Health (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the opportunity to present the Health (Amendment) Bill to the House.

The Bill provides for mandatory quarantine at a designated facility for passengers arriving from designated category 2 countries and for those who arrive in breach of the pre-departure negative polymerase chain reaction, PCR, test requirement.

We can all see the impact of the Covid pandemic, one year now after the first case was identified in Ireland. We have all seen the impact on life in our communities, the suffering caused by Covid and the measures needed to suppress it.

We have seen the economic impact on so many businesses and individuals. We have seen the strong community spirit in the face of this disease.

The roll-out of our vaccination programme is providing assurance that the worst of this pandemic will pass. We have administered more than 400,000 vaccine doses to date. We will have the capacity to deliver over 250,000 vaccines per week from April in anticipation of a significant increase in supply. Last week, we saw signs that the earliest part of our vaccination campaign, for healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities, is already having an impact. Nonetheless, we continue to face significant challenges and we must remain vigilant. It is as important as ever that we continue to follow the public health measures currently in place. We must also deal with the new challenges we face as new variants of Covid-19 emerge. These variants may be more transmissible, may be more severe in the context of hospitalisation and death and may have the potential to undermine our vaccination programme. It is for this reason that the Government has already moved to introduce measures to limit the importation of variants of concern.

A regime of mandatory home quarantine is in operation. Arriving passengers, regardless of nationality, are required to present a Covid-19 passenger locator form and evidence of a negative pre-departure PCR test, taken no more than 72 hours before travel. We have suspended visa-free travel from South America and South Africa. We have stepped up enforcement measures in respect of regulations which prohibit non-essential travel abroad and people travelling abroad. Currently, arrivals from countries that are designated as category 2 states must complete the full 14-day period of quarantine at home. This category now includes 33 countries, with 13 having been added towards the end of last week.

As the number of international travellers arriving in the country remains between 1,000 and 3,500 per day, we are now reinforcing these measures with the introduction of mandatory quarantine in designated facilities for those arriving from category 2 states, and with increased penalties for non-essential travel. The measures contained in the Bill provide for a robust system of mandatory quarantine in designated facilities for travellers arriving from designated states, with only minor exceptions. Ireland will be the only country in the EU to introduce quarantine requirements at this level.

It is worth pausing here. There were several hours of debate on this Bill in the Dáil last week. It was a largely very constructive and well-meant debate, notwithstanding the usual few contributions. However, a great deal of dramatic and entirely incorrect language was used to refer to the Bill as window-dressing and to the Government as not being serious about this issue. Some described the Bill as a sham. I want to restate that Ireland will be the only country in the EU to bring in a system of mandatory quarantine of this nature. The position is very serious and we are taking a serious step.

The Government recognises that what is proposed will place a significant demand on travellers, even though there are those who would prefer the introduction of harsher measures. The measures proposed strike a balance between the need for strong steps to react to a serious threat to public health in an unprecedented emergency and the protection of civil liberties and human rights. I take this opportunity to emphasise that the measures provided for in the Bill will be applicable to all travellers from a designated state and that a person’s nationality has no bearing on the matter.

I will go off-script for a moment. The Oireachtas has a really important role to play in this debate. For me, from a small number of quarters, some aspects of the debate have had a whiff of xenophobia about them. I have heard it said that we must protect our people from foreign people. That is not what this is about. In fact, we are moving away from describing variants as, for example, the Brazilian variant or the South African variant. We are moving towards calling them by their designations, such as B117. Throughout history, xenophobia and racism have been linked to the perceived fear of the importation of disease. Cholera, for example, was known as the Jewish disease. British literature from the 18th and 19th centuries, when referring to and demonising the Irish, often described them as bringing disease into the UK. The Oireachtas has a most important role to play. These are extremely serious public health measures and we need to ensure that people understand they are not a reaction to foreigners or anything of that nature.

These are deadly serious public health measures but we need to ensure people understand that they are not a reaction to foreigners or anything like that. The vast majority are Irish people returning. I want to emphasise that.

Sections 1 and 2 set out definitions and interpretative provisions. Sections 3 to 6, inclusive, amend the Health Act 1947 to increase the penalties for existing offences relating to the Covid-19 pandemic. This is intended to permit the fixed penalty notice for travellers going to or from an airport without reasonable excuse to be increased.

Section 7 relates specifically to the introduction of mandatory quarantine and related matters. The Bill inserts a number of new sections into the Health Act 1947. These will be numbered in the 1947 Act as sections 38B to 38M.

Travellers who have been in a "designated state" within the 14 days prior to their arrival in Ireland will be obliged to undergo a 14-day period of quarantine. The Bill includes a provision to allow exit from quarantine after ten days under certain circumstances. There are a limited number of other circumstances under which travellers may leave quarantine, such as for medical treatment or other humanitarian reasons.

The Bill also includes provisions requiring travellers who arrive in Ireland from any other country without a negative PCR test to be quarantined until a negative test is returned, or for a full ten-day period if deemed necessary on public health grounds. Travellers who test positive for Covid during quarantine will be required to remain in quarantine until they have satisfied criteria for release.

Travellers will be required to pre-book their accommodation in designated facilities. Appropriate provision is made for the protection of unaccompanied minors or those seeking international protection. The Bill includes provision for travellers to appeal a decision that they are subject to mandatory quarantine, while section 38B(25) includes categories of travellers who are exempt from the requirement to quarantine, such as drivers of HGVs, maritime or air crew, or elected officials travelling for official reasons. It will be possible to designate other exemptions by regulation.

Section 38C sets out the power to return travellers to quarantine if they have left inappropriately.

Section 38D sets out offences associated with the Bill and establishes the relevant penalties.

Section 38E sets out the power and the process for the Minister to designate the states relevant to mandatory quarantine.

Section 38F makes provision for the designation of facilities and to require passengers to pay for quarantine.

Section 38G sets out the regulation-making powers of the Minister and sets guiding principles for use in that process.

Sections 38H and 38I provide the authority for the Minister to make arrangements for transport and accommodation and related matters for quarantine purposes.

Sections 38J and 38K set out requirements and obligations related to record-keeping and data protection.

Section 38L allows the Minister to make arrangements with other Ministers to carry out some of the functions associated with the requirement to quarantine as they relate to the designation of facilities for quarantine, making service contracts, and data protection.

Section 38M establishes a requirement of travel organisers, such as airlines, to inform a traveller of their obligation to pre-book their quarantine, check that those bookings have been made and potentially refuse to allow travel where a booking has not been made.

Section 8 of the Bill makes minor consequential amendments to section 42 of 1947 Act.

Section 9 sets out the Short Title and operation of the Bill and establishes that the quarantine-related provisions of the Bill will fall three months from its passing, unless resolutions extending them are passed in both Houses of the Oireachtas. This is an important sunset clause. It is a very short period, given the sweeping nature of these powers.

I would like to thank Senators in advance for their contributions to this debate and look forward to hearing their contributions.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House and for his comprehensive explanation. I am glad I have the opportunity to speak on this very important legislation. It is a proportionate response to the threat we face. I am very happy with its sunset clause, which provides that the House will return in three months' time to debate whether to continue its provisions. It will depend on what out situation is at that time. I appeal to everybody here to be careful in their language to quell the narrative around this legislation. Like others, I took many phone calls on Thursday from very worried people who were whipped into a state of anxiety when they looked on social media and saw photographs of the voting panel from the convention centre.

The narrative was that the Government voted against mandatory quarantining. This is a complete misrepresentation of what had actually happened.

The list of 33 countries is significant. It is a proportionate response to the threats from the new variants. I am very glad we are moving away from the language about particular variants being linked with certain countries and certain nationalities. The Minister is right when he says the dramatic and sometimes xenophobic language used about this particular issue is not something that we in Ireland should buy into. As the Minister pointed out, this xenophobic language has been used against Irish people many times in many countries. I remember reading something about the many Irish emigrants in New York and how they were discriminated against when they came off the boats into the communities and sought work. They were turned away because of the fear of spreading disease. The xenophobic language has to stop and it is all of our responsibility.

While we might disagree with each other, we must debate this legislation on its merits and not whip people up into a frenzy. People are suffering enough. People are anxious enough. People have missed out on many things in their lives. Their children have suffered. They have suffered and have lost incomes. They have lost loved members of their families and communities. We really need to focus on this legislation. It is being done with the best of intentions and I hope we can get it as right as possible and that we can have good legislation and a good quarantining system in place. It is for the good of the country. I do not think political point scoring on this and using this particular legislation to score a few points against the Government is the wisest thing to do.

I look forward to debating the measures in the Bill and I thank the Minister for his comprehensive outline of it. The situation in New Zealand is often cited as something we could follow. I will not point out the many differences between Ireland and New Zealand. It is still worth bearing in mind the very severe restrictions in place in New Zealand and the fact it is having snap lockdowns. All of sudden, life just changes and they are back into lockdowns. Auckland is in a seven-day lockdown at present. Mandatory quarantining for everybody entering these shores is not the silver bullet that some would like to make out. I hope we can have a mature debate on this Bill today and I look forward to hearing the rest of the measures.

I welcome the Minister to the House. This is genuine and I deprecate the recent media coverage of many of the aspects of the crisis that has tended to personalise the problems we have and, in particular, to do so unfairly with regard to the Minister.

Normally I would be wholly opposed to a proposal, and I said this as Gaeilge níos luaithe, to debate a measure of this kind in such rapid order on one occasion. However, having come to the view we are facing an emergency, as I said earlier, it seems we have to behave as if we are facing an emergency. In this context, I want to make some points to the Minister.

We have daily press conferences telling us how many people have died of Covid and how many people have been detected as carrying the virus. We need the same degree of transparency for the vaccination process. In the Minister's speech, he said we will have capacity to deliver more than 250,000 vaccines per week in April in anticipation of a significant increase in supply. I would like to see a very clear week by week timetable of precisely what the Minister anticipates happening rather than vague language of this kind. I will not hold the Minister to falling short of targets. As far as I am concerned, the more ambitious the targets are, the better.

There are some things people are getting tired of, such as photographs of one celebrity or another getting the jab. We have had enough of that and we do not need any more photographs of people getting the job. We do not need token investments, such as kitting out City Hall in Cork with an elaborate set of cubicles with electricity supplied to each, etc. In England, they see this as an emergency and they are using pews in cathedrals to get on with the job.

I have a final point. We need a clearer approach on using dentists, nurses, paramedics and pharmacists to administer vaccines. Injecting this vaccine is not a procedure that should be restricted at all. I wish the Minister every success in rolling out this programme. Get on with it, for God's sake, and deal with it as an emergency as we are in an economic, social, psychiatric and psychological emergency. Everyone must play their part.

The Minister is welcome. Like my colleague, Senator McDowell, I have serious reservations about legislation coming to this House and going through all Stages in two hours. This demonstrates a complete lack of respect for the democratic process and the function and role of this House. It is an emergency and, bearing that in mind, I am prepared to go for it.

I cannot understand why we have not and are not considering putting checkpoints on the Border. If we restrict travel into the country through Dublin, Cork and the various ports, we must also ensure that the same restrictions apply on the Border if the exact same systems are not in place in the North of Ireland. The misinformation that has been spoken of led to what we saw on Saturday, which was the lunatic brigade picking on every minute detail coming from any Minister's office in order to introduce confusion into the public sphere. We should discourage people from travelling at all. Anybody who wants to travel into the country should have to go through one of our embassies and produce a test to say that he or she is clear of Covid-19 before evening thinking about boarding a plane. A person should not be able to get on a plane without a certificate in his or her hand.

A garda said to me the other day that if somebody arriving at an airport is told that he or she has to go into quarantine, as the provisions of this Bill are not yet in place, the person does not have to bother and can go home. Garda representatives have still not met the Minister for Justice to explain their concerns and have her answer them. I ask the Minister to impress on the Minister for Justice that she should meet representatives from the Garda Representative Association, the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors and Garda superintendents straight away. I thank the Cathaoirleach for the extra time.

It was a bit of injury time.

I welcome the Minister. His is not a job anyone would envy because it is very difficult in the midst of a pandemic. We all wish him well in doing that job. This is about public health in our country and it is the reason this legislation has been brought before the House.

I listened with interest to the clamour about the need for mandatory quarantine and the hysteria about it not being in place until now. We will be the first in Europe to introduce mandatory quarantine of the nature proposed in the Bill. We are doing it and other European countries may well follow suit. I remember last October when the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, stood in the Dáil and advised people not to travel home for Christmas. He was described as mean-spirited and heartless, although at that time the advice was to not travel for non-essential reasons and that travel should only happen for essential reasons.

This has been the case for a number of months. The advice is clear but this does not mean that people adhered to the advice, clearly they did not. Some of the people who accused the Tánaiste before Christmas of being heartless and mean-spirited when he was advising people to not travel home for Christmas, are the very people who are now lecturing about mandatory quarantining and pointing the finger at the Government as to why this has not happened already and why it did not happen six or eight months ago. We are in a pandemic and we are learning from the pandemic. I suggest that our country has handled the pandemic far better than a lot of other countries. Sadly, 4,300 of our citizens have died with Covid-19. We mourned their deaths and remember each and every one of them. That number would have been a lot worse had we not taken the actions when we took then. The public buy-in, especially to the very first lockdown this time last year, resulted in the saving of lives. The public buy-in since then, to a large extent, has saved lives. Prior to Christmas, however, we found ourselves dealing with new strains. I agree with the Minister. It is time to remove the nationality label from those strains and just call them what they are, which is new strains and new variants of Covid-19. This will continue to evolve but we have hope in the vaccine. In the month of April alone, 1 million people will be vaccinated against Covid-19, with a similar figure in May and a similar figure in June. When there is a significant roll-out of the vaccine to a large number of citizens, then we can take some hope that the days going forward will be brighter and that we will have overcome the worst and harshest of this pandemic.

This legislation is necessary. It is needed to deal with the international travel side of things but it is only one element. We will beat this disease only by implementing all elements of public health advice, coupled with the vaccine. Mandatory quarantining on its own is not going to eliminate or reduce Covid-19 within this country. That will be achieved by each and every Member and each and every citizen of the State doing what we are supposed to do and following the basic, simple public health advice that we are tired of listening to but which is so important to repeat.

The thuggish behaviour that took place in Dublin city centre last Saturday was a blight on our capital city and on our nation. I have no doubt that the full rigours of the law will be used against these people. I would send a clear message to them that this Parliament and the State will not entertain any further such activity going forward, either on St. Patrick's Day, in Cork, in Limerick, in Clare or anywhere else. This is too serious and it will be dealt with.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, to the House. On behalf of the Labour Party I voice my support for the Bill, although we do not believe it goes far enough. Others have pointed out that we are in an emergency, and indeed we are debating this Bill in emergency time. I am glad the time has been extended somewhat. To take all Stages of such a far-reaching Bill in one day shows just how urgent matters are. With more than 4,000 deaths and more than 200,000 people infected with Covid, we know exactly the sort of emergency we are facing. This is why we disagree with the Minister when he says the Bill strikes a proportionate balance between protecting public health and the common good on the one hand and the limited restriction of individual rights on the other. We believe that the balance should be more fairly set by imposing stricter restrictions on inward travel in order that those of us resident in Ireland can see a gradual lifting of the heavy and draconian restrictions under which all of us are currently living.

That is the reality. The balance is skewed in favour of non-essential international travel to and from Ireland and against travel outside of our 5 km zones and the reopening of our schools and workplaces.

To face some facts, we in Ireland have been living under one of the most restrictive lockdowns in Europe for the past year. The Minister is nodding because that is uncontroversial and we all know that has been the case. We have been subject, for the most part and entirely since Christmas, to a 5 km limit for the purposes of exercise. Our workplaces are closed, thousands of people are out of work, nearly 500,000 people are on State supports, businesses and offices remain closed and children are being denied a return to school. I welcome the limited return of schools today but I am conscious of the many children, including all of those with additional needs, who are still facing a lengthy period of homeschooling - what a euphemism - in the months to come.

We are living under restrictive lockdowns and yet we are somehow so inured or institutionalised to the restrictions involved that we see restrictions on inward travel as somehow draconian and breaching civil liberties. I have been surprised at the few people who contacted me to object to Labour's stance in support of a national aggressive suppression strategy and who say that we are trampling on civil liberties. What would be normal protections for civil liberties are already being undermined because of the emergency we are in? To impose tighter restrictions on international travel seems to me to strike a much more proportionate balance. We have received overwhelming support for our stance.

As Deputies Kelly and Duncan Smith put it in the Dáil, we need tighter restrictions and a more extensive law on mandatory hotel quarantine as part of a package of measures to suppress the transmission of Covid. That package of measures should include rapid testing and an accelerated vaccination programme. None of us is saying that mandatory hotel quarantine is a silver bullet but it is an essential part of the package of measures we need to take in this country to address the spread of Covid.

I entirely agree with my colleague, Senator Sherlock, and with others who have urged against any whiff of xenophobia, as the Minister put it. I am an internationalist. I do not like the idea of border controls. Not many of us do. Many of us, including me, did not like the idea of adopting a zero Covid strategy initially because of the restrictions on travel but that has changed since Christmas and the spread of the new variants. As Senator Sherlock did, I will call them by their names and not by the countries they originated in. I mention the B1351 and the P1 variants. We know from studies by Dr. Paddy Mallon, from the work of the Independent Scientific Advocacy Group and from the arguments put forward by Aoife McLysaght, Tomás Ryan, Gabriel Scally and so many others, of the dangers of increased spread of the virus due to a lack of controls on travel. We must accept, therefore, that travel is a factor. We must also accept the need for more extensive controls on borders and a more robust policy on this island and a cross-Border strategy.

We must ensure that we follow of New Zealand and other countries and do repeat what we did last summer. We came close to zero Covid, as Fintan O'Toole pointed out in the The Irish Times on Saturday, and we blew it. Had we known then what we know now, we could have adopted a much more effective strategy to tackle and suppress the virus and save lives and livelihoods. Now we know more and now is the time. The amendment that Labour has tabled will give us that chance. As Cillian de Gascun stated, if we do not have quarantine for incoming travel, tackling Covid becomes like "trying to fix a leak with the tap running ... If you can turn off, at least it gives you an opportunity to fix the leak." Let us take the opportunity. We are supporting the Bill but we want to make it more extensive and for it to give us more effective strategies to fight this awful virus.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Seachtain na Gaeilge atá ann mar sin tá mé chun an Ghaeilge a úsáid i dtús báire. Tá sé an-tábhachtach go bhfuil an t-ábhar seo á phlé againn. It is hard to do everything that everybody wants in every way. Some people want the whole country opened up and some people want it closed down. It is a difficult time that we are in and everybody thinks he or she is right.

I appreciate the fact that we are taking our advice from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Sometimes, one has to ask whether there are any experts left in the world or whether we are all the individual experts, based on our swiping through social media and wanting to come up with objections. We have to thread carefully because this is a serious pandemic in which people are dying and we need to do the right thing. We need to rely on bodies such as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control to get advice, as well as on people like the Chief Medical Officer. To that end, I welcome the mandatory quarantine of travellers from the 20 countries. Of course, I note that the Minister for Transport and the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, have indicated that if the list of countries needs to be extended then they will do that. This is informed by public health advice and about case and variant numbers.

It is important to note that Ireland is the only country in the EU to bring in this mandatory quarantine. It also is important to remember that many people from these countries already live in Ireland and have been living here for years. Let us not forget that either lest one thinks, on meeting anybody from one of those countries, that he or she has it. I have heard that already, and even suggested on national media by some who are opposed. We have to be careful around this and how we word it.

We really need to take a step back and realise that the people in charge, such as National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, and the Government, are trying to do their best and want to solve this problem as much as, if not more than, everybody else in Ireland. It seems to be acceptable to presume that the Government is trying to not solve the problem and wants to mess with people's lives when the exact opposite is true. The Minister has a serious responsibility. It must have been very difficult for the Minister. My role as a Senator representing the Government is challenging at this time not to mention what it is like to be the Minister for Health in a pandemic. We need to show compassion and respect for people who are trying their best, and maybe are actual experts, not people who have many followers on social media because they have an alternative viewpoint. We have to be careful about that because people's lives are at risk.

I wanted to ask about one issue. There is a national vaccine roll-out through the GP service. People are told to wait until their GP calls them but I have 94-year-olds wondering how come they have not been vaccinated yet although their GP has been doing the vaccinations for the past few weeks. There may be something in the communication from the HSE to the grassroots level where people are sitting around all day every day waiting for that phone call to come about the vaccination.

I support this Bill. I wish the Minister the best of luck with his endeavours. We are all trying to do our best here to get to the end of this terrible time and we have to respect one another as we try to do our best.

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire.

As the Minister will be aware, Sinn Féin will continue to play its part in the collective, and importantly all-island, effort in ending the Covid nightmare that our people and people throughout the world have been burdened with for over a year.

On handling the virus, we take our guidance from the medical experts on the measures that are needed to eliminate it. Influenced by the direction from the medical experts, we have offered up solutions to the problems created by the Government in its handling of the Covid-19 emergency. In particular, Sinn Féin proposed amendments to the Government's plans in this health Bill last week in the Dáil. Several amendments were tabled, all of which the Government voted down in the full knowledge that its proposals will merely repeat past failures and will make it much more difficult to get to the point where the people of this nation are safe and societies, both North and South, can be reopened on a confident and secure basis.

While Sinn Féin in the Dáil welcomed the broad thrust of the Bill, and I do the same here today in the Seanad, as other colleagues have said it does not go far enough. The Bill resembles a plan to live with the virus when the plan we need for the betterment of all our people is ultimately to eliminate the virus, and that is not good enough. Last week was a week of confusion and mixed messaging from the Government yet again. Why, for example, was the hotel quarantine Bill handed over to the Department of Health in the first place? This is surely a matter for the Ministry of transport, and not of health. The priority for the Minister for Health should be the roll-out of the vaccination plan, which has been a debacle since the start.

One year after the virus arrived in Ireland, thousands of people in this State and in the North have died from Covid. I, again today, extend my thoughts and sympathies to all those who have lost loved ones as a result of this virus. Tens of thousands of people were infected and on three occasions, societies have been in lockdown with the consequences of which we are all well aware.

Front-line workers continue to be faced with uncertainty as they still face the burden of holding the line while the Government wobbles from one position to the next. Only today, it is shocking to hear the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors state that members of the Garda have had no operational guidance or instructions on how to enforce the quarantine restrictions. In the context of the Garda being expected to check on people who have recently entered this State and who have not engaged with the Department of Health's quarantine process, this is unacceptable.

This is unacceptable. According to Garda representatives, the only gardaí enforcing quarantine belong to the Garda National Immigration Bureau, which has conducted some house and hotel visits. In the absence of proper instruction and guidance to gardaí generally, can we hope to see full compliance from those who are not engaging with the Department? Considering the number of people being allowed to enter the State, An Garda Síochána in general will have to be active in enforcing quarantine restrictions. Therefore, through the Minister of Health, I call on the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, to meet with Garda representative organisations to ensure the Garda Commissioner issues full and clear instructions to the front-line gardaí who have to enforce quarantine guidelines.

This situation and the disgraceful scenes witnessed in Dublin at the weekend, when anti-mask protesters confronted and attacked gardaí on the streets, highlight the need to vaccinate gardaí urgently. Neither I nor the Garda representative organisations are calling for priority to be given to gardaí over more vulnerable sections of society but if gardaí must confront people who refuse to take necessary precautions and indeed spit and cough in their faces, their need to be vaccinated is clear.

The amendments that were rejected in the Dáil last week remain valid. Sinn Féin is putting forward the amendments again here in the Seanad because we are keen to have a proper debate on them and, hopefully, to give Seanadóirí the opportunity to vote in favour of them. The Sinn Féin amendments cover the following crucial areas: practical steps to ensure data is shared North and South to ensure the relevant officials in this State are aware of those who arrive via Belfast, for example, who require to quarantine; to ensure all travellers are required to have a post-arrival polymerase chain reaction, PCR, test; to extend quarantine requirements to all arrivals into the State, not just those from 20 designated states; to ensure the Minister for Health consults the Chief Medical Officer and other Ministers when designing regulations; and to provide for the Dáil to approve the regulations and to put in place a timeframe of seven days for the commencement date of the Act.

We need strong action now to prevent new variants of the virus being imported, as the Minister has said and rightly acknowledged, and to protect the vital vaccination programme over the coming months. That means we have to follow NPHET’s advice, remove discretional movements, have PCR testing post arrival here, extend mandatory hotel quarantine to arrivals from all countries and ensure there is mandatory quarantine for all non-essential arrivals during the Bill’s three-month sunset clause.

Too many mistakes have been made in this Government's international travel policy and lessons must be learned. We need to take measures that will help to allow the people of the State to get back to some level of normal life. The best way we can do that is to drive the virus down and to prevent it and new variants from reseeding. Closing the door to unchecked international travel for the time being should be one part of this plan. Related to the need for more comprehensive mandatory hotel quarantine is the urgent need to expand the checks and balances currently in place. The priority in this regard must be the introduction of a mandatory PCR test post arrival for all non-essential arrivals. This is about closing the net and managing and minimising the risk. We need to ensure passenger data is shared in real time from Belfast to Dublin so that the authorities here know who should be presenting at a designated facility so that An Garda Síochána can contact them if they do not. This makes sense.

With the indulgence of the Cathaoirleach, and seeing as others did not use all of their time, I want to say we need to acknowledge the impact that all of this will have on the aviation sector. The Government has failed to fully support the sector and its workers. The level of State support is a fraction of what is required. Very significant investment will be needed to protect that sector. It should come with conditions to protect workers' jobs and air routes and to deliver on climate change goals. The elimination of the virus should be the number one priority. If Sinn Féin’s amendments are accepted, they will place every one firmly and irreversibly on that road.

I will conclude by responding to Senator Craughwell’s point about the Border. I do not know what the Senator’s obsession is with having boots on the Border, considering that the whole momentum of this State and of political life here has been that one could not and should not be trying to police the Border. A comprehensive fortress Ireland should be in place. If we can do that for animal health, for cattle, it should be in place for people. It is not too late to take that approach.

I welcome the Minister to the Seanad. Many of us in this House called last summer and autumn for action on the question of hotel quarantine or supported quarantine measures. When we talk about zero Covid being a fantasy, we should bear in mind that we were down to the very low double figures at that point. Zero Covid was in sight in Ireland at that time. It may well seem very far out of reach now but we were at that point. There had been calls for action on that throughout the summer, and during our many debates in the autumn.

In that context, it is frustrating that the Government put so much energy into refusing debate on this issue and that now we are presented with all Stages of a Bill at once. It is not good enough. It was one thing in June and July in a newly formed Seanad for all Stages of Bills to be pushed through because it was an emergency but practically a year later to have all Stages of legislation being taken at once is not good enough. It is no longer okay. When that happens, mistakes are made. None of us thinks this is a simple or a magic bullet solution. We all know this is an incredibly complex area and we need the minds of all Oireachtas Members to be applied to make sure we produce good and careful legislation in this area.

I note a smaller aspect of transport but one which is of immense importance to people. When the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage brought forward legislation that tied eviction protection to within a 5 km radius, we asked him to give himself the permission to extend it so that people would be protected from eviction at a 10 km or 20 km radius. However, there was no time to take on board those amendments. These are the kinds of mistakes we are making again and again.

Like many other Members of the House, I will be proposing a more extensive approach to mandatory quarantine and I will be supporting amendments from others. My amendment, which is perhaps a more moderate one, is to ensure that at the least there is consistency when applying these criteria. We hear of xenophobia but it seems very strange to look at a list that is almost entirely made up of countries from the global south when, for example, we know the United States has all the Covid variants and, indeed, new variants such as B1427-B1429. We need to be consistent when applying criteria. We need to be very careful there is no element of favouritism or xenophobia in terms of which countries are designated or not. A clear measure would be to have a wider designation. At a minimum, there needs to be clear criteria.

I am going to talk about all those who are not quarantining, because it is the missing piece. If the Minister, as is likely the case, does not accept amendments put forward today to extend hotel quarantine to all, what will be done in respect of the others? What has been done in terms of non-essential travel overseas? Are we even checking if people have two-week return dates on their flights? Are there business people, as we have heard, who have a one-week return date, which means they clearly do not intend to quarantine? In this debate, everyone has spoken about mandatory quarantine and quarantine. Quarantine is meant to happen already for everyone who comes into the State. What we are talking about here is mandatory hotel quarantine. The fact that people say it is disruptive indicates that there seems to be some understanding that people do not really need to quarantine. That is not good enough. What are the follow-ups in regard to everyone who comes in? What checks in place five days later? How do we check people's travel plans? We need more information on that.

I have a number of concerns in relation to some provisions of this Bill which should have been addressed. I am concerned the fines will have a disproportionate impact on those of a certain socioeconomic background. If one were a wealthy person, the difference between €2,000 and €4,000 might not be considered much. If a person is not wealthy, a €4,000 fine could be a quarter of his or her annual income. We are in a situation where these fines could have a disproportionate impact on those with lower incomes. This issue needs to be looked at. I tried to put forward an amendment to give the Minister the power to adapt to those measures and adjust the costs to reflect issues such as an inability to pay. We do not want a situation where someone is avoiding quarantine because he or she is afraid of the cost.

International protection is a concern. We need to make sure the same high standards of quarantine and protection are given to everyone who arrives in this State. Concerns have been expressed by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, ICCL, in regard to ensuring proper provisions around the conditions in quarantine situations. There are health conditions which are vital in terms of ventilation and access to prescriptions, medicines and to dietary choice. There are a number of really key issues. That is why I wish we were having this debate in a proper way, where we could refine the essentials that are needed in terms of good quality and safe human-rights compliant measures in hotel quarantines. I wish we had done more on that and had more time for it.

I have other points which I will come to over the course of the debate. I regret we will not have the opportunity to tease them out in a positive way.

My last point addresses my core issue. Let us ensure this House gets a report a month before an extension and that it is given adequate time, so that each three-month extension, if there are extensions, is informed by learning from how it has been applied and we do not continue to make the same mistakes.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, to the House. This is important legislation. I acknowledge Senator Higgins's concerns, which are fair, on the length of debate. They should be taken on board. I am glad to see a sunset clause in the legislation for three months' time. I am sure we will find ample opportunity to address those concerns at that point. It should provide the House with a greater opportunity to explore how the legislation is working, whether there are human rights concerns, whether it is being operated effectively and whether we are managing things as we should be.

There is no doubt that the public has demanded and wants this legislation. I am glad to see it coming before the House. I am also glad we took time, as a Government, to think about the impact of it. It has been acknowledged by a number of Ministers and those in the Opposition that what has been proposed is quite draconian. These are significant restrictions on people entering our country. A two-week quarantine is no joke. It is a considerable length of time to be detained at a facility, potentially against one's will. However, it is being done in the interest of public health and to protect the public. It is the balance we are trying to strike.

The three-month sunset clause is quite short. I think it is to acknowledge the concerns people have. I have said a number of occasions in this Chamber that the restrictions we have placed on citizens over the past year and the additional restrictions we are placing on citizens coming back and people who are not citizens were decisions which were not entered into lightly. These are significant restrictions on people's civil liberty and that must be acknowledged.

We are fortunate to be in a functioning democracy where parliamentary oversight is operational. We have an opportunity to have our say on this legislation. However, it is always worth remembering that democracy is fragile. We must protect it and acknowledge that it is valuable. It is always important to have a break in these types of laws so that we have an opportunity to assess how they are going. We should not assume unrest arises elsewhere and does not happen here. It can happen here and it happened at the weekend. It was quite minor but it gives a taste of what can happen when things get out of hand.

Questions will be asked in the coming weeks about the facility, about how it is operating and about the kinds of services people have access to in terms of food and ventilation, which Senator Higgins raised. People will have concerns but, as a Government, we have been quite good in being forthcoming in answering questions on the pandemic and I am sure this will be no different.

I have previously expressed concern about the workload on the Minister's Department, not just on him as the lead Minister but on his team and officials. It is a huge amount of work. I have previously questioned why this is being brought in under the Department of Health. It looks, walks and talks like a justice Bill and it should have been brought in under the Department of Justice. We are talking about detention, criminality and criminal offences. It sounds as though it should be a justice Bill.

I am not sure we will get any answers to that. I understand it is part of the Cabinet discussions and I am sure there was good reason for it. However, the Minister is only one person. There is a limit to what one person can deal with on an ongoing basis. It seems a huge additional workload on top of being the Minister for Health, Covid-19, vaccines and everything in between. To put quarantining on top of that workload is a huge burden, not just on the Minister but on the team and the Department. The Minister is as entitled as any member of Government to get some sleep and have a day off but I am sure he has not had a day off since he took up this brief.

The incredible level of work the Minister is putting into his job must be acknowledged. Few sitting around the Cabinet table are putting in the hours he is putting into the job and that must be acknowledged. We are quick to lay blame when mistakes are made but Members of this House or of the Dáil are human. There is a limit to what one person can do and can take. Many Members of both Houses have not acknowledged the level of work placed on the Department of Health, at what is probably the most difficult time in its history.

There is much work there. That should be acknowledged and the Minister and his team should be commend on all the work they are doing.

I welcome the legislation which has been led by the public who want it. However, as a Government, we will have to be on hand and ready to answer any questions that may arise in the coming weeks. I look forward to the continuing debate on this legislation in three months' time when we will have an opportunity to assess how it is all working.

I call Senator Seán Kyne who is sharing time with Senator Barry Ward.

Yes. We have two and a half minutes each.

I welcome the Minister. The last two speakers respectfully suggested that this legislation should have been brought in by the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the Minister for Justice, Deputy Helen McEntee. However, it is a health Bill protecting the health of the nation. That is the rationale behind it.

We have passed the anniversary of the first Covid case in this country and the basic armoury we have is still with us which is keeping our distance, proper cough etiquette, washing our hands and following the rules even if one disagrees with them. The actions of many of the protesters at the weekend were a disgrace, as were the elements that attacked An Garda Síochána for upholding law and order and the law of the land. People are fed up. We are all fed up but we must propose and debate laws that come before us. Cabinet must debate recommendations that come from NPHET but it is hugely important that when laws are passed and signed we abide by them.

The vaccination roll-out is going on. Unfortunately, as of last Friday, some GPs had still not received their supply in my part of Galway. There were some issues with Inis Meáin and the Aran Islands which had not received the vaccine supply. It was due to come from Inis Oírr but it did not. The Minister might check that out because it is important. As I said, the basic armoury that we have is one element and vaccinations are another. The ramping up of vaccinations is welcome as is the fact that we will have 1 million doses coming in and administered by April, hopefully.

Quarantining has to be the last resort. It is important that it is used for some countries only. There are people who suggest we could have quarantined everybody who came into this country from last autumn. Unfortunately, the people who came home for Christmas brought Covid with them or picked it up along the way, obviously not intentionally, and people lost their lives as a result. To talk of locking everybody up in quarantine for 14 days is very difficult. The Government has decided to take on a huge task but it is the right thing to do for certain listed countries. It can be kept under review and added to. I have run out of time but this is a welcome and important debate.

I am deeply uncomfortable with the provisions in this Bill which does not mean they are not necessary or proportionate in the current circumstances. I have read the concerns expressed by many organisations, in particular non-governmental organisations, including the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, ICCL. I welcome the fact it has looked into this even if it may not have had the time it would have liked to examine all the provisions.

It is important to say that when somebody is in the custody of the State, be it the Garda, Prison Service or even psychiatric care, each one of those institutions has a very important statutory oversight agency, whether it is the Inspector of Prisons, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission or the mental health tribunals. They have a very clear oversight function in respect of persons in the custody of the State. I note this Bill does not specifically provide for such oversight. That is one of the concerns raised by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, for example, and I agree with it. However, this Bill does not stop the Minister from putting that oversight in place, even though it might not be contained in the Bill. We are a few weeks away from implementing this but given that it is coming under the Department of Health, the Minister still has an opportunity to implement those oversights and I encourage him to do so. I agree with suggestions from other speakers that it should be a justice Bill but that is another day's work.

I raise a concern over the provisions of the new section 31AA which appear to make the provisions of this Bill retrospective. There will be issues with that if a prosecution or enforcement measure is sought under the provisions of that section. Perhaps the Minister will take the opportunity to address that.

I may address this final issue on Committee Stage.

This is the third time we have amended the Health Act 1947. I understand why that is the case. I agree with suggestions that doing it in a day is unhelpful. Again, however, I understand the exigencies of the current circumstances. Amendments to the Health (Amendment) Act 2020 were put forward on the previous occasion and these identified what we said were flaws in it. The matters to which those amendments related are not addressed in this Bill, even though we are amending the same sections of the 1947 Act. Has the Minister had an opportunity to think about that? Has the Department given any consideration to the issues that were raised during the debates in this Chamber last September?

I thank the Minister for attending. There is a distinct feeling of déjà vu about this afternoon's debate. It is another piece of the Governments Covid-19 legislation being driven through the House faster than a speeding bullet. Ironically, the speeding bullet is 12 months too late.

While I can understand the rationale behind expediting the legislative process in respect of an emergency Bill in a time of emergency, I cannot understand it in this instance. It is a grave disservice to this House to yet again deny us the time to scrutinise, debate and amend legislation, assuming the Government would even accept any amendments of merit. This undermines the very constitutional role of the House. The final draft of the Bill, as passed by the Dáil, was sent to me at 5.10 p.m. on Thursday last. This left one hour and 50 minutes to submit amendments. Today, the House has 75 minutes to consider all Stages. This legislation is a perfect example of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. Is it not true that 90% of the cases that have been detected in this country are of the British variant? Yet, Britain is conspicuous in its absence from the list of countries covered by mandatory quarantine.

I find it staggering that the Government has radically curtailed the rights and freedoms of citizens with Garda-enforced 5 km and, at times, 2 km travel limits, yet international travel has continued without any meaningful restriction. How is this fair? How does this make sense? Surely, the Government should be introducing a mandatory quarantine on all non-essential travel into the country. Surely, this makes more sense than a somewhat arbitrary list of countries, mostly located in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, to be covered by mandatory quarantine.

I wish to make another point regarding the increased sanctions this Bill will impose an Irish people travelling overseas without a reasonable excuse. It is important to recognise that many people travel abroad from this country for extremely important reasons, for example, for the sake of their physical and mental health and well-being and for family reasons. People suffering from respiratory conditions and arthritis, for example, need to travel to warmer and drier climates for some relief. The people of Ireland have had the most restrictive Covid-19 measures in Europe placed upon them.

Is the Senator happy to share time?

Excuse me. I am sharing time with Senator Mullen.

I implore the Minister to please get the vaccination programme rolled out as quickly as possible. That is the only way the people of Ireland will get their freedom back.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Chathaoirleach agus leis an Seanadóir Keogan as ucht a cuid ama a roinnt liom. We should always try to give the Government the benefit of the doubt regarding the measures needed to fight Covid-19. We see this, however, as an example of where the credulity of the Oireachtas and the patience of the people are being stretched. It seems ridiculous that, after three waves and many thousands dead, we are only now debating a system of quarantine for incoming travellers. After all, it is exactly 12 months since the controversy about the Irish people who travelled to Cheltenham and returned, many clearly bringing the virus with them.

This legislation must be supported in principle. We must try to stop Covid-19 at the borders, where possible. I wonder whether it is a little too late, however. If the UK, for example, lifts all restrictions on 21 June as planned, will that negate the effect of and the possibilities relating to this legislation? Can this legislation not simply be evaded by someone getting a flight to Belfast and then freely crossing the Border? Why is the USA being left off the list of restricted countries when cases are still very high there?

Do all these issues render the legislation pointless or ineffectual? Do they make it a piece of virtue signalling by the Government so it can be seen to be doing something?

I acknowledge that the Bill raises significant constitutional concerns. Article 40.4.1o guarantees the right to liberty save in accordance with law. On balance, however, the very limited abrogation of that right in this Bill seems justified and proportionate in view of the clear evidence of virus variants arriving due to foreign travel. That is in stark contrast with the effective abolition of the constitutional right to practice one's religion, however, which we have seen and which I would question. I believe what the Government has done in that area has been outrageous and in flagrant breach of the provisions of the Constitution.

I am sharing time with Senator Byrne - two and a half minutes each. I welcome the Minister to the House and I welcome the legislation. I know it is a figure of speech when we welcome legislation but I wish I did not have to welcome it. I take umbrage with the argument that this legislation is too late. I firmly believe it is better late than never. The figures prove that 1% of the positive cases can be traced back to travel. This Bill, and the Minister can correct me in his summation if I am wrong, is variant related. We will never stop cases by either a travel ban or quarantine. This Bill probably would not be before the House today if it were not for the new variants and it is important that that message is put across. We seem to have got many mixed messages in the contributions earlier. The Minister is right to bring in the Bill.

The time is limited but I will put a couple of questions to the Minister. I welcome the sunset clause. The Minister might give us some indication as to the criteria he will use to extend the provisions in the Bill or when he believes we may have reached a point at which the measures could be finished or stopped. In that respect, where and when will vaccinations start to affect the way we allow people to travel? I refer to somebody who has been vaccinated for a prolonged period before they travel. When does the Minister see that playing into when and how we can allow freedom of travel?

In the debate to date, and I accept it is a natural thing because it is the same when one talks to people outside this House, we seem to concentrate, even in the language we use, on airports. I stress that the Minister must make sure the measure is also policed in our ports. I am aware it is twice as difficult to police in ports. It is much easier to do in airports by virtue of the way people come in through airport channels. Ports, with vehicles and so on, are more difficult to police. Now that we have opened up our connectivity to mainland Europe because of Brexit, it may be even more difficult to police. It is vitally important, however, that we do not get carried away in the language that seems to concentrate on airports. We have to police this at ports also.

I had more points to offer but I have agreed to share my time.

I am very grateful to Senator Daly for sharing time with me. I will echo some of my colleagues' comments. I question the reason this is a health measure as opposed to a justice measure and I also have concerns around civil liberties. I particularly agree with the remarks made by Senator Ward on the need for oversight because while people are in quarantine they do have rights and it is important that those are protected.

In the operation of this measure, and I raised this point with the Minister for Transport also, has consideration been given to the possibility of engaging with some of the tour companies and those who have experience of taking large groups of people from airports to hotels? They are underutilised at the moment and consideration should be given to engaging with a number of them.

I agree with Senator Daly on the question of when we will have freedom to travel because that is a question that will start to arise soon. Once we start to see large numbers of people being vaccinated, particularly the elderly and the vulnerable, the question of who is allowed to travel will arise. The Government needs to give us certainty on the question of vaccine certification, which will be the next step. Some response on that will be helpful.

I raise again the classification of family carers as key workers.

We need clarification from the national immunisation advisory committee, NIAC, on that as a matter of urgency.

Senator Keogan said, “Better late than never”, on Government policy. I welcome her conversion because she now talks about a rapid roll-out of the vaccine programme, yet in this very House, on 10 November, she asked questions about the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine. I think it is very rich to go from vaccine sceptic to now be criticising the Government about the speed of the programme.

One of the other issues that has to be addressed is around some of the conspiracy theorists, who are the real ones undermining a lot of the effort and who are responsible, ultimately, for what happened on Grafton Street this week, including conspiracy theorists in these Houses. There are people in these Houses who have been driving the conspiracies around Covid and other matters, and they need to be called out. Those political parties which have those people as members, as Deputies, need to call them out and get them to apologise for their actions.

I call Senator Paddy Burke, who is sharing time with Senator Garret Ahearn.

I welcome the Minister to the House. It is hard to get everything into two and a half minutes. The Minister has a hard task and I have great sympathy for him. Like Senator Chambers, I also think this should be a justice Bill but, as the Minister has control of health, I presume that is why he is dealing with this legislation.

Like Senator Ward, I have questions to ask in regard to section 31AA. This looks very much like retrospective legislation. I ask the Minister in his summing up to elaborate on this because I would never be in favour of retrospective legislation. I ask the Minister to outline how many fixed penalty points are involved in this retrospective legislation, which is an important point. If we go down the route of retrospective legislation, where will it end in regard to other legislation that has to go before both Houses of the Oireachtas?

The Department is very slow in rolling out antigen testing, which takes place in other countries. We met recently with Aer Lingus pilots, who told us they have been advocating to the Department and the Government in regard to people coming into the country doing a PCR test and that there would be antigen testing at the airport so that, before they left the airport, they would need to have a negative antigen test or they would go straight into quarantine. That has not been rolled out. The Department has been very sceptical about antigen testing, although we read recently that it seems to be going down that road. It is known that other countries use antigen testing in meat plants and in other locations to find out where the problems are. I believe Department of Health staff are using antigen testing and, if that is the case, why is it not being rolled out at airports? Unfortunately, I am out of time.

I welcome the Minister to the Chamber. I acknowledge the number of times the Minister has come to the Seanad, which is very much appreciated. Any time he has been asked to come, he has, and I thank him for that.

I welcome this Bill. As Senator Byrne said, it is funny how Opposition Members seem consistently to change their tack on a few things. They are now all in favour of total lockdown. As Senator Byrne pointed out on Senator Keogan’s contradictions, I remember that back in December she wanted spectators at the All-Ireland final, but now everyone needs to be locked down and to stay at home and be safe.

What the Minister is doing is right. It is important we welcome this. I think I was the first in the Seanad to speak in early October about how we needed to bring in stricter measures in terms of fines to keep people at home and to keep people safe.

The Senator has accused me of saying I wanted spectators at all-Ireland finals.

Yes, Senator Keogan said that.

I wanted two family members of those who were playing to be able attend Croke Park. I did not say spectators.

The real message we need to get out is that while this is an important measure which will hopefully reduce numbers, it is not the only measure. Anyone who thinks locking down the country to prevent people coming in will stop this virus on its own is completely mistaken. There are measures we can all individually take and it is important we do so.

Looking at the protests in Dublin at the weekend, it is clear there is a certain group of people who have no interest in adhering to rules. Statements we make as public representatives have an impact on people like that and give them the justification to do as they please. I find it amazing that 23 people who appeared in court on Saturday or Sunday night were let out on bail. Having witnessed what happened in those protests, it is unacceptable that people were allowed to go home to their supporters and be seen almost as heroes for what they did. I thank the Minister for attending.

May I correct the record?

No. The Senator had her time to speak.

If Members ask for the record to be corrected, they should-----

The Senator can make a brief clarification.

I want to address this. I have a number of questions on the issues I put to the Minister. Can the Minister obtain data from Pfizer or Moderna demonstrating that these vaccines will significantly reduce hospitalisations?

The Senator has an opportunity to make a clarification and is straying.


We are running out of time for the Minister to speak.

I thank all Senators for their contributions. I am delighted to be back. The debate in this House is excellent. I thank Senators for their kind words and for the debate.

This legislation is no joke. I agree with various Senators who said they would never normally support legislation like this. I would never normally support legislation like this. This is emergency legislation and one of the safeguards we have in it is a sunset clause. Every three months, which is a very short period of time, it has to be passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas. That is an important safeguard.

Various Senators raised the amount of time provided for this debate. I was simply told to be here. I had no input into that. Just so we can all remain friends, I am more than happy to debate the Bill for as long as possible because this is serious. It provides for depriving people of their liberty for a two-week period in a designated facility, which they are not allowed to leave, when they have committed no crime. Let us take it as such, and I know we do.

A common issue raised is in regard to the number of countries covered. Various other questions were asked but at the core of this debate has been the suggestion by some that more countries need to be added. Some of the amendments we will discuss would require that all countries be covered. I will address that. When I brought this legislation through the Dáil on Thursday, there were 20 countries on the list. As I stand here, there are 33 countries on the list and, as advised by the Chief Medical Officer, that number can be raised.

Some Senators are saying it needs to be the entire world but we are being led by public health advice on this and we have added the 33 countries that public health officials have advised. It would be incorrect to suggest this legislation is limited to 32 countries; the Minister for Health can designate any number of additional countries. That is important. A wide variety of factors can be considered. Section 38E empowers Minister for Health to designate additional states "where there is known to be sustained human transmission of Covid-19 or any variant of concern or from which there is a high risk of importation of infection or contamination with Covid-19 or any variant of concern by travel from that state". Many factors can be considered in adding countries to the designation.

Critically, any measure that requires mandatory quarantine must be proportionate. It must be in line with EU law and the Constitution. Many statements were made in the Dáil last Thursday to the effect that everybody needed to be added. It was the view of the Labour Party, Sinn Féin and a few others. I made a point on this in the Dáil but it was ignored by the Labour Party and Sinn Féin. I would like to make it again in the hope that it is not ignored: we have included a test for proportionality in order that this legislation will be legally robust. The question before us is whether we want to pass legislation that is not legally robust or legislation that is legally robust and gives us a pathway to everything that is being asked for. That is the question for us as legislators. While we will debate this further when dealing with the first set of amendments on Committee Stage, the main consideration regarding how many countries we add is whether we want a legally robust, evidence-based, public health-led mechanism or one that is not legally robust. That is the question we have to answer.

Various comments have been made to the effect that there is nothing in place and that the country is wide open. It is not. Mandatory quarantine is in place in Ireland for all incoming travellers. Mandatory home quarantine is in place and it is legally enforceable. The preflight PCR test is in place. Fines for non-essential travel are in place. Genome sequencing has been very significantly ramped up. We are now at 15% of all positive tests. Travel visas from a wide variety of countries have been suspended. Domestic travel measures have been applied to people coming into the Republic from Northern Ireland. There are very significant measures already in place. This measure is simply the last of those. I thank Members again for their contributions and I look forward to Committee Stage.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?