not have the capacity to understand what is being asked of them for different reasons and at different times. It is not simply bad intention in many cases. For example, people with dementia are likely to be among those in respect of whom these powers may be used. That is why the advocacy piece is important. As one can imagine, for those with mental health difficulties a week or two weeks in an unknown situation can cause extraordinary levels of distress. That is why there must be that medical advice. I would like the Minister to link with us on the regulations.

For example, if somebody who is an expert in infectious diseases makes a determination, that is fine, but there should be a signal to recognise where additional supports may be needed for somebody. It will be vital.

I mentioned indemnity and the Minister did not have the chance to come back to me on that. I would appreciate an answer. These are medical specialists working across different fields and going into each other's areas. For example, there may be an intersection with the mental health legislation and this Act. People are cutting across specialisms.

It is not our intention to interfere with the Mental Health Act 2001 or the safeguards in that at all, but I agree fully with the points made by Senator Higgins about the vulnerability of some of our citizens and the capacity-making powers of some individuals and the need for advocacy. It is absolutely my intention, the intention of the Government and, I note, the intention of the Oireachtas from this debate that there would be a very central role for advocacy. When somebody is detained under the provisions of this Act, that person can be removed from that detention by voluntarily co-operating with the isolation period. I am conscious of older or vulnerable people who may be watching and these are kind of scary words we use when we mention "detention". These are exceptional powers that we hope we never have to use. Everything should be used other than them to achieve the common good, which is the isolation of the Covid-19 disease.

Is the amendment being pressed?

In the context of the emergency and with the promise that the Minister will engage with us on regulation, I will not press the amendment.

Thank you for your co-operation.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 not moved.
Section 11 agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 are out of order.

Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 not moved.

I move amendment No. 26:

In page 16, after line 20, to insert the following:

Amendment of National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012

12. The National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 is amended by the insertion of the following new section after section 14A:

“Consideration by Bureau of application for vetting disclosure in the exceptional circumstances of Covid-19

14B. (1) A vetting disclosure for healthcare workers who have returned to service for the term of the emergency period outlined in the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020 in the following exceptional circumstances can be granted a member of An Garda Síochána not below the rank of Inspector.

(2) An existing certificate which has been granted by the Bureau for another activity over the previous 12 months in respect of the person who is required to provide vetting will suffice for the term of the emergency period outlined in the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020.”.”.

Does this relate to notices to quit?

It relates to the National Vetting Bureau.

I thank Senator Devine for her amendment and the work she has done in the area. We want to ensure the health service has the people it needs that may need to be vetted but we will look at this separately from the Bill. I give a commitment to return to this but I will look at this separately from this Bill.

As the time permitted for the debate has expired, I am required to put the following question in accordance with the order of the Seanad of this day: "That amendment No. 26 is hereby negatived in Committee; the Preamble and the Title are hereby agreed to in Committee, and the Bill is accordingly reported to the House without amendment; Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed".

Question put and agreed to.