“That Dáil Éireann resolves that the Health Act 1947 (Section 31A – Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) (No. 4) Regulations 2020 (S.I. No. 326 of 2020) be and are hereby annulled.”
An bhfuil an tAire réidh?
Vol. 997 No. 1
“That Dáil Éireann resolves that the Health Act 1947 (Section 31A – Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) (No. 4) Regulations 2020 (S.I. No. 326 of 2020) be and are hereby annulled.”
An bhfuil an tAire réidh?
Ar an gcéad dul síos, I want to say that we in the Rural Independent Group have supported each and every measure we have been asked to take, as have the people throughout Ireland. They have put their shoulder to the wheel and accepted anything that was put to them in the hope of defeating and destroying the virus and of flattening the curve. We succeeded in that. As parliamentarians, we did the same thing every time we were asked but we have now gone too far. A lot of nonsense has grown into it.
I appeal for common sense and logic this afternoon. I ask the Government to remove the needless administrative burdens being placed on good businesses up and down the country. We are asking for fair play and common sense. We ask that businesses be allowed to trade safely without unnecessary and illogical administrative burdens that will do nothing to limit the spread of Covid-19. We simply ask that, under section 5(5) of the Health Act 1947, the Government annul and repeal SI 326 of 2020, which relates to the hospitality industry and sporting events and which came into effect just last week, on 3 September.
Over recent days, we have heard from an industry that is bewildered at the regulations which have been signed into law. These have been introduced without any consultation with the industry and without any debate in this House. In most cases they are, quite simply, unworkable. They are decimating the hospitality and tourism industries, in which 100,000 jobs have already been lost this year. There is a risk of a further 100,000 job losses in the coming weeks if regulations are not changed. During the last Topical Issue debate, we heard five Deputies pleading with the Government with regard to the aviation industry.
The regulations included in SI 326 of 2020 have resulted in hotels effectively working under lockdown conditions. There are blatant contradictions contained within the regulations. For instance, a hotel can hold a wedding reception for up to 50 people but may only host a party of six for any other important family event such as a christening, a birthday or, sadly, a bereavement. This is decimating their businesses. It is bizarre, illogical, devastating to the industry and dangerous for the very spirit of our community way of life. The hotel industry has proven itself able to host weddings of 50 people without incident so where is the logic in saying that hotels cannot host a funeral party, christening, communion celebration or birthday party for up to 50 people? There is no logic in it.
The Irish Hotels Federation is pleading with the Government to amend these regulations. Over recent days, the Government has gone to great lengths to downplay the severity of these regulations. It has actually attempted to deny what is included within them. With regard to bistro pubs, contrary to what the Minister has said on "Morning Ireland", the Taoiseach and others have said that regulation 13(1)(c) requires "a record of the substantial meal or meals ordered [...] by each member of a party of persons and each sole person permitted [...] access to the premises". It is clear. I have the statutory instrument here in front of me. The Minister cannot deny what is printed in black and white. Such records must be kept on file for a period of 28 days.
It is there in black and white. This is what is required, despite the Government's best efforts to say otherwise. There is no logical reason that keeping a record of what everyone on a premises orders should be required. It is nonsense. These people are busy enough doing their own things without this messing, as I call it.
This is even less relevant now that the Government has announced that our traditional pubs will be reopened on 21 September. It is like saying "live horse and you will get grass". It is very dangerous ground. The publicans have had two false dawns. They have been so quiet despite getting kicked up and down the road. This morning I heard someone from NPHET saying he was concerned. I know full well that were NPHET to tell the Minister and the Taoiseach that it does not want the pubs to open, the Government would not open them. That would be another breach of trust about which I am very concerned. We will have a situation in law whereby wet pubs can welcome their customers back at long last subject to certain regulations, I emphasise they are happy to work within the regulations, but bistro pubs will have to serve a substantial meal to each customer, take a record of the meal ordered by every customer that enters the premises and keep that for 28 days. Kindergarten children would not come up with this, let alone national school children. In Naíonra Chaisleáin Nua or a playschool they would not come up with this kind of poppycock. It is patent nonsense. This is absolutely a case of losing focus. It is imposing yet another burden on an industry that is struggling to hold on after operating at reduced or no capacity for a prolonged period of time. Keeping records of what every person who enters their premises has ordered for a period of 28 days will in no way help to fight against Covid-19. Limiting funeral gatherings to six people but allowing 50 at a wedding is utterly nonsensical. It only serves to confuse and frustrate the public who cannot see the logic of it and takes the focus away from the important steps of hand and respiratory hygiene that we had to fight against Covid. The washing of hands, respiratory hygiene and keeping clean has all been lost now.
The Government and all of its medical experts have never gone into the territory of telling people to take vitamins. There are good vitamins which people can get in health food shops to make them strong and help them fight these coronaviruses. There is something very sinister about this. The Government never went near it. No one would touch that.
During a meeting of the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response two weeks ago, I asked about the €9 meal. The Minister was there later on that day, or he was in a different room. NPHET advised me that it did not seek the requirements for the €9 meal. Who did? How can the Government take this one step further by requiring pubs to record what the substantial meal was and keeping that for a 28-day period? It is farcical, bizarre and unwarranted. I tell the Minister that this is GUBU territory. I hope that he remembers GUBU; I certainly do.
These regulations also include restrictions on sporting events which is a crying shame. These are even more bizarre. We can have 15 people attend outdoor training but no more than six people in a gym, in a rince scoile, or anywhere we want to have the arts or anything else. It is devastating. When it comes to matches though, our games which are the very essence of our being Irish, our GAA and all of the different games including soccer and all the sports one can name, then only those whose presence is necessary are allowed to attend. This includes the players, management etc. but no spectators except parents of underage kids who are playing and only one of them, at that. At a time when NPHET has asked us to focus on outdoor gatherings rather than indoor ones, it makes no sense that stadiums across the country, such as the famed Semple Stadium in County Tipperary and others my colleagues will mention, as well as local GAA pitches capable of hosting thousands and in some case tens of thousands, cannot have any spectators at our national games. It is truly uafásach, it is bizarre. These games are part of our culture and we will soon have a position where in law supporters can go to a pub to watch the match if it streamed online but cannot stand in the GAA ground to watch it. It is utterly nonsensical. There is simply no logic here and all that this is doing is undermining the efforts being made by everybody to fight against Covid-19.
We all understand the need to be cautious and to have some restrictions on large gatherings but they must be founded in logic and common sense. The restrictions contained in this statutory instrument are simply not logical. They are devastating to life, particularly in rural Ireland where GAA games are the essence of our communities. We are today calling on the Government to admit that it got this wrong. The man that never made a mistake never made anything. The Government should revoke the statutory instrument and should refocus on supporting and fully reopening an industry in a safe but logical manner. Let us stop the nonsense and refocus on the important things that matter, that is, the fight to keep everyone safe and stop working against an entire industry and an entire way of life. That is what the Government is doing; it is going against the people. Let us sit down with the industry, the sporting organisations, all of the different arts people, the musicians and everybody else in a safe manner and stop penalising an entire industry for the failures of others because that is what this is.
Just yesterday Dr. David Nabarro, a special envoy from the Director General of the WHO, said that we need to learn to live with this. Of course we do. We need to move on and save our economy and our mental health. If we are learning to live with it, we have to do so in a way that respects the important aspects of our lives, our culture, our heritage, our games and the very essence of our community and family celebrations. These things are part of the fabric of society. They are what is important in life and what has been shut down and away from people up to now. We cannot accept that the whole country can learn to live with it while throwing these important aspects of our lives and our values to one side. They are a part of who we are and they have to be respected. I appeal to the Minister to do that. I call on Members of Sinn Féin and the Labour Party, who said this legislation was daft, bonkers and railed against it all weekend, as did Members from the Minister's own party including Deputy MacSharry, to come in here-----
I do not want to interrupt the Deputy but his group has ten minutes with five minutes each.
Yes. I am almost finished. I am calling on those Members to pony up, not go out and tell their constituents one thing and then come in here and vote differently. I am calling on them to come in here and walk through the lobbies with us this evening. Let us revoke these measures and have a debate on new measures that will help-----
I call Deputy Michael Healy-Rae.
-----consult the industry and find a new way to live with the virus that respects the very essence of who we are and what makes our country the country that it is.
At the outset I thank Deputy Mattie McGrath and Councillor Máirín McGrath and the people in the Deputy's office for helping to prepare this important motion to come before the House this evening.
It is important that the Minister and the Members who supported the legislation last week and the statutory instrument that has been introduced, look seriously at what they did. The critics of what we are doing this evening should not try to paint us into a box and say that we are doing something that would be prejudicial to public health. To a person, the most important thing for each one of us, including the Minister and everyone else in this House, is people's health. That is the most important thing. It is more important than anything else. It is more important than the economy, money, jobs or anything else. Health is more important than anything. Having said that, common sense also has to prevail. When pubs were allowed to open, nobody would tell me when I asked in the House why it was better for a person's public health that they have a drink in one hand and something to eat in the other. There was no logic in what the Minister did. He should have allowed every pub to open at the same time but what is done is done.
Our motion is about more than just publicans. I am very glad that publicans from County Kerry came up to Dublin today. Indeed, publicans came up here from around the country, although today a lot of people came from County Kerry. They came from north, south, east and west County Kerry. They were very welcome to come here but it is sad to see them coming. These are people whose livelihoods have been torn apart. Their doors have been closed since last March. They came here out of genuine frustration and out of distrust for the Government due to the way it has treated them already. The Government has given them false hope and false starts that never came to pass. That was a very unfair and nasty thing to do. There seems to be an anti-publican trait in this Government and the previous Government. In particular, it seems to be doing all it can to run down the whole pub culture and all of that and that is wrong. There is no need to do that. We should be proud of our tradition of public houses.
Our motion today is about a lot more than just dealing with that issue. I ask the Minister where is the common sense in a situation where it is prejudicial to people's health for a family that has had a bereavement to go to a hotel and have a meal together? It may be family and friends and only six of them can do that. Where is the common sense in that? People can organise a wedding and it can be held in a proper, safe way. It may be in a very large venue.
We have venues in Kerry that can cater for 1,000 people at a wedding. Surely where there could be 1,000 we can have 200 or 300 in a very safe fashion. Pro rata, if we have a hotel that could hold 300 people or 400 people, surely be to God it could have 150 people in a safe way. Common sense has to prevail. Our economy has to be allowed to continue while, most importantly, protecting and minding our older people and people with low immune systems. This is of paramount importance. Nobody is saying here today that we do not care about health or social distancing. We are not saying that, not for one second. What we are saying is the Government seems to be away with the fairies on this one.
We voted how we did last week, but the most horrible thing we saw was where people who supported the Government, voted for the Bill and spoke in favour of it and then went home and kept saying on their local radio stations that it was a step too far and the Government was out of line. For God's sake, they are the people who voted for it. Now they will be given a chance. Thanks to Deputy Mattie McGrath and my colleagues, they will be given another opportunity. They will be able to look into their hearts and souls and decide whether they did the right or wrong thing. I know what they did but all of us are responsible for our own actions. I ask the Minister to look at the powers the Government has given itself, realise it has made a mistake, realise it is doing wrong by the people who want to work and allow them to continue. Let us face into the winter with a little bit of hope and optimism and a little bit of thinking outside the box.
I call on Dáil Éireann to annul the Health Act 1947 (Section 31A - Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) (No. 4) Regulations 2020, SI No. 326 of 2020 because of the restrictions on events in private dwellings and hotels. Throughout the country, the hotel industry showed resilience and the reopening was phenomenal. What the hotels did for staycation holiday makers was unbelievable. How does the Government reward them? It does so with more restrictions. Everyone had their staycations and the media looked at it and showed people throughout the country having staycations and massive crowds. The hoteliers and businesses looked after them. Now the Government has brought forward these restrictions.
It is an overreach of the Government and it is too much. I call on the backbenchers to put their money where their mouths are. Will they support this annulment for the hotels in Donegal and the pubs in Clare, Limerick and Kerry? Will they support this for the IFA, Macra na Feirme and organisations that can have only six at a meeting? There is not one bit of common sense in what has been brought forward. Look at this House. There are 159 Deputies who can all turn up to the building today. We restrict who comes in and out of the Chamber but they can all go to their offices in this building. That is more than 50 people. We are using common sense and we bring masks. We keep our health to the fore. Why can we not give this responsibility to the people of Ireland? The majority of people in Ireland take responsibility for their health and their families, children and surroundings. They are not kindergarten children. We have a minority of people who lack respect for other people. Last week, amendments were tabled that could have changed things. The Bill could have been worded differently to deal with these people but the Government came in with restrictions that make no sense whatsoever.
Someone in my house has an underlying condition. It was diagnosed in February. I have been coming to the House and taking all the precautions I can here and while travelling up and down, watching where I am staying and keeping within an environment to make sure I keep my family safe. The Bill means the Minister is trying to tell me what to do and where to do it. The Covid restrictions have shown that once people travel beyond the speed limits of any city, there is no infrastructure for them to work from home. No public houses were allowed to open. All of the restrictions were put in place and people honoured them. There are places that have not opened since the lockdown. Anyone in a place where there was footfall had infrastructure and could get a taxi to places. Whatever they had to do, they were able to get there. Once people go beyond the speed limit of a city, they are considered rural because of the lack of infrastructure. People in the cities are now trying to get out of them and get space because they are overpopulated. We can see from the airports what they are trying to do. They are trying to get 10 million more people into Dublin while Shannon Airport is being closed. Where are they going for their staycations? They are going down to Kerry, Cork, Galway and Limerick. That is what they are doing but everything is invested in Dublin. Common sense tells us to open up places and put in the restrictions so they are there for everybody. Personal responsibility lies with everyone and the people who go outside those restrictions can be dealt with through the law.
Temporary regulations were brought in for the sole purpose of limiting the spread of Covid-19 to save lives, protect health, get our hospitals, schools and colleges open and allow the economy to function. That is what they are for. The Government opposes the motion to annul these regulations but I welcome the opportunity to discuss them and I thank the Deputies for tabling it. I welcome the opportunity to discuss the plans for opening the pubs and bars in the context of a roadmap which will be published next week.
The regulations in question, the Health Act 1947 (Section 31A - Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) (No. 4) Regulations 2020 are an important part of our efforts to suppress the virus. That is what these regulations are for. As Deputies are all too well aware, the virus is on an upward trajectory in Ireland. An important measure used to track the spread of the virus is the total number of cases in the previous two weeks. In early July, the total number of cases in the previous two weeks in Ireland was three per 100,000 population. Two weeks ago, it had increased from three to 28 and today it is at 35, which is a vast increase in the number of cases. Our total number of confirmed cases has just gone above 30,000 and among those, tragically, as we all know, are 1,778 women and men who have died. We are not at the levels we saw back in April and May but we are on an upward trajectory and this trajectory is causing a great deal of concern. Many countries in Europe face similar problems. Earlier, I spoke with my counterpart in Denmark where on Monday new measures were introduced as that country faces a rise in cases.
If the first chapter of this fight against Covid was flattening the curve, I would say we are now in the second chapter, which is to suppress the virus so we can open our society and economy. We are always seeking ways to strike the right balance in how we do this while we live in a world where Covid is present. I recognise, as does the Government, that pubs and bars can form part of the social fabric in many communities. I absolutely accept this. For many, they offer an important social outlet and the delay in reopening the pubs, which nobody wanted, has implications for those who rely on them for their livelihoods, including the publicans and the many men and women who work in the sector.
Yesterday, as the House will know, the Government decided that all pubs and bars will be able to reopen on 21 September without the requirement to serve substantial meals. We need to be very clear that this is subject to the epidemiological situation at the time and the application of any potential localised measures. As part of the implementation of the necessary protective measures, and because we know that when these pubs open they will do everything they can to operate in a safe manner for their staff and customers, Fáilte Ireland's guidelines for reopening pubs are being updated. Until then, the regulations provide that a service or business that is selling or supplying alcohol for consumption on the premises may not open to the public other than where the alcohol is ordered at the same time as a substantial meal is ordered, during the meal or after the meal has ended, and consumed during the meal or after the meal has ended. In other words, if one is in a place that serves alcohol, one needs to have a substantial meal. That is the deal and it is based on solid public health evidence of what has happened abroad. When restaurants opened they did not see clusters of cases, but when pubs opened without food being served they did see a rise in the number of clusters of cases. That is what has underlain this measure from day one. This requirement has been in place since the end of June. The recent regulations, to which Deputies have referred and which were the subject of much debate last week, simply enforce that requirement. That is all they do.
It is important to say that the vast majority of premises selling alcohol for consumption on the premises operate in compliance with the regulations. The hospitality sector, however, including restaurateurs and publicans, has asked in that small number of cases in which there is non-compliance for a way to enforce the regulations. Members of An Garda Síochána have made the same point, that up until now there has been very little they can do. I put it to the Deputies that in the first instance this is not in line with public health measures and, second, it is grossly unfair on the vast majority of publicans who are operating within the guidelines. We therefore introduced a regulation providing that in such circumstances the pub in question could be asked to produce proof of sale of the meals. This can be done very simply in the form of till receipts, which every restaurant and pub already keeps for six or seven years for its VAT returns. Put simply, a small number of pubs where alcohol is being sold are operating as pubs and essentially pretending they serve food, that is, pretending that substantial meals are served. We know this. We have heard publicans and restaurateurs talk about it. There might be a scattering of empty pizza boxes. All this regulation means is that a garda can walk into a premises and if the publican says he or she has sold substantial meals, the garda can ask to take a look at the till receipts. That is it. That is all the regulation does.
These public health measures were designed to suppress the virus and keep people safe. The regulation contains data protection provisions that stipulate the purposes for which the data collected may be used. It refers to data being collected that may be used by three specific parties. The first is a specified person who is in charge of the premises for the purposes of complying with the regulations or of providing information to the HSE for contact tracing, which is critical. The second is the HSE, again for the purposes of contract tracing. The third is An Garda Síochána, in order that it can monitor compliance with the regulations or enforce in a small number of cases in which that may be required. These are all essential parts of our measures to combat Covid-19 and, therefore, essential parts of the regulations. The Data Protection Commissioner has said the stated aim of the Government in procuring compliance with the regulations through inspections by An Garda Síochána in the context of the pandemic is sufficient justification for the level of interference that arises.
The motion proposed by the Deputies includes the annulment of many other health regulations, including those relating to events and gatherings. If these were to be annulled, the provisions limiting the size of gatherings indoors and outdoors for social, recreational, exercise, cultural, entertainment or community reasons would also be annulled. This would be hugely damaging to our efforts to suppress the virus, keep people safe and, ultimately, reduce the virus in the community to a point where the schools can open up, the hospitals can stay open, the restaurants can open and the pubs can open. The regulations also specify that a person should not organise a social or recreational event in a private dwelling unless the number attending does not exceed those residing in the private dwelling plus an additional six from no more than three households. Again, should the regulations be annulled, these provisions would also be annulled. Finally, the regulations also do not permit the public to access nightclubs, discotheques, casinos or private members' clubs. Should the regulations be annulled, as is proposed, these provisions would be annulled. I can tell the Deputies with absolute certainty that the evidence internationally is that if these regulations were to be annulled, the number of cases of Covid in this country would rise very high very quickly, and we know from what is happening here and what has happened in places such as Florida that after the cases go up, the hospitalisations go up. The cases move from younger people to older people, and then we see the fatalities rise. That is what happens. That is what we are all working so hard to avoid.
A lot of fake news.
As I said, we are looking at an increase in the number of cases at the moment, and that is a concern. Many other countries are seeing such a resurgence. In order to deal with the resurgence we need to ensure we strike a balance between necessary restrictions for the protection of people's health and allowing people to live their lives and communities to gather and socialise. That is why restaurants and pubs serving food could reopen, subject to the substantial meal requirement, and why pubs which do not serve food will be able to reopen in two weeks' time. Again, this is subject to the trajectory of the virus.
The Government, through the regulations, continues to support our community - and I know that everyone in this House feels the same way - and to reinforce solidarity and togetherness by providing appropriate monitoring and enforcement. It is for this reason the Government opposes the motion.
Tá áthas orm labhairt ar an rún seo. Ní raibh aon ghá leis an rún seo in aon chor ach rinne an Rialtas botún seafóideach agus, dá bharr sin, tá orainn an rún seo a chur os comhair an Rialtais inniu. De bharr an bhotúin a rinne an Rialtas, tá postanna i mbaol agus tá sé ag cur éileamh seafóideach ar thithe tábhairne agus ar bhialanna ar fud an Stáit. The motion, while important, should not have been necessary. It seeks to rescind the statutory instrument introduced last week in the name of the Minister for Health. Like so many other self-inflicted wounds and communication disasters by this Government, all the statutory instrument has done is to take away time and energy from our ability to focus on actual problems that need urgent attention. There are grave and growing problems we should be talking about today, for example, rent increases, the lack of affordable accommodation, the paralysis in health and the forestry sector, flooding within the regions, including along the Shannon, and the difficulties in the agricultural sector with the onset of Brexit, but instead we are trying to talk sense into a Government that speaks nonsense on this issue.
The statutory instrument was an answer to a question nobody asked. It was another totally unnecessary measure. As Pat Leahy of The Irish Times put it, the criminal enforcement Bill which was debated here last week was nothing more than performative politics. The exact same could be said of the instrument we are seeking to have annulled today. The instrument looks and sounds like a meaningful gesture but in reality is nothing short of absurd. The reaction from the sectors and industries most impacted has been scathing. Hotels in my constituency remain at a loss to understand the rationale behind the capacity and guest limits that have now been established. There is no clear sense that the Government understands the day-to-day operational realities that many hotels face.
These hotels are major local employers but the Government has not listened to them or asked for their experience. Has the Minister said at any time that perhaps those who have spent a lifetime working in the sector know something? The answer is "No", of course. Instead, the Government has doubled down. Like the description of the Bourbon dynasty, the Government parties learned nothing and forgotten nothing. They actively persist in clearly wrong-headed policies because they do not have the humility, or perhaps the capacity, to admit a mistake that may yet end up causing job losses and closures in Laois-Offaly and constituencies beyond. Many are now considering if there is a vendetta against pubs, hotels and restaurants. At one time we would have put such remarks down to an excess of imagination but now it is not so easy to dismiss these concerns. The official Government line is that it wants to see hotels, restaurants and pubs fully operational and open but this week we have seen even more so-called guidance down to the kind of decorative umbrellas pubs should not use on cocktail drinks. This kind of nonsense highlights the patronising stance the Government has, perhaps unwittingly, adopted towards the sector.
I am glad to support this motion to nullify and rescind the statutory instrument or blank cheque that was given to the Minister for Health last week. I thank the Kerry publicans who came up here today to fight their case, including the O'Callaghan brothers of the Fáilte Hotel in Killarney, Pat the Tatler Jack and the other publicans that left Kerry early this morning and will not be back until late this evening to make a case and try to bring common sense into the industry, which should have been there all year. The Minister brought in a Bill last week to deal with a small number of pubs, which he believed were not serving food with the drink they served. Six days later, he comes out and says he will open all wet pubs. What kind of lunacy are they at? Are they gone stone mad?
I am glad the Fianna Fáil backbenchers, such as Deputy MacSharry, and Ministers of State, such as Deputy Rabbitte, will get a chance to vote with us because they said they were sold a pup last week. I am glad Sinn Féin will get a chance, because they voted with the Government, as they also did to reduce our speaking time. Sinn Féin said Government actions last week were nuts, just hours after voting for it. Deputy Kelly said it was bonkers and he will have a chance this evening or tomorrow, whenever the vote is, to vote against the Bill that was brought in last week.
The Government today say they will open all pubs on 21 September. I do not believe it. I am sure no pub would be left open were it not for the savage pressure put on the Government last weekend when people realised what it was after doing. It is hard to make sense of this Government. When there was less than ten cases a day, it would not allow the pubs to open. Now there are 320 cases a day and it can open the pubs no bother. It is hard to make sense out of that.
The carry-on by the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach is disgraceful. The Tánaiste tweeted that he could not understand why pubs were closed. He closed them last March and he kept them closed in June. As Tánaiste, he did not allow them to open on 20 July, 10 August or 13 September as he promised but he is saying he will open them on 21 September. I do not believe him. He said the Bill was to follow up on a small number of rogue pubs and he told us that NPHET advised the Government that pubs serving drink should have to serve food. NPHET denies this. Did the Government think this up or was it Fáilte Ireland? I want to know and the publicans of Ireland want to know. I asked before how the virus would know whether you were having a meal with your pint or whether you were not having it at all.
As for the Taoiseach, it was wrong of him to come out last Friday night and categorically deny that he wanted to know what people were eating for 28 days. The Minister for Health should not shake his head because that is what the Government parties looked for and those were the regulations they sent out to the pubs and restaurants. The Taoiseach came out on Friday night and contradicted that. It is misleading to go on like that. It is trying to mislead honest people who are trying to survive. Deputies and Ministers are saying one thing and voting the other way in this Chamber.
The people of Ireland have lost confidence in the Government. Can the Ceann Comhairle picture a man and his son on the roof of a car in Beaufort last weekend trying to watch a match from the roadside? Two more men were on the one ladder trying to see the same match. The Taoiseach promised before the holidays that he would work with the GAA to see how more people could be let into sports fields and pitches to watch games. This is the result. This Government has done more U-turns than any other in the history of the State. We are on the fourth Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in 2020. We have lost our trade portfolio at the most critical time in our history even though MEPs and officials should have special exemptions to travel back and forth from Europe similar to the Ministers for Health or Foreign Affairs and Trade. There should be some special way of dealing with all of that.
An eminent barrister, Constance Cassidy, SC, claimed that the measures put in place last week were "ill-judged, ill-considered, ill-formulated and ill-understood, even by the very Ministers responsible for [their] introduction". I feel she is referring to the Minister for Health because he was asked last Friday morning and he said he knew little about it. He went on the run then from five other radio stations that could not find him at all. This is what we have to put up with and I ask the Deputies that voted with the Government last week to vote against them this week.
Sinn Féin has consistently set out a common sense approach to tackling the pandemic. This is in stark contrast to the approach of the Government at times, which includes ideas many people see as bonkers, mixed messaging and missed targets in respect of testing and tracing. We proposed an amendment to the motion, which was ruled out of order. This amendment called for the removal of the substantial meal requirement and meal recording regulations, which would allow the remaining closed pubs to reopen as gastropubs have done. It never made sense to me and it does not make sense to many people that one has to have a substantial meal. We are going to see the pubs open. They should be open as quickly as possible to give all pubs an opportunity to open safely within the rules and guidelines but on the same basis as those which have been open for some time. When there are mixed messages and solutions on the table that do not make sense, people start to lose confidence in the authority of the Government and the messages it delivers.
We want to see an end to the substantial meal requirement and that was in our amendment. We want to see all of the pubs open and we also want to see more social outlets for people as we grapple with this virus and learn to live with it.
Unless we have proper treatment and solutions to this pandemic, we will have to live with this virus for some time to come. That means people have to be able to live with the virus. Living does not mean going to work, school or college alone. Living with the virus has to mean that people have social opportunities. Humans have to interact. We have to do so within the guidelines and in a safe manner that keeps pressures off our acute hospitals and front-line staff but we have to provide those outlets. That is why I want to see the pubs open in a safe way across the State, whether it is in the capital city or in any part of rural Ireland.
The Minister should be in direct discussions with sporting and cultural organisations, businesses and trade unions to look at ways in which we can increase attendances at matches. As has been said already, it does not make sense to the public that we cannot have gatherings in stadiums the size of Croke Park, Páirc Uí Chaíomh and other GAA, soccer and rugby stadiums across this State that hold huge numbers of people and can accommodate more people. We have it in the North where there are different regulations and rules and more people can be accommodated outdoors and yet we do not have those guidelines here.
The Minister tells us he will publish his plan next week on how we will live with the virus. The problem I have with the Minister for Health is that he is constantly promising us plans. He has promised us a plan on how to support our acute hospitals and to deal with the winter season that is coming at us and we still have not seen it. He promised us a plan on cancer services and we discussed that last night. Rather than setting out-----
That is not true.
The Minister said there was a pathway to opening up screening services and rather than setting out that pathway, he gave us a restatement of what has happened in recent times, rather than giving us real information on how those services will be opened in the time ahead. The Minister is also saying the Government will come forward with a plan on how to live with this virus but where is the discussion with other parties? Where is the debate on these issues leading into such decisions? If we are all in this together then we have ideas and views as well, as does everyone in this Chamber. The problem is that the Minister for Health and the Government have become part of the problem in respect of how he and other Ministers have badly communicated many of the measures the Government has put in place. The Minister, for example, proposed criminalising people for having friends over.
No, I did not.
The Minister proposed allowing the Garda to have more powers to enter peoples' homes.
The Deputy is saying things that are false.
The Minister's presentation of those arguments and issues was contradicted by the Taoiseach and other Government Ministers minutes and days later. That is a fact.
It is not.
There was fearmongering about having second lockdowns, when the Minister had to be contradicted again by the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and other front-line Ministers. The Minister was also contradicted by the acting Chief Medical Officer. The Minister also did an interview in which he compared children who are going to school and the dangers and risks associated with that with children on trampolines. Such comments, imagery and mixed messaging, as well as the requirement to have to keep records of what people eat in restaurants and bars, were badly communicated. When there is bad communication, as well as mixed messages, bonkers ideas and Ministers contradicting each other, which happened with the Minister for Health and another Minister when the Minister for Health was trying to explain the most recent guidelines, that does not inspire confidence.
The Minister needs to get back to basics. For me, this is simple and it is being made very complicated by a Government that, for whatever reason, is simply unable to communicate on basic issues. The way in which we protect ourselves and combat this virus is to get back to the simple things of making sure that people do what we know they will do, namely, handwashing, cough etiquette, the wearing of masks as best we can - especially indoors - and all those measures we want individuals to carry out.
We also need a Rolls-Royce testing and tracing regime. The anecdotal evidence, despite the figures we are being presented with, suggests that there are problems and that the turnaround time is not what it should be. We are still not up to the numbers promised to us by the HSE and previous Ministers on this issue in recent times. We are told there is capacity for 100,000 tests per week and yet we are still nowhere near doing that. A testing and tracing regime has to be proactive. It has to be used to ruthlessly pursue the virus and hunt it down, which the Government did not do in meat plants. Rather than pointing the finger of blame at people who had nothing to do with these rising cases, the Government should take responsibility for the mistakes it made in meat plants.
The Government should stop with the absolute nonsense involved in some of the regulations it has brought in and the responses that make no sense whatsoever to people. The Government should allow people to be able to live with this virus and communicate with them as best it can. I can tell the Minister about what has happened in recent times because of that miscommunication, silly decision-making, not listening to the Opposition or stakeholders, not going out and communicating with or talking to people who are affected by this, whether it is hotels, bars, the GAA, the FAI or other sporting or cultural organisations and young people. Young people need to live and not just go to school or college. We have to provide people with the opportunities to live and that means theatres, drama and so on and that has to be done within the guidelines. We are hearing today and yesterday from the Government that we could be opening up pubs in two weeks' time but within hours of that there were newspaper reports in which a Government spokesperson said that may not happen because of the rise in the cases. How many more false dawns will we have with the pubs? It will be an absolute disaster if they are faced with another false dawn because the Government is not getting it right with testing and tracing or with its communication.
If we want people to buy in - and people want to buy in - we will have to do the right thing. By the way, annulling all of the restrictions is not the way forward. I do not want to see packed nightclubs or 50,000 people in a stadium. I do not want to see us taking decisions that would be irresponsible but I want to see responsible measures taken by us in this House that will give people an opportunity to keep themselves and their families safe, protect the front-line health services and be able to go and watch a match, go into a pub to socialise and to be able to live their lives within the rules. That needs to happen quickly and if it does not, the authority of the Government will be further undermined.
I am glad to speak on this issue because across the country, thousands of people are doing their best to try to protect society and everybody around them. In general, people have bought into this because of the danger they have seen and the number of people in hospital and who have unfortunately lost their lives because of this Covid-19 virus. At the same time, however, they hear all these mixed messages coming from Government. One of the things we seem to be falling down on all the time, which is clearly the case in the Minister's Department, is that when laws are brought in, they are then transposed into regulations and those regulations seem to have stuff in them that was never mentioned when there was a debate on the legislation or when there was any talk of it before. We had that scenario last week and we had it on other occasions. There is an opportunity there and I know that the pre-legislative scrutiny which would normally take place here in the Legislature for all aspects of what we do throughout the Oireachtas is not possible under the circumstances we are in.
Post-legislative scrutiny should be happening in a more detailed way and we should consider some kind of pre-regulation scrutiny. Before regulations are introduced, there should be some forum in which they could be publicly debated and discussed in order that everybody can hear the pros and cons of the arguments. That would be beneficial not only from the point of view of Members of the Oireachtas and political people, but also from a societal perspective. The key thing we need to do is to get people to buy into all this legislation so there is a unity of purpose about defeating the coronavirus and moving forward.
Unfortunately, the Department of Health and the Minister have been seen to be quite chaotic in that regard and, for many people, incompetent. That is the word that I hear more often than anything else from the public. People do not want that incompetency to be replaced by recklessness, however. We have to be careful of that too. People are genuinely buying into what needs to happen, because they are afraid of what this virus can do to them and to people in their communities. They want to be part of the solution but we have to bring everyone with us and we must work much harder to do that. It makes no common sense, for example, to say that it is possible for 30 people to be on a field to play football, but it is not possible to have 50 or 60 people, mostly standing about 10 m apart, watching them. It makes no sense, especially when those people end up going into a public house somewhere and watching the game on a big screen. That is what is happening all over the country. It defies logic. What needs to happen is for someone to devise solutions which are logical, which work for people and which people will buy into. That needs to happen everywhere.
The situation regarding the pubs has also been messed around for a long time. We have this problem with the pubs because it was done wrongly in the first place. Stating that some pubs can open to serve food but others cannot in a town that might have six pubs, with two of them open and the others looking on, just causes chaos. It means that the two pubs in a town that might be open have more chance of being overcrowded. The Minister's responsibility is to deliver what works for people. I am glad to have this opportunity to put that to him. The reality is that what he has done to date has not worked for the majority of people and there is now an opportunity to change that.
The greatest threat to the response to Covid-19 is a lack of public confidence. I welcome this motion from the Rural Independent Group, not that I support the notion that we have no regulations at all, but because it clearly points out and puts on the record of this House that a dent has been made in public confidence. The Government is responsible for that undermining of public confidence in the measures in place. People are aghast at what they consider to be double standards and, in some cases, doublespeak.
Back in June, our deputy leader in this House, Deputy Doherty, asked the Tánaiste whether NPHET had been asked to prepare regulations that would allow pubs that do not serve food to operate on the same basis as pubs that do. The Tánaiste acknowledged at that stage that the question had not even been asked. This week, those regulations were published and we are now told that pubs that do not serve food will open on 21 September. People are naturally asking why this took so long.
We have had confusion from the outset concerning international travel. The Government advice is, essentially, to not go on international travel. Yet, every morning, one of the first emails I get is from Ryanair, offering me many different destinations to which I could travel at the drop of a hat. I get a similar email later from Aer Lingus. There is clearly confusion somewhere if the airlines are operating on the basis that it is business as usual. This in the context where, in some cases, ordinary, hard-working people, who had holidays booked a year ago, had no recourse. They were told they could travel because the flights were operating. If they did go, however, they would have been vilified and cast as irresponsible, while if they did not go, they would lose their hard-earned money. That is simply not fair.
An attempt has been made on the part of some Government representatives to vilify young people. Threats of members of the Garda raiding people's homes in respect of the Covid-19 restrictions really dented public confidence. The Minister's comparisons of the situation with Covid-19 to car crashes and trampolines also did enormous damage. We are telling a grandad, who has adhered to all the regulations and self-isolated in lonely circumstances for several weeks, that he cannot stand now on the side of a football pitch and watch his grandchild play a championship match, while that same child is getting on a packed bus every day to go to school.
The Minister will understand that it is issues like that which are creating mistrust and unnerving the public regarding the restrictions. The lunatic proposals last week that restaurants and pubs would be expected to keep an itemised record of what every customer ate for 28 days went even further in that regard. All the while, the meat factories continue to operate behind closed doors, with almost no transparency concerning how they operate. It is almost impossible to get answers. I am not sure if the Minister has the answers, because he certainly has not responded with them to my queries.
We need, therefore, to have a rethink and a refocus. We know we need to get this right and we need to win the battle against Covid-19. Our communities have shown that they will respond to clearly understood and sensible restrictions. They will not respond, however, to doublespeak and double standards. Now is our time and our opportunity to ensure we get this right, and I call on the Minister to ensure that we do just that.
I had two meetings today. One was with vintners who had come up from Kerry, old friends from Tralee, such as Pat Creagh, whose pub has been closed for the last six months and Aidan O'Connor from the Greyhound Bar, as well as some new friends from Killarney, who had been there earlier. The other meeting I had was in the Special Committee on the Covid-19 Response. Speaking with vintners and the head of the Vintners Federation of Ireland in recent weeks, they accepted that there was a need for some regulation of their industry, on the basis that there was going to be a sunset clause and, when new regulations were brought in, that they would be allowed to open some time this month. Now, they have a date. They are not completely happy but they are satisfied that they will be able to reopen.
The regulations have been contradictory for months, and not only concerning pubs. I can go to an under-12s game, where there can be 50 people, but no spectators will be allowed at the Kerry county championship game this weekend between St. Brendan's and East Kerry. There have been plenty of contradictions, therefore. Pre-legislative scrutiny was waived when the regulations were brought in and regulations and legislation have been introduced at short notice. The Government has been flying kites regarding whether the Garda will be entering people's homes for communion parties, for example.
In future, as was said by Dr. David Kenny in the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response today, we should have a chance to analyse these regulations. It might be possible to use the New Zealand model to scrutinise proposed regulations. Regulations are disallowed in New Zealand and cease to have effect unless positively affirmed within ten sitting days. Some people clearly had not read the legislation and regulations which went through last week and still believed we were voting on legislation which would allow members of the Garda to enter homes. That was not the case.
This motion could lead to no regulations at all. I cannot agree with that, but the regulations to date, according to Dr. Kenny's submission, have created confusion among "members of the public; erode[d] public trust in communication about the law; and [have been] an abuse of State power, implying a legal threat that does not exist". That type of regulation cannot continue to exist.
I note that no Minister is in situ at present.
The Minister of State with special responsibility for public health, Deputy Feighan, is here.
I note the presence of the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, and I am very sorry that the senior Minister has taken it upon himself to leave during a discussion on such an important motion. There is no doubting that the regulations are overkill but I worry that the motion before us now, if it succeeds, would result in annulling all the regulations, and that could also be overkill. While we agree with the spirit of what is being debated, if there is an attempt to annul the regulations completely, it is important that we recognise that such an absence, if there is a confirmed case of Covid-19 in a public house for instance, could result in nullifying any attempt to carry out contact tracing.
There are problems with the motion, notwithstanding the rightful anger that is being expressed at the Government's handling of the imposition of these regulations.
I welcome the fact that pubs will reopen on 21 September. Those of us in this House who are reasonable and rational have been lobbying Ministers for the past number of months and reflecting the views of the VFI and other representative bodies but, most important, intergenerational families who have run good public houses for donkey's years and found themselves left out in the cold, looking askance at the contradictory statements made by the Minister and the Government on the imposition of regulations on other sectors. Those publicans were left to wonder would they ever be let back in from the cold.
I am glad that pubs will reopen on 21 September. I am hopeful that will be adhered to and that the Government will be bound by that date because it is vitally important that we get pubs reopened not only to purvey alcohol but to allow for the impact they have on their communities by delivering intergenerational solidarity, serving the fundamental human need to get out of the house and coalesce with other members of a community, to meet, talk, chat, bitch and moan, if I am not using unparliamentary language when I say that. People need to bicker and to be allowed get on with their lives in a safe way that allows for normal life to continue insofar as we can call the circumstances in which we live at present "normal".
The Minister needs to stop acting like an independent observer from Stokes Kennedy Crowley. He needs to start to feel what it is like to live in this country at present. There have been contradictions. The people are told one week that they can go to a GAA game, a sport that they have been following for years, and the next minute they are not allowed to watch the sport that is in the very blood that courses through their veins. The Minister needs to start having more empathy and not to be dispassionate. He needs to get out and start meeting real people because I fear that he is being cocooned, to use that unfortunate phrase. I feel that he has not gone out and met the people because, if he did so, he would probably sense the anger and frustration of the people living in this country who want to abide by the regulations and obey the rules but also want some degree of normality to be restored to their lives to allow them to be able to do the things they always did. They do not want to be told that they can do something one minute only for it to be stopped in its tracks the next.
We need to have a degree of humanity, sympathy and emotional intelligence about how we conduct our affairs in this Parliament. We look to the Government to provide that. We have given to this Government all of the support that could reasonably be given by any Opposition in the times in which we live but common sense has now broken down. It needs to be restored and we are asking the Minister to please take note of the fact that we are reflecting the views of ordinary people in the arguments we are making.
It is not common sense to take an occupational therapist who is working in the HSE and put them to work contact tracing. That person is a front-line worker and we do not know how many of them have been redeployed to contact trace. How many people in this State need occupational therapy as we speak? It is not common sense to put an assistant psychologist who could be working with a family feeling the psychosocial effects of Covid-19 into contact tracing or testing. A skewed public policy is in place at present where good front-line workers are being taken from key and essential jobs and being put into areas in which they should not be deployed. There needs to be a root-and-branch review of how Covid is being dealt with and whether scarce resources are being deployed in the most effective way.
I ask the Minister and the Government to start taking on the beef barons and doing a deep dive to look at what is happening in the meat industry. I fear that the barons are in the ears of influential people and have an overbearing influence on this society that affects migrant and Irish workers who live in our communities and feel the brunt of the culture that exists within that industry. It needs to be reviewed and taken on. We want a sense of decency. If there is decency and common sense, we will support it, but we have not witnessed decency or common sense these past few weeks.
While I agree with some of the sentiments raised by the members of the Rural Independent Group, I would like to know why they did not raise this as a general motion. This motion will not solve the problem they seek to address. They are trying to alter measures that are based on a statutory instrument, not on last week’s Bill.
The regulations they are seeking to overturn are not connected with last week's legislation which they have referenced. That Bill still has not been passed into law and is only due before the Seanad tomorrow. The regulation that is the subject of this debate was issued by the Minister under the powers he was given by the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020, which was passed unanimously by the Dáil in the aftermath of the general election.
It is important to note that all the other previous regulations relating to Covid-19, with the exception of face masks, have now expired. SI 326 is now the only one with any kind of binding rules on gatherings, events and assemblies. Striking down this regulation would only create further uncertainty and legal ambiguity. I do not believe this is what the majority of pub owners want.
The measures on keeping records are a result of a statutory instrument. Unfortunately, statutory instruments are never debated in the Dáil. It is an area where Ministers have considerable privilege without sufficient oversight. There is a need for more transparency in the introduction of regulations. Indeed, the Minister imposed the regulation without proper engagement with the industry, which generated unnecessary confusion and resentment.
The Government's regulation is an administrative burden on small business. The Minister, along with the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, said this is a simple matter of keeping receipts. However, there is good reason that publicans and others believe this is not true. The regulations require publicans to record the meal ordered "by each member of a party of persons". Many publicans believe that keeping a receipt is not enough and that they have to be able to say which person in a party ordered which meal. If that is not the case, why does the regulation say otherwise? Perhaps this confusion could have been avoided if hospitality representative groups or Fáilte Ireland had been consulted before the Minister signed the regulations into law.
One aspect of the motion I welcome is the reference to the rural hospitality sector, which has been hit extremely hard by the pandemic. Pubs, hotels and restaurants are major employers in rural Ireland. In many of the towns and villages across west Cork, these are the largest providers of jobs. The closure of just one of these businesses has a massive knock-on effect on towns, villages, and rural areas. While hotels and restaurants have had to operate at reduced capacity during the summer, pubs that do not have the capacity to offer food have had to remain closed since March. This has not only massively impacted the owners but also the hundreds of people who work in these businesses. People who have worked in this sector all their lives have had to be laid off. The workforce in this sector predominantly comprises young people and women who have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19. Every closure has a knock-on effect and that needs to be considered. We need to do what we can to keep these businesses open, retain the jobs they provide and the communities they help create.
The pandemic unemployment payment is a crucial support but provides insufficient income over the long term. It does not even cover the overhead costs of a closed business. Public health has to be a priority but there is scope within that approach to allow all pubs to reopen once they can comply to guidelines. This will have a disproportionately positive impact on rural areas.
The urban sociologist, Ray Oldenburg, in his book, The Great Good Place, describes how people in a healthy society need a balance of three different spaces, namely, home life, workplace and inclusively sociable places.
This final category, or third space, is essential to community and public life. In Ireland, the great good place has been the local pub. It is often one of the few places in rural areas where people get to meet their neighbours, share stories and also look after each other.
My own local, Minihan’s, like so many rural pubs, is that space where people get to meet after a hard day at work and where people will be missed and checked up on. It is one of the remaining social spaces in a rural area. The Boston Bar run by my former colleague on Cork County Council, Danny Collins, the brother of Deputy Michael Collins, is another example. Many of its customers have told me that it is an important social outlet for some patrons and that Danny and others look after them and their welfare. Sometimes, pubs are a lot more than a business.
The importance of these pubs, and many more across west Cork and beyond, cannot be overemphasised. As post offices, banks and more and more local shops close, the remaining local pubs play an incredibly significant social and economic role.
For years now, rural licences have been bought up in order to open more venues in urban areas. Now there is a new focus from others on a weakened pub trade. A consultant for a convenience store chain proclaimed that the rural pub was dead and described it as "a doomed trade". This insensitive and inaccurate statement represents an attempt to have licences bought up for use by commercial chains and shops. This transfers the regulation and social aspect of consuming alcohol in a pub to a model based on drinking at home, without any form of modulation. Cheap alcohol is recognised as a cause of irresponsible drinking, binge drinking, drinking alone and, unfortunately, domestic violence and abuse.
It is important to note that the vast majority of local pubs operate responsibly and help to regulate consumption in their premises. It is worrying that there is a commercial sector that is to trying take advantage of the situation to buy up rural licences and promote worrying trends in our already complicated relationship with alcohol.
On "Prime Time" recently, geriatrician Professor Rónán Collins outlined the need for a pragmatic approach to living with Covid-19. That is the sentiment we all need to aspire to. Covid-19 will be a reality of life for some time to come. Therefore, we need to learn how to live with it. There is a balance to be struck between public health and a functioning society and economy. Can we use this discussion to review our approach to pubs, the hospitality industry and the cultural and recreational sector?
The Government needs to hit the reset button with NPHET. We need a new suite of clear, evidence-based guidelines to ensure we can live safely with Covid-19 and be able to go for a pint.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett is sharing time with Deputy Paul Murphy.
I thank the Rural Independent Group for putting forward this motion. It seeks to achieve exactly what our amendment to the Bill last week sought to do, namely, remove the emergency power being given to the Minister to make regulations which have not been properly debated or scrutinised in this House penal offences. It is a very wide-ranging and draconian power which we do not believe the Minister should have.
This is not just about regulations in pubs. It is about whether we should give powers to a Minister and, in particular, a Government which has, frankly, made a mess of communicating public health guidelines and is losing the faith of the public in terms of the rationale, consistency, purpose and effectiveness of their public health strategy. It is also about an Opposition that is, for the most part, also inconsistent and, frankly, confusing in the position it is taking.
Last Thursday, we proposed an amendment to the Government's legislation. I scratched my head the next day when I saw Deputies from Sinn Féin, the Labour Party and the Social Democrats who voted with the Government jumping up and down decrying the very powers they had given the Minister as bonkers when they voted to give him these powers. It is quite extraordinary and it is still not clear to me which way they will vote on the motion. What is at stake are very important civil liberties issues.
People who have been listening to the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response should listen to what the Free Legal Advice Centres, FLAC, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, ICCL, and the Law Society have said about their concerns about the inability of the Government to communicate its public health messages and the blurring of the lines between what is a legal offence and what are public health guidelines and concerns. The ICCL opposed the criminal sanctions with regard to movement in the early phases of the pandemic and was worried about the significant criminal sanctions attached to ongoing regulations and the right to protest, the lack of clarity around policing of those protests, the obligations on organisers, the hooding of detainees and the unnecessary and inappropriate pub regulations and their proportionality. One can go down through the list. There is a real problem.
Members of the public have shown themselves to be ahead of the Government when it comes to adhering to public health guidelines when they understand the rationale behind them. The idea that it is okay to open the pubs, but that we may not be able to have a sister over to a house and to do so might be made a criminal offence does not make sense to people.
When the State puts people into overcrowded housing conditions, direct provision centres and so on it is not committing an offence whereas having more than six people in one's house might be. It makes no sense. We do not believe that Minister should have powers to, essentially, make things penal offences on a whim. We should explain the rationale behind regulations, educate the public and bring them with us and listen to them to determine what is necessary in order to effectively combat this virus, rather than giving draconian powers to the Minister for Health.
I will vote to annul the regulations. We have consistently opposed the granting of additional powers to the State and the creation of criminal offences in an attempt to deal with Covid-19. There are two reasons for that. First, we do not trust that these measures will not be used against protesters and as a general incursion on civil liberties. The regulations do not make any distinction to allow for peaceful protest. They treat protests outdoors in the same manner as a barbecue or something else. We know that these measures have already been used against protesters. They were cited, for example, against the Debenhams protesters. We know from historical international experience that what starts out as very limited incursions on civil liberties is expanded, generalised and kept in place. Examples of this include the US PATRIOT Act and the Public Order Act in Britain. Second, we do not think criminalising things works to achieve public buy-in and support. For those reasons, I will vote to annul the regulations.
The main point I want to make is to encourage people to engage in social distancing and to use masks, not because some behaviours are being criminalised, which should not be going on, but as an act of collective solidarity and of people looking out for each other. It is a thing we need to do if we are to avoid an explosion in case numbers and a second wave.
What is happening is an insidious attempt to undermine social distancing and mask wearing. The latest example of this, which is an echo of what is going on in the US encouraged by President Trump, is a video from Ben Gilroy which was posted the night before last. The video claims, incredibly, that the figures show that only 100 people, as opposed to almost 2,000 people, died from coronavirus. It is complete and utter nonsense and people should look into it to understand how it is nonsense. It states that only 100 people who had no underlying conditions died of Covid-19, but another 1,670 or 1,680 people who had underlying conditions died of Covid-19 as well.
That is not a shock, conspiracy or hidden information; it is precisely what the medical experts predicted, namely, that coronavirus would particularly affect those with underlying conditions. To be clear, one in three of the population has an underlying condition. The majority of those aged over 50 have underlying conditions.
In reality, what these people - it is the far right that is at the core of this anti-mask conspiracy stuff - are saying is that people with underlying conditions do not matter. We should engage in social distancing and wear masks and we should take the proper precautions to protect older people, those with underlying conditions and workers because they absolutely do matter. People rightly think the Government advice is inconsistent. The reason it is inconsistent is because it attempts to mediate between the public health, which is what should be primary, but runs it then through a filter of private profit. The reason we have a second wave now is because the Government did not do what was necessary for public health within the meat plants because of the power of the meat factory owners. We need to insist that public health should come first and dismiss those who argue that we should not wear masks and engage in social distancing. We should do this and be pushing for a strategy from the Government to eliminate community transmission entirely based on mass and rapid testing, together with social distancing and mask wearing.
Those who say masks should not be worn are taking an anti-worker position. It is putting front-line workers, including shop workers and transport workers, in danger. The act of solidarity if people can wear masks is to do so.
I congratulate the new Aire Stáit, my county colleague, Deputy Frank Feighan, on his appointment and I wish him the very best of luck in his new role.
The wording of the statutory instrument before us is, at best, ham-fisted in the approach that has been taken with it. The Government should withdraw it forthwith, redraft it and bring it back before the House because it is important that we have the support of the public and of communities across the country. There is no support for this particular draft of the statutory instrument. However, the reason we had to bring forward legislation last week and this particular statutory instrument was drafted is a small handful of people are trying not just to circumvent the liquor laws in this country as set out to combat Covid-19 but to circumvent the laws to threaten the lives of people in their own communities where these premises operate. Because of a small handful of proprietors we are left in a situation where, unfortunately, we have to bring forward draconian legislation. This statutory instrument needs to be withdrawn forthwith and redrafted.
There has been an approach by this Government in respect of pubs, which in its most benign definition could be described as being hostile. I will give four examples. First, a blind eye has been turned to the issue of house parties. On 19 March I raised that specific issue in the House. I cautioned that there was a serious risk of infection associated with house parties and that it would become a significant problem unless the Garda had the tools to ensure that they could be shut down. I raised that specifically with the then Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris. He assured the House that his officials were satisfied that the Garda had the powers within the legislation that was being provided to it to curb the issue of house parties. That is in black and white on the record. We now find that not only did the force not have the tools to curb house parties, it did not have the tools to curb breaches of the legislation in public houses or in restaurants. According to the latest figures for outbreaks of Covid-19, five are associated with pubs and five with restaurants. Some 1,904 are associated with private homes, some of which, sadly, are associated with house parties. While we are bringing in draconian legislation for public houses, why are we not addressing the issue of house parties which has been a consistent problem for a number of months?
The second reason pubs are being discriminated against is the temporary wage subsidy scheme, which ceased on 31 August. I understand the argument made by the Minister for Finance that we were moving away from that scheme to the employment wage subsidy, which will support employees to the tune of €203 a week. That was based on businesses having an income. Public houses are closed and have no income. The temporary wage subsidy scheme should never have ceased for businesses that were not trading. Now employees of pubs throughout the country, who were in receipt of €412 a week up until now, are only going to receive €203 from now on because publicans do not have the resources to pay them. Why were they discriminated against?
My third example is the restart grant. Businesses that had reopened could apply for the grant. If they had a rates bill of less than €2,000 in 2019, they could draw down a minimum payment of €2,000, which was a welcome development. It incrementally increased whereby if a business had a rates bill of €3,000, it could get a €3,000 grant. Publicans could not apply for a grant because they were not restarting. They were waiting to open up their premises. Now they can apply for the restart plus grant but there is a cap on that. A person who had a rates bill of less than €2,000 and applied for the restart grant can now apply for an additional grant of €4,000, giving to a total grant of €6,000. A publican can only get €4,000; her or she cannot access the initial payment. The same applies to the incremental increases. Publicans are being discriminated against because they were not trading. There should have been a clause to allow them to get the second bite at it, the same as every other business.
My fourth example relates to the trading online voucher scheme. This 90% grant for businesses to start trading online or to enhance their online trading presence, is not available to the hospitality sector. As the Minister of State knows well, many businesses, particularly restaurants, in our county and many others are using online facilities where a table can be booked online through the use of an app, and the same will happening in pubs. Pubs, however, are not eligible for the trading online voucher scheme to develop an app whereas every other business is.
These are four prime examples of schemes that have been brought in, which have not taken into account the businesses that have remained shut because of a Government decision and they are being discriminated against. I ask the Minister of State not only to withdraw the statutory instrument to have it redrafted but also to examine the four other examples where public houses and businesses that are forced to be closed at the moment are being blatantly discriminated against, and overturn those four decisions.
I am sharing time with Deputy Connolly.
I had mixed thoughts about the motion when I was considering it earlier, what I would say in my contribution and whether I would support it. Like most Members, I believe the fight that we face against Covid-19 is vitally important.
It is very important that everybody is singing from the same hymn sheet and that we go on with it.
The risk of withdrawing this statutory instrument in its entirety might be greater than the argument in favour of retaining it but the Government needs to hear what is being said and take on board the concerns. I doubt if it will do that because the unique approach to being in government in this House is to simply ignore everything, batter on and do whatever one wants, as we have seen across the board. The reality, however, is that there is confusion and a breakdown in communicating the message. The cohesion that existed for a number of months at the beginning of the crisis was because the Government was on message and the people could understand that message. I believe the people were way ahead of the Government and the political class and bought into it right away. They recognised the risks that were involved, buckled down and made sure that the measures taken were a success by their own actions. What we have seen with the introduction of this legislation by way of statutory instrument is a breakdown in that cohesion. As this goes on for some time it will become more difficult to sustain that, which is fair enough.
Some aspects of this statutory instrument do not many sense. Previous speakers said that people cannot go to a football match but they can go to a pub and watch a football match on the television while having dinner. That is mind-boggling. People know that does not make sense, but that is what has been put in the statutory instrument. How could it be safer to go into a pub-restaurant, have a dinner and watch a football match on the television than go to an open air ground to watch a game?
We also have the anomaly with underage games, which hundreds of people attend, including parents who drop their children to the ground, but when I look in there is nobody there. That kind of stuff does not make sense and the reality is that people are not buying into it.
It is very telling that this debate is happening in the House because it is highlighting the wrongness and anomalies that the Government is fostering. The Government is creating and sustaining this argument but it is losing it in terms of public safety and health, and that is very worrying.
I support the argument made by Deputy Paul Murphy on mask wearing. It is vitally important because it protects our workers across the board, in particular health workers. We have to counteract the arguments of the far right, who are fostering this. Indeed, the Government's own measures are being used to allow them to protest but it is stopping the Debenhams workers protesting using the same arguments. It does not make any sense and that has to change.
I wish the Minister was in the room because I do not like giving out about somebody behind his or her back and I certainly intend to give out about him in respect of his contribution. The first thing he should have told us was that these regulations run out next Monday and what he intends to do on Monday when they run out. He then went on to tell us that it would be greatly damaging to the effort in protecting people from the virus if we abandoned these regulations. I am afraid that what is greatly damaging to our ability to deal with this virus is the complete shambles that is the Government's approach. I do not believe in fake news in respect of this virus. I believe it is extremely dangerous. However, the way that information is being given to us is disingenuous, to put it mildly. I have said repeatedly that I gave my backing to draconian legislation from the beginning because I realised the seriousness of the threat we were facing and because there were good measures in the legislation, on the basis that there would be full and frank disclosure. That has never happened.
The message also was that we were all in this together. We are certainly not all in this together. The meat factories were never in this with us. I refer to the nursing homes, direct provision centres and people aged over 70, who were singled out in a most despicable way as if it was an order, but it was not really an order. We set back equality between the age groups so far it is very difficult to even think about it.
In addition, there is no engagement at all with the Dáil. Last week, I voted against the legislation after thinking about it, reading about it and so on. There was no mention that there would be regulations the very next day obliging the gardaí to keep a record. That was not articulated to us. We found that out on the airwaves. We heard from the likes of Deputy MacSharry, who I find myself in agreement with, although certainly not with his use of language when he decried it, but I agree with him in principle. However, the Deputy had an opportunity to discuss that the day before, as a backbencher, through the new arrangements that give them more time and that time was not used to make these views known. More important, however, the Minister did not make us aware of it. These regulations were also introduced through a media campaign where it was made known that we would let the gardaí go into our homes if there were more than a certain number of people in them. That was then disowned by the various Ministers who came in, and none of them knew where it came from. We have a totally irresponsible media if they put it about that the gardaí were going to go into people's homes. Either this Government did something drastically wrong with its message or it sent out that message to fly a kite and then changed its mind.
I have the report from the Policing Authority, which I have referred to repeatedly. It is the sixth report from the authority, which greatly praises the gardaí but highlights its concerns, as mentioned, earlier in respect of spit hoods and not recording the ethnicity of the people involved when incidents occur. Importantly, however, it refers to the failure by the top echelons of the Garda to give the information on the existing powers gardaí have and the disaggregation of those powers to direct a person to comply with a regulation, arrest for failure to comply with a direction, and three more powers. The authority stated that it is of concern that it has failed to get the information it has repeatedly asked for.
We are now in a position where we have these regulations that run out on Monday and a media campaign that tells us that wet pubs and dry pubs should never have been distinguished one from the other and that all pubs should have opened with appropriate restrictions. We are being told now that if there is 2 m between people, they can stay longer. If there is only 1 m distancing in the pub, they will have to leave at a particular time. If they go outside for a smoke, they will have to sit, and so on. This is absurd. It is really showing a lack of leadership and giving a completely mixed message to the public. As my colleague, Deputy Pringle, and others said, the people are way ahead of us.
The House has heard a range of views regarding the operation of the regulations. Deputy Sherlock reflected the views of ordinary people. Many Deputies have reflected such views. Those views are not always consistent but they certainly reflect the views of ordinary people across the country. I am sure the Deputies will agree that the health and safety of our people is paramount. All the measures taken thus far, and any measures we seek to implement in the future, are designed with one thing in mind, namely, to ensure the health and safety of our people.
The hospitality sector in rural areas was raised. Deputy Cairns referred to towns and villages in rural areas. The local pub has been significant as it is where we share our stories and socialise. She outlined perfectly that we have had a complicated relationship with alcohol, which is an issue we also should highlight.
The Government takes a broad view of what health and safety means. At the start of the pandemic, people made sacrifices and stayed at home. They came together by staying apart. As we deal with this current phase, the Government seeks to balance restrictions with relaxations. The Government recognises that people's health is bound up in their ability to participate in society. Their safety can be facilitated by allowing people back to work, providing that people can gather but all the while emphasising the key public health messages.
That is why the Government introduced regulations on events and gatherings and on how premises serving alcohol within should serve a substantial meal. The requirements to keep records of meals served and the contact details of those served are designed to facilitate enforcement and contract tracing, respectively. Contract tracing is vital in curbing the spread of the virus and keeping people safe. Enforcement is important. In this regard, the Government supports the vast majority of operators who comply with the regulations in the first place.
Deputy Naughten more or less said a small handful of proprietors have not been acting in the spirit of the regulations. Yesterday, therefore, the Government made its decision on balance and it was contingent on the trajectory of the virus remaining stable.
Deputy Boyd Barrett said he had a concern about communication. I will take that on board. It is quite obvious that there are different opinions in Government parties but there are also differences of opinion within the Opposition. I am not saying that is good or bad but it should be acknowledged that the matter is complicated. Deputy Boyd Barrett said people are protesting. That is their right.
Deputy Paul Murphy opposed the imposition of additional powers but, as with Deputy Pringle, he called on people to engage in social distancing. Masks are important. This cannot be emphasised enough. It is great to see people in Dublin and around the country beginning to wear masks.
Deputy Paul Murphy also referred to the Ben Gilroy video. I have not seen it. The Deputy said it is more or less pure nonsense. We are very concerned. We all should be concerned about fake news. On this occasion, it is fake news and cannot be backed up by fact.
The Government continues to-----
The Government issues a fair bit of fake news itself.
Please, one speaker.
Since the Government has been cobbled together, it has been a fake.
The Government continues to seek to preserve our well-being by adopting a flexible and informed approach to restrictions and relaxations and by maintaining key protective measures that will enable individuals and their families to participate more fully in society.
I thank Deputy Naughten, who I believe has left the Chamber, for wishing me well in my role as Minister of State. He talked about the temporary wage subsidy scheme and rates bills regarding the restart grants. He stated an issue arises regarding the online trading vouchers in that they are not available to the hospitality sector. I will raise that with the Minister. The development of an app to help the hospitality sector is a quite good idea. Maybe trading vouchers could be used online in this regard. I am not sure why it was not included but I will raise it with the Minister also.
Deputy Pringle said people cannot go to football matches and that the issue is causing concern around the country. I hope it will be addressed sooner rather than later. All the sports organisations are trying to be proactive and to work with the Government and various stakeholders to ensure people can attend sports events.
Deputy Connolly talked about the seriousness of the situation and outlined her concerns about the meat factories and way in which people in direct provision and the over-70s were treated. I take the point on board. The Deputy also referred to wet pubs and dry pubs. I had never heard of a wet pub or a dry pub.
Get out the wellies.
There is an effort to clarify the situation. I believe it has been clarified in the past few days.
The wet one is in the Shannon.
Many Deputies have referred to pubs and bars. Many of us have made big sacrifices over recent months, not least business owners. I have met many publicans, business owners and customers and I realise the matter raised is an issue but, again, the health and safety of the public is paramount. I hope we can arrive at some solution. Pubs and bars are an integral part of our communities. The Government recognises their place in the community but at the same time it recognises that we must continue to protect the people and maintain an informed and flexible approach. That is what we are trying to do. The Deputies' views this afternoon are important in informing the flexible approach. I thank each one of the Deputies who expressed their views. I agree with some of them and do not agree with others but that is why we are here today. It is important to debate these measures but we must recognise that this is not about increasing the regulatory burden on publicans, restaurant owners and other businesses but about trying to ensure our economy and society can open safely and securely. The virus is still among us and the trajectory is of concern. We must recognise this, use information wisely and plot a clear course that ensures we keep people safe.
We must agree that the health and safety of the people are paramount. I thank each Deputy who expressed views here this afternoon.
I wish the Minister of State the best in his position. This has been my first opportunity to congratulate him and wish him well.
On Thursday last, 110 Deputies in this Dáil fell over themselves to vote in favour of the Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers) (Covid-19) Bill 2020, giving further powers to the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, and others. The Deputies, from Sinn Féin, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party, the Green Party, the Social Democrats and the so-called Independents in the Regional Group, all turned their back on the hard-working people of this country. The Garda representative groups - the Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors - cast doubt on the Bill. Astonishingly, within hours, exactly what the Rural Independent Group feared would be an abuse of powers was blatantly jammed down our throats when the Minister for Health seized on his new powers by signing a statutory instrument forcing something to take place without any debate. The statutory instrument was to have a significant impact on how we conduct our daily lives. In this regard, consider the stance of Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil Deputies, as well as the Labour Party Deputies, although I do not know what they believe this evening. The Labour Party Deputies were criticising the measure last Friday and talking about contradictions. Deputy Alan Kelly was calling the instrument bonkers last weekend but this evening it looks like there is a different story. Many Deputies returned to their constituencies on Thursday night and got it in the neck from constituents who have had enough. Constituents told them in no uncertain terms where they stood. I have heard Deputy after Deputy speak out of both sides of their mouths today. Their parties came out last week in criticism of the measure and today they are partly criticising it and partly backing it. We will know in a minute whether they are misleading their constituents. They are trying to cod their constituents but they will not do that.
The statutory instrument that came into effect last week limits the numbers of people attending indoor and outdoor events. With certain exceptions, businesses and services on whose premises intoxicating liquor is sold or supplied for consumption must keep a record of the time and date of arrival in the premises of a group or sole customer, and the name and telephone number of the lead person in the group. These businesses and services must also keep a record of the substantial meals ordered. A respected senior counsel, Ms Constance Cassidy, said the publicans or restaurateurs must, under section 13, make a full record of a substantial meal or all substantial meals ordered by each member of a party or persons and that those records must be retained by a publican for 28 days. She said that if they do not retain them and thus commit an offence, they can be fined €2,500 or imprisoned for six months. The Social Democrats, Sinn Féin and the Regional Group should note what Ms Cassidy said. She said that it seems to her that the provision involves the use of a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Why did 110 Deputies not see what others saw? Why were they so blinded that they supported such a brutal law? Where is the general data protection regulation, GDPR, now? It is something that is being used to hide behind everything nowadays. For 28 days, our personal information is to lie in every public house and every restaurant, without a worry in the world. We in the Rural Independent Group were the only ones to listen to those who elected us and state in the Dáil that we would absolutely not support the measure. Thousands of pubs in this country have now been closed for 179 days - in other words, six months. Fianna Fáil, backed by Fine Gael, singled them out, without any sign of evidence, as if they were to blame for Covid-19.
Other businesses, be they hotels, restaurants, food outlets, pubs or cafés, all opened with guidelines. Almost all have adhered to them, even if it has cost them dearly by hiring extra staff. They respect the rules and they are doing all they can to protect their customers. I have visited, supported and spoken to many owners of these businesses in Allihies, Castletownbere, Glengarriff, Schull, Goleen, Ballydehob, Durrus, Skibbereen, Clonakilty, Union Hall, Bandon, Dunmanway, Bantry and Kinsale. Every one of them has bent over backwards to abide by the rules. They feel the finger is being pointed at them by Fine Fáil and Fine Gael and they are not being supported.
For six months, so-called wet pubs were pointed out wrongly by the Government and publicans throughout west Cork and the country faced ruination due to this show of power by a Government completely out of touch with reality. These publicans were promised compensation packages and were codded because they got nothing short of crumbs from this Government that clearly had a hidden agenda. It is the very same agenda Fine Gael had for four years in the previous Government, that is, close the rural pubs. While these publicans understood 179 days ago why they were closed, they in no way thought this Fianna Fáil-led Government would keep the door slammed throughout the country. They thought the backbenchers in the Government could at least speak out against the out-of-touch powers to stop pointing at one sector as being the cause of Covid-19. These backbenchers failed miserably and ended up aiding and abetting these closures, crying crocodile tears to the publicans, their families and their customers in their constituencies.
It was amazing to see the advice right across Europe and the world was to open pubs with guidelines. Ireland, however, had to do something different and go against all common sense. When the Rural Independent Group forced the Dáil to reconvene, the Government cracked and allowed the pubs to open. I am delighted to think we have this power to put the Government running but we should not have had to go to these lengths to have common sense apply.
In the new era in politics, certain politicians want Irish rural pubs shut. These people want café bars out in the streets like one sees in some European countries. They have forgotten, however, the towns and villages in Ireland with some mighty pubs that have safeguarded their customers. Some of these are in west Cork in Kealkill, Coppeen, Balinneen, Enniskeane, Leap, Rosscarbery, Bandon, Lisheen, Ballinspittle, Kilbrittain, Eyries, Courtmacsharry, Adrigole, Baltimore, Drimoleague, Innishannon, Timoleague and Barryroe. All these businesses are on the verge of collapse and did not need more rules and regulations even before they opened their doors, further piling unbelievable pressure on them.
Many publicans are dreading the next number of months as the moratorium on mortgage repayments is coming to an end. The Government is forcing these businesses into mortgage default and we know what happens then - the bullies in the vulture funds step in. It all seems like a big plan and it is one that has not gone unnoticed. Will the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputies Donohoe and Michael McGrath, respectively, to step in and prove this is not a plan. Will they at least work with the banks to continue the moratorium for another six months for these publicans?
The Government ruined these businesses. It should at least stand up and fight for them for once and show it cares for rural businesses rather than crying crocodile tears for them. To all those Deputies who could not wait to support the criminal justice legislation last week without worrying about the consequences to the public, I say that this must end here. I have often seen Members vote one way in the Dáil and shout and roar the other way the next day. They should stand by the people who elect them. Listen to those who are stretched to the limit doing all they can to do things right in this pandemic. They should respect and encourage people if they want to bring people with them and do not want them to turn against them. They have lost the confidence of the people by dithering and dathering. I am pointing this out to the Government and to many of the Opposition parties that are doing nothing but adding to the confusion out there already.
Statutory instruments should never be used by a Government. It dictates to people and kicks the democracy of the State in the teeth. Only in the past two weeks, the Taoiseach signed another statutory instrument piling penalty points on the hardworking fishermen of west Cork and Ireland, much to the fury of the fishermen of Castletownbere, Bantry, Schull, Union Hall, Kinsale and throughout west Cork and Ireland. These fishermen have publicly stated in the Southern Star that it is game over now for the fishing industry thanks to the statutory instruments signed by the Fianna Fáil Taoiseach, Deputy Martin, without debate. Astonishingly, Fianna Fáil voted against this measure two years ago in the Dáil. A man in west Cork said to me that when we had no Dáil a few weeks ago, the Taoiseach signed this statutory instrument and the cats were out and the mice did play, much to the cost of the fishing industry in this country. Well done Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. They keep kicking the fisherman. They have no shame in signing this instrument without debate. They are only too delighted to dictate.
We must live with Covid-19 and we can live safely with this curse upon our people. It is time for the Government to wake up. What is wrong that parents who take their children to matches cannot stand in the massive surrounds of the ground safely instead of driving home and back again? Supporters stand on boxes and ladders outside pitches looking in at matches in grounds where they could stand 20 ft or 30 ft apart from each other. There is no common sense any more and people are more and more frustrated.
Where is Fáilte Ireland in all of this? Why is it dictating to the country? Who made it God almighty in this country? The same applies to NPHET. Fáilte Ireland had many questions to answer in recent months and it should stop dictating to us how to run or country, pubs, towns and villages.
I plead with every Deputy from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Green Party, the Social Democrats, Sinn Féin, Solidarity-People Before Profit, the Labour Party and others to support this motion and listen to their constituents and those who are abusing the power they have. They should not scream one thing today and do another thing tomorrow.
Thank you, Deputy Collins, for concluding what has been a passionate debate. I grew up hearing about the litany of the saints but we got the litany of the publicans here this afternoon.
In accordance with Standing Order 80(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 10 September 2020.