I remind Members that this Stage will last for an hour and a half. I ask them for their co-operation. Will those not participating please leave the Chamber?
Health (Amendment) Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages
There are no amendments to the section. To be clear, the amendments are to section 3.
But I am not agreeing section 2.
Then let me put the question.
May I comment on it briefly first?
This section deals with definitions, particularly the definition around dwelling event. I just want to point out the sort of preposterousness of this and the misguided focus that it implies. This lies at the centre of how misguided this entire legislation is, namely, trying to suggest that the primary responsibility for rising infection rates and the necessity to resort to another lockdown lies with events in people's homes. It is a narrative I have heard repeated endlessly with, for example, the commentary that it is in households that we are seeing the majority of cases and so on.
This is done while failing to point out the very obvious, namely, that we had pretty much or close to eliminated community transmission as a result of the actions of millions of households. This was overwhelmingly done voluntarily the last time around because people understood the need to act quickly to deal with the virus. Despite the fact that the people had done their part and largely eliminated community transmission, it came back. Where did it came back from? It was not from people's houses at that point but the places that the Government refused to act against. These are the places, which the Bill does not focus on in any serious way, such as the meat processing plans, the direct provision centres and so on.
Most crucially of all, however, it came back due to the policy decision of the Government essentially to say there is an acceptable level of community transmission which we can manage. It is now absolutely clear the Government cannot manage it meaning the virus has now run out of control and, not surprisingly, it is back in people's homes. The implication that it started in people's homes is simply not true and not evidence-based. It is worth pointing out the simple fact that everybody lives in a home. That tells us absolutely nothing about the virus. How did it get into the home? Did it come through the walls? No, it did not come through the walls. It came from a policy decision made by the Government that it is possible to live beside the virus.
It is now clearly apparent we cannot live beside this virus. This virus does not respect level 2, level 3 or level 4. It has its own logic and dynamic. Either we chase it down or it chases us. That is precisely what has happened. To blame the people or events in people's homes is an attempt to deflect from the Government's own political responsibility. The Government should be big enough to own up to that responsibility rather than trying to redirect that against the family home and then give enforcement powers to the police as a way of scapegoating. There is no other way to put it. It is scapegoating individuals and families for doing normal, human, family things rather than blaming the Government for having a failed strategy, for failing to resource our public health services, as well as the public health response to the degree necessary to control outbreaks.
I agree with Deputy Boyd Barrett on this. The whole tenet of this legislation appears to be just to place the blame on householders and that householders are responsible for everything that is happening with Covid. One would imagine that Covid was lurking somewhere in the utility room or in the kitchen waiting to get out and that the only way to get out was through the householders. We know that is not the case.
We actually almost had it beaten in and around June and July but the Government lost the run of itself. It started listening to calls to open up business and everything else. That is what caused the virus to spurt back and led us to where we are now. The argument now is to try and turn it around with householders and individuals to blame for this crisis and this response. It clearly is not the case.
The biggest action the Government could take to defeat this virus would be to introduce universal sick pay. This virus is prevalent among the low paid, badly paid and neglected workforces. It is prevalent among low-paid retail workers and foreign workers in meat factories, for example. Universal sick pay would do far more than restricting people's households. The legislation gives the Garda powers to go into households when it does not need them. The Garda has said it does not want this power. The Garda Inspectorate also said it does not need or want this power. What is the reason for this then? It must be to deflect away from the actual cause of the problem. That is what we should be discussing and finding out about here.
The Minister went on at great length to describe how when he was in opposition he would have felt this legislation was draconian but this is what we need. Either he believes in it or he does not. If it is the mandarins in the Department who are looking for it, he should tell them he does not believe it.
I, along with Deputy Michael Collins and others, asked the Minister earlier about the marts, people's mental health, as well as their financial ruin, and the churches. When he was replying, he said he would only reply to Members in the Chamber. I never left the Chamber but he did not address any of the questions I raised.
Does Deputy Cullinane want to address the section?
I want my say on this section. However, it would be better to move on to the amendments.
I am guided by the speakers. Other Members are indicating they wish to speak on this section.
I am happy to respond to Deputies if they like. Do you want me to respond?
If we could do it through the Chair. Does Deputy Michael Collins want to speak on section 2?
I want to refer to questions I asked the Minister on the marts. I was here in the Chamber.
I do not mean to restrict anyone. I was there yesterday myself. It is on section 2 just now. There are many amendments and we will try to get through some of them.
I will talk on the amendments.
The Deputy can speak on section 2.
I will talk on the amendments.
This section is about definitions only. I urge Members to allow us to get on to discuss the amendments.
I want to speak on the section.
I will yield.
We are delegating to secondary legislation what a dwelling event is.
The Deputy is not being captured on the microphone.
My problem with this Act and with this section is that it delegates the question of what a dwelling event is to secondary legislation. We are also delegating the punishment for contravention of the rules on dwelling events. I question that approach. It is not unusual to delegate powers to a Minister, but it is unusual to delegate powers that define a criminal offence. I am not aware of that ever happening although I am open to correction on that point. At the very least it is very unusual not to define a criminal offence in primary legislation, particularly when the offence takes place in a dwelling. Dwellings enjoy a constitutional protection, although not an absolute one by any means. That is one of my many problems with this Bill.
Deputies Boyd Barrett and Pringle raised the point about dwelling events. Their argument, if I understood it correctly, is that taking measures that prevent certain things happening in houses means we are therefore somehow blaming, scapegoating and attacking people who live in houses. If that is the Deputies' view, that is fine, but it would have to be applied to every measure. As Deputy McGrath has said, the regulations apply to religious events. By the way, the churches are not closed. Anyone can go into a church. The Deputies' logic would also suggest that anything referred to in the regulations, including sporting events and travel, is somehow being blamed. That is not what we are doing. The approach from day one, as laid out in section 2 of the Bill, has been to suppress the virus through measures that are as targeted as possible. As we get better and better evidence of what interactions spread the virus, we will target those interactions in order to protect human life and health, the health service, education, childcare and jobs. That is broadly the strategy that is being deployed.
These provisions are included in section 2 because there is very strong public health evidence showing that the virus is spreading most prodigiously within households and between households. That is not really a matter of opinion. Those are the facts gathered by the testing and contact tracing systems. The advice I have received from the Chief Medical Officer and the data backing that advice both say that the majority of transmission is happening within and between households. The Chief Medical Officer therefore deems it necessary for restrictions to address those locations which account for the majority of transmission. The Government agrees with that. That is why the definition is included in section 2.
Amendments Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, and 21 are related and may be discussed together.
I move Amendment No.1:
In page 4, line 36, after “Equality” to insert “and Dáil Éireann”.
I did not respond to Deputy Stephen Donnelly's last point because I did not want to delay this section, but his argument is also relevant to this amendment. We are talking about weighing the Minister's political judgment against the collective wisdom of the Dáil and its Members on penal measures and fines the Minister might propose based on his analysis of what is causing further transmission of the virus. I would like to respond to the Minister's last comment about the supposedly indisputable fact of widespread transmission in households. It is not really indisputable fact, but rather a particular interpretation of the facts. As I said to the Minister, it does not explain how we got so close to eliminating community transmission. We had driven the virus out of private homes, but then it got back in. Of course it will end up in homes and circulate among families if it is picked up somewhere else. That stands to reason. That does not mean activities or irresponsible behaviour within the home are the reasons for the rising infection rate. Those two things are not the same and the Government is implying that they are.
When we had come so close to eliminating community transmission the disease was continuing to fester in direct provision centres, meat processing plants, certain workplace environments and certain large-scale congregations. We know those settings are where it spreads. It infects individuals who then go home, and then it spreads to their families. Critically, the Minister has not resourced testing and he has particularly failed to resource our tracing regime. As a result we cannot monitor that in detail. The under-resourced tracing system chases the virus but it does not actually find where the virus came from in the first place. We know the virus has a two-week lag. Despite this, the system goes back a couple of days rather than going back two weeks to thoroughly investigate each case and all the contacts involved to determine where an outbreak started. It is pretty obvious that if the Government did do that, the system would be able to identify particular congregated settings, workplaces and so on.
This is why we need Dáil oversight. We fundamentally reject the focus of this Bill, which is why we will reject the Bill itself. We fundamentally reject the underlying logic which focuses on individuals, households etc. as the cause for the current situation, rather than systemic, policy and strategy failures. Having said that, we will need oversight if the Minister is to have these draconian powers. To be honest, the Minister should support this series of amendments out of a sense of discomfort. If, as he has said, he really is uncomfortable with the use of draconian legislation, he will surely recognise the need for Ministers to be overseen by the entirety of the Oireachtas. Surely that is a good thing. The reason he feels uncomfortable is that these are unprecedented and draconian powers. Rather than wanting to make those decisions himself, the Minister should be glad to benefit from the collective wisdom of the Dáil in deciding whether to impose penalties on people.
I know other Deputies wish to contribute, so I will not go on at length. I reiterate the point that the provisions under which penalties and fines will be imposed are aimed at people who are not adhering to public health advice. Who is the biggest culprit in terms of not adhering to public health advice? I ask the Minister to think about that. It is the Government. Slightly more than two weeks ago, it received public health advice that there would be exponential growth in infections unless the State moved to a higher level of restrictions but it ignored that advice. As a result, there was an exponential rise in infections and hospitalisations and the number of people who lost their lives multiplied. The Government ignored the public health advice, with the consequence that we are in a much worse position on a national scale and have thousands of extra cases. Neither the Minister nor the Government has been fined and there is no suggestion that they should suffer penalty or sanction. However, the Government thinks it is okay to impose sanctions on people who have no choice about these things and the overwhelming majority of whom have demonstrated a willingness to voluntarily comply with public health advice. Through the Bill, the Minister is effectively pointing the finger at those people. That is the logic that I and my colleagues reject. At the very least, surely the Minister should accept there should be Oireachtas oversight of the use and potential abuse of these draconian powers.
I support all of the amendments in this grouping. They are variations on a theme. Essentially, the amendments propose that the regulations the Government will eventually craft will come before the Oireachtas for approval. I reiterate my earlier comments on a very important point that goes to the heart of my difficulty with the Bill. It provides for certain categories of fines and then provides for upper limits for those fines. Deputies know the on-the-spot fines will be less than €500, but we have no idea what the figure will be.
The Minister stated in his response on Second Stage that Deputies who have opinions on the Bill should give him a ring and have a chat with him. Would it not be preferable for them to bring those issues to the House to be explored in a proper debate, or include the issues to be addressed in the Bill such that Deputies would at least know what they are? We should know to what an on-the-spot fine refers, the definition of a "house party", the number of people who need to be present to constitute a house party, the meaning of straying outside a 5 km radius and what are the safeguards, checks and balances. None of that is in the Bill because it will all be in the regulations. The problem is that the regulations, when we eventually get them, will bear more resemblance to an Act or primary legislation than to regulations.
I assume the regulations that will flow from the Bill will be published tonight. I may be wrong. They may be published next week. I ask the Minister to please let Deputies know when they will be published and arrange a briefing for Oireachtas Members such that we have a heads-up about the publication before we receive calls from journalists asking about the regulations. Members have been caught on the hop many times in that manner in respect of statutory instruments and regulations. I ask the Minister to please ensure we are at least informed that he has published the regulations and they are being uploaded to the departmental website. I ask that he afford members of the Opposition the chance to ask questions.
If the Minister will not accept the amendments and will not come back to the Dáil for consent, there is a problem. All of these amendments relate to the public health advice and guidelines as well. I wish to respond to an earlier comment by the Minister in that regard because it is important for me to so do. I believe in the public health advice and guidelines. At every stage, my party has supported all of the measures brought in by the Government, no matter what level has been recommended. My party leader has supported them, as has our health spokesperson and party colleagues. What we have not done and will not do is to second-guess the public health guidelines. We have not tried to land on precise levels of restrictions or variations. That is what the Government has done, based on hours of opportunities to probe and interrogate the advice given by NPHET. Last week, there was a five-hour or six-hour meeting with NPHET. I am sure the Minister attended it. Deputies were told that very detailed presentations were given to the Minister. Was it then for me to decide whether the country should go to level 4 plus or level 5 plus? The Minister mentioned the Labour Party. It stated we should go to level 4. We eventually went to level 5. What difference did it make? It then accepted level 5. Sinn Féin stated that it will support any public health advice and guidelines that are brought in and it has done so. It has not gone against the advice or guidelines. It is appealing to people to abide by the advice and guidelines.
When I stated that the strategy is dead in the water, I was not referring to the public advice or NPHET or any other body. Rather, I was referring to the strategy to get us out of this. Deputy Shortall and other Deputies have rightly asked what is the strategy. Aside from a cycle of restrictions and lockdowns, what is the wider strategy? What more can we do to ensure we do not end up in endless lockdowns? That is the strategy to which I refer. It is not there. We need a new plan and a new vision and I wish to be part of that, working with other Deputies on how we get there. For the Minister to suggest that is somehow an attack on NPHET is disingenuous because he knows that is something neither I nor my party would do. We need to get back to having robust discussions on what we can be doing and being productive in trying to create strategies we all want. Every Member wishes to get ahead of the virus and lower the numbers to the greatest extent possible. We do not just wish for the Government to succeed, but for the State to succeed. That is not just about public health measures. The enforcement of fines is only one part of it. It is about everything else that must wrap around that. In some respects, that is absent. It is about the lack of capacity.
I cannot support the Bill if the Minister is not prepared to accept the amendments. If they are not accepted, the Bill is giving him a blank cheque. There is no doubt about that. Deputies are being expected to take it in good faith that whatever will be in the regulations will be in the best interests of the people whom we represent. That may well be the case, but we do not know that it will. Would it not have been better for Deputies to have been given sight of the statutory instrument and the regulations even if they were not going to have the opportunity to vote on them? Deputy Howlin made that point on a previous occasion when we were discussing legislation that brought in similar penal provisions and Members had not had sight of the regulations. Members would have known precisely what were the fines, to what they apply, how much they were and what safeguards, checks, balances and protections were in place. We would have seen what the regulations were and known that if we were to support the Bill, we would support those regulations. We do not have that. We are fighting blind. The Opposition has been blindfolded and I do not believe that is acceptable.
That does not mean that I am against enforcement. I am not against it. Some people in this State are not abiding by the guidelines. As many Deputies have stated, if those people are approached by An Garda Síochána and asked to obey the rules, the vast majority of them will do so. There is a tiny percentage of people who will not comply and who are reckless and put the lives of others in danger. Of course, they should be subject to enforcement measures, but those measures must be fair and proportionate and Members should be able to see what they are before voting on them. Surely it is a fundamental and basic principle of democracy that Deputies would have some sense of the matters on which they are expected to vote. However, that is not the case with this legislation. That is my quarrel with the Bill and with the Minister on this issue.
Deputy Cullinane is right. Deputies are voting but they do not have a clue on what they are voting. They are just running along. In west Cork, we call such people "Yes boys" or "Yes girls". What is wrong with them? Surely they should know what we are voting for here. What fines will be applied and to whom? College students in Cork city or elsewhere might have next week off and wish to go home to their parents. Are they allowed to travel home this evening?
I asked the Minister that question earlier, and he did not clarify that. Will they be fined on the way home? Will they face sanctions in law? People have a right to get answers to those questions, but we have no answers.
Deputy Mattie McGrath referred to the marts. Farmers are facing a major crisis. If the buyer goes in around the ring and he is 10 ft or 12 ft away from the next person in wide open sheds, will he face a fine? Will the mart owners face a fine? In some marts yesterday, prices for some bulls were down by €155 and prices for weanling heifers were down by €100. Those are enormous amounts. Farmers cannot keep taking this hit because of indecision in the Government. It is up to us as the Deputies on the ground to try to find answers. The Government is railroading ahead, and it will have the same old gang who will vote for it no matter what it puts before the people, even if they do not know what they are voting on; they are voting on a blank paper.
I question everything because that is what my electorate in west Cork asks me to do. I acknowledge that the Minister cannot have an overview of everything that goes on in the country, but certainly the buck lies with him to a degree. Can the marts reopen? Basically, that is what it is down to. Can the farmer continue to trade? If he cannot, the Government should announce that today and cease that trading. It should not leave farmers in a situation where they cannot sell their animals in the mart. That is the situation they face in many marts. The Minister can ask the mart managers.
I am surprised that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, has not come out and clarified the matter. He should at least work towards a solution. Solutions are available and they have proved that. Farmers and buyers do not want to be fined. Mart owners do not want to be fined for breaking the rules. They applied the rules meticulously. Cafés, restaurants and pubs applied the rules meticulously and they are all closed no matter how well they did things. We have had considerable contact from people working in gyms etc. They worked to the guidelines to the best of their ability. They do not know why they cannot open.
The Minister is probably running down the clock because regardless of the amendments tabled, the Government has its majority here. We saw that with last night's vote on the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records, and another Matter, Bill. The way Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Green Party Deputies came in here and voted was appalling. The Government has too much power and it is abusing that power.
I made it very clear at the beginning of my discussions earlier that the coronavirus is a very dangerous virus. It is a curse on our people. While it is here, we should work with it. We should work with the people and not crucify them. I am surprised that the Labour Party and the Social Democrats support these fines which hurt people further. I accept we need guidelines and people need to stick to them to a degree. However, chasing and fining people who are struggling at this time is a step too far.
I plead with the Minister to speak with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I contacted Deputy Cahill, Chairman of the Joint Committee on Agriculture and the Marine, to convene a meeting of the committee any time between now and next week - it does not matter if it is Friday, Saturday or Sunday, I will come back up - to try to resolve this issue with marts so that at least some people can continue to operate in some normal way and not be worried about facing a fine. It could be a fine of €1,000, €100 or €500 because a man or a woman wants to put food on the table.
I have been inundated with calls on the issue, mainly from women, who are very stressed about the situation they are facing. They have bills to be paid and food to be bought. Their children cannot come home from college and be given a bit of food or whatever and let go back again the following week or the week after when they can resume after the break. We are basically standing over them with rules and regulations, which the House is agreeing to without knowing what we are agreeing to, and it is happy to do so. Imagine a young person who may be struggling to continue with his or her education and has to be in college. These young people are asking if they can come home for the week ahead. Deputies who are voting for this legislation today should ask themselves one question. If they did not know whether they could go home this evening, how would they feel? However, they are quite happy to come here, pat themselves on the back and vote for that. They should be ashamed of themselves.
We need clarity. These young people need clarity. These farmers need clarity. I know the Minister cannot answer every question. In certain areas there is major doubt at present. The Minister needs to stand up to the plate and give leadership. He must give these young people this opportunity and clarity. It is a strange world if they are told they cannot go home and have to stay in an apartment for a week. Their parents cannot go to them to give them food either. It is turning into a very strange world. Politicians should be thinking twice. I will support these amendments.
Six speakers are now offering. I call Deputy Howlin.
I believe Deputy Shortall's amendment is being taken in this group. I would have no difficulty if the Leas-Cheann Comhairle wishes to call her first.
If Deputy Howlin wishes to defer to Deputy Shortall, I will certainly let her speak.
I just thought that would make sense because that amendment was in the group. I will take my slot now that I have it and I will try to be brief.
During my nine terms in this House, my approach has always been that everybody is here on their own mandate and entitled to their own views. The notion that Deputies come in here to tell other people how they should think and what is right or wrong according to their likes is not right.
This is a fundamental set of amendments. Other speakers are absolutely right. This is a very unusual Bill, almost unique. When the Minister for Health gave his concluding speech on Second Stage he spoke about previous crises. We never introduced legislation that amounted to a series of penalties with crimes to be determined later. That is just a very odd way of doing it. In my Second Stage contribution, I said that the Labour Party is willing to give qualified support to this approach because we are facing an unprecedented crisis. People are dying and are very sick. Last night, I spoke to a family, six of whom have tested positive for this awful disease and one of whom is very ill. When we talk to people who are enduring this, we know how awful it is. I want us to take whatever measures we can to mitigate that harm and not allow it to spread across our community.
I am really amazed that the Minister has not just accepted this because I think it gives him comfort and strength. The two sets of regulations he drafted previously are very complicated. Other speakers have done some analysis of them. The regulations could certainly be vastly improved. I notice in the regulations he published two days ago, although this legislation has been vaunted as being a response to house parties, that the Minister has yet to criminalise house parties. Unless he does so in the next set of regulations, the penalties in this legislation will not apply to house parties.
We need to have an opportunity to examine in detail the specific secondary legislation the Minister is introducing. I say this not only because it is the right thing to do, but because I am absolutely certain that the collective wisdom of all sides of this House would improve them, make them more effective and would allow for much more public buy-in. All of this is predicated on public support. We hope that nobody will be fined or prosecuted. That is our collective wish, but that is built upon the hope that people will accept these rules. They are much more likely to accept them if we have proper debate and scrutiny and people are not claiming that this legislation has been rushed through and not properly thought through.
That is a very reasonable argument to make if the Government does not come back and allow the House to have a very clear view of the particular secondary legislation that will flow from this enactment.
A few things in the Bill cause me concern. I am looking at friction points that will cause annoyance and undermine confidence in our ability to tackle this terrible virus. Take the notion of people who are "loitering with intent to attend a gathering". We know from legislation across the globe that giving that sort of power to a police force to move people on because they are loitering with intent is fraught with difficulty. All that is needed is one member of An Garda Síochána acting out in a way that they should not to really fundamentally cause concerns. We can make this much better if we are given the opportunity. Every Member of this House would be very willing to sit whatever hours the Minister wants on whatever days he wants, to ensure that we do this right and proper.
I conclude on the fundamental issue of test and trace. It has been the mantra of the World Health Organization from the very beginning of the pandemic. It is a reasonable criticism that we wasted some of the opportunity we had to build a comprehensive test and trace system. I know the Minister pushed back on all that but what happened over that weekend proved that we do not have a proper trace system. The Minister says we have a proper comprehensive system because we have 117,000 tests. I dealt with a case this week where a very ill gentleman was tested in a hospital last Saturday, and tested positive. Since last Saturday, he has received two text messages with the same reference number calling him for two further tests in two different test centres. Mistakes will be made, I understand that, but getting test and trace right is so important that we must deploy whatever resources we have to do that. In the interim, we must take whatever measures are needed to discourage any activities that will allow the virus to spread but we must do it by holding on to the collective support of the majority of the people - we will not have everybody - but the handling of this legislation is fundamental to doing that. I appeal to the Minister to accept this series of four amendments because that will allow the House to improve things fundamentally and to build the kind of support we need.
Sometimes I wonder what planet I am on when I come in here. Deputy Howlin referred to very unusual legislation. Much of it is. Maybe it is because we are in unusual times. I have just thought of a name for this Bill: the Donnelly Dictatorship Bill. If we were to give the powers to the Minister that he is asking for, without any checks and balances, then our mental health would be lost. When the Government refused to listen to NPHET's advice two weeks ago, the Minister, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste all suddenly found a new, grave concern for the mental health of the population, the same mental health that has had its budgets cut and been ignored in policies for years. The Government found a new interest in mental health and now it must think that we are all mad that we might give it these powers without opposition and without pushing our amendments. The Government is asking us to give it carte blanche to attach fines and possibly jail sentences to a whole range of activities and we do we do not know what they are. The Minister needs to accept this amendment even just to save face; I will not vote for the Bill even if he does accept the amendment but I hear that others might.
I will make a broader point. I read today's briefing from the Department of the Taoiseach on Covid. It is an understatement to say that we are being treated like we are little kids who do not understand. It does not mention the collapse in tracing, the disaster we are facing in testing or the crazy stuff that happened with the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine notifying the schools in time about the hand sanitiser that had been sent to them. It does not talk about the serious issues that we, as politicians, and the population have to grapple with to get ahead of the virus, it only talks about individual behaviour. It tells us to wash our hands again, to watch our distance again and to mask up again but where are the actual systemic measures that the Government needs to address as a matter of urgency? The Minister might think they are here in this Bill but we utterly disagree. I think An Garda Síochána probably disagrees as well. I listened to an interview with Drew Harris on the "News at One". Paul Reynolds of RTÉ did his best to extract from him how he feels about this legislation. The best Drew Harris could respond, because he cannot actually criticise the Government, was that as a good and faithful public servant, he would do what he was told. That is not a great endorsement of this legislation from the Garda Commissioner. In fact the whole mood of the interview was that he was not happy about it and I doubt many gardaí on the beat are happy either. It does not improve anything. If anything it sends out the message - optics are important - that ordinary people, families and people who try to socialise are to blame and that it is not to do with the Government's systemic failures, the failure to get ahead with tracking and tracing and to employ the additional 200 nurses needed in homes, the failure that where contracts are issued they are zero hours, and the failure when teachers and special needs assistants are taken out of schools when they are badly needed. I could go on and on about the many systemic failures that are not being addressed here.
Fines do not work. Back in 2016, the Minister, Frances Fitzgerald, introduced legislation to stop attaching jail sentences to fines. That was a progressive move. A report in The Irish Times late last year showed that since that legislation was introduced almost 32,000 failed to pay court imposed fines from 1 January to the end of November 2019. That figure was exponentially rising. The imposition of fines does not work. The Minister might say that attaching a jail sentence to them seemed to work but it did not and that is why we had to end it. There were jail cells full of lone parents, usually poor women, some coming from as far as Donegal or the bowels of Kerry to the Dóchas Centre or Limerick, being jailed because they did not pay their TV licence. That is why we ended that draconian practice which the Minister now wants to bring back into law, moving away from progressive legislation back to regressive legislation. More important is the signal this is sending to the people that they are the problem, not the health service being a disaster or the tracking and tracing that is falling apart and the domino effect that follows that but actually it is the ordinary Joe and Josephine Soap. It is not good enough and we will utterly oppose this.
I make a very strong appeal to the Minister to work with other parties in the House. We all want to work together, we recognise that we are facing a very significant threat to our lives and livelihoods. It is a national threat and there is a need for a national response. The best way of demonstrating that is for us to work on an all-party basis and to co-operate, collaborate and be very clear about the messages we are giving. The Minister's actions in handling this legislation work against that. The aim of these five amendments is purely to say that while we recognise that this is enabling legislation, we cannot possibly tell the Minister that yes, we will enable him to do whatever he wishes to do. At a minimum that would be highly irresponsible but neither is it the way that democratic politics works or should work.
We are saying to the Minister, in putting forward these amendments, that before he does the things that this legislation enables him to do, which involve imposing restrictions on people in their daily lives, on businesses and on a range of different activities, and before he decides what penalties should apply for breaches of the public health advice, that he bring those proposals to the House and that we work together to ensure they are the right ones. We should all aim to identify what will actually work. It should not be about political differences. It should be about taking everything into consideration, including the way people behave, what we know about human nature and what has worked in the past. On the basis of that experience and expertise, let us identify the best way of achieving what we all want to achieve.
The most important question is how we can ensure compliance with the public health advice. We know from human nature, behavioural psychology and what people such as Dr. Mike Ryan have been saying in recent days that telling people what to do and underpinning that in legislation does not work. We need to persuade people, bring them with us, convince them that the measures are the right ones and ensure they trust the Government and will work with it. We need that type of trust more than anything else at this stage. There are pressures on every aspect of the State response to the pandemic. People are becoming very concerned that testing and tracing and lots of other provisions are not working. There are increasing concerns about what is happening in nursing homes and whether we are facing into a repeat of what happened earlier in the year. We know the infection numbers are increasing at an exceptional rate. It is important that we work together and have an agreed approach if we are to bring people with us. That is what we are seeking to do in these amendments.
Many people will agree that, ultimately, we probably need some kind of sanction but, first, we must persuade and cajole people, provide the evidence for measures introduced and encourage them to comply. All of that must be done first and there must be good messaging. Unfortunately, the Government's messaging has been hopeless. Several weeks ago, the Taoiseach was talking about possibly using influencers to reach out to people, but he never did anything about it. With all due respect, "The Late Late Show" has a very limited appeal. The Government needs to use different influencers, people who will be listened to, whether in the sports world, music industry or any other area, by different cohorts of people, and use different platforms to get the message across. It has not tried any of those things and is instead jumping straight to penalties. That is going to get people's backs up and it is a big concern. Rather than getting people to come along with it, the Government will be encouraging them to work against it. That is the very last thing we need.
Dr. Mike Ryan has said that the Government must stop doing what it is doing. We must bring everybody along with us and get everybody working together to achieve the same objective. That objective is to reduce the rate of infections, save people's lives, get back to some kind of normality and keep the virus under control. We will not do that by taking the type of penalty-based approach the Government has adopted in the absence of anything else. I would happily accept the introduction of penalties as a last resort but they will not work as a first resort. That was tried in the UK and not only did it not work but it did damage. What we are asking for is absolutely reasonable. I have no doubt that if the Minister were on this side of the House, he would say exactly the same thing. He would say that we can pass the enabling legislation but it should be on condition that any regulations made on foot of it will require the approval of the Dáil. That is the purpose of these amendments and I appealing strongly to him to consider accepting them. He will have the support of the vast majority of Deputies in so doing.
I heard what the Garda Commissioner said at lunchtime. It is very clear that he does not want the Minister to take the approach he is taking. The Commissioner will do what he is told to do but we should listen to what members of the Garda are saying. Nobody is asking that this hardline approach be taken. It is heavy-handed, it is not a good idea and it will be counterproductive. I have no difficulty supporting this legislation if the Minister is prepared to accept these amendments. In the absence of the kinds of very reasonable safeguards they set out, it is completely unreasonable to expect us to give him a free hand and carte blanche in the regulations he introduces and the activities he decides will attract penalties. We cannot do that and nor can we allow him to dictate what the penalties should be. We would be failing in our job if we gave him that free hand. We all want the same thing and we must work together to achieve it. The issue is ascertaining the most effective way of going about it. We know from experience that penalising people from the very start is not effective. I urge the Minister to listen to what people are saying.
Previous speakers have taken a lot of time and I want to ensure I leave an opportunity for others who are waiting to speak. Several Deputies have argued that we all need to work together. We should do the same to ensure we all get a chance to say what we have to say in the time available.
Several speakers made the point that NPHET's advice was ignored in advance of the current lockdown. My view at the time was that it was not ignored but it needed to be discussed. It was the way the story was leaked that caused panic and led to people running to shops. When the current restrictions were announced, people were behaving as if it was the end of the world and they needed to get their shopping done. It is the false spin and scare tactics that caused the spike in infection rates over the past two weeks. We must ensure that the message that goes out to people is a clear one. There must be an end to the leaking of information bit by bit. Before we left the Chamber last night, there was talk that sanitising personnel had gone into a particular school and that all schools would now be closed. We found out today that this particular piece of scaremongering was untrue. The information that goes out to people must be definitive and there must be an end to the spin.
I am seeking definitive answers from the Minister on a particular matter. I have some chance of getting answers to my questions but members of the public have no chance. I started a process last night to ascertain the status of music schools that provide classes for junior certificate, leaving certificate and college students. They are in limbo at this time. When I spoke to the Minister about it yesterday, he said it was a matter for the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Foley. When I took the matter to that Minister, I was told I should bring it to the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. I was then advised by the latter to go back to the Minister for Education and Skills. If Deputies are being sent around in circles, what chance do members of the public have of getting definitive answers to their questions? We need clear answers and clear instructions. Are music schools that provide lessons for schools that do not have the facilities to teach music but have the facilities to hold the examinations allowed to open?
I do not want to go around in circles again. I want one Minister to take clear action on this matter and to give me a clear answer. Today, and since this Government was formed, we have seen a massive divide between city and county. If a 5 km restriction is introduced in a city, one can get everything one needs. If a 5 km restriction is introduced in a county, one cannot. We need to ensure that facilities are available for people within their counties. There must be clear instructions rather than spin leaking out for a headline. The Government should stop scaring people and then coming out with amendments afterwards. We have a problem here. If things are to be agreed, they need to be agreed properly and communicated to the public properly. We all know that bad news sells media and papers. The small minority of good news also sells papers but it is all spin. We need clear direction.
As other Deputies indicated, appearances on "The Late Late Show" will not get messages out to the public. I told another Deputy yesterday that we had something up on social media. He asked if it was on Twitter before saying that I was too old for Twitter. This is what was said to me. The way forward is to make use of every form of media through which we can get clear decisive information out to people. If our Government cannot give us that information and cover the whole country and every sector, what hope do we have?
As I said at the outset, I have gone to three Ministers on this issue and have been sent around in a circle. I have asked a question about people who are getting music classes as part of their junior certificate, leaving certificate or college studies. The Limerick School of Music is aligned with the education and training board. Other schools do not have facilities for music in the school so parents outsource and pay for their children to study music for the junior certificate, leaving certificate or college education. These students sit examinations in the school. Are they part of the education system or are they not? Will people in rural Ireland be discriminated against because some schools do not have facilities for music classes? If students are sitting examinations in school, these classes must be educational. I need a Minister to make a decision in this regard and to let these people know the position, one way or the other.
Some of the stuff put out today suggests that, even under level 3, one-on-one tuition is not allowed. If one is paying for a music class, it may be taught one on one. People attending such classes will have their own instruments and can sit in their own chair. We are doing it here. We are all 2 m apart. If the facilities are available to do this, if people are using all their own equipment and if the classes are educational and being pursued for the purposes of one's examinations, the schools should be allowed open, with the proper guidelines in place.
The same situation pertains to the marts in our farming sector. The marts cover 4 or 5 acres of ground at a minimum. Something could be put in place for the farmers. If one goes to rural areas anywhere in the country, one will see that the Internet service is poor. People say marts can be held over Zoom or social media but they cannot. Let us get real. It is a question of county versus city. County does not have infrastructure or the Internet but the city does. Can we please make rules that cover everyone?
I welcome the Sinn Féin amendments, which I will support. I thank Deputy Cullinane and his party for tabling them. I endorse what Deputies Howlin, Shortall and Bríd Smith have said. I hope none of them takes offence at my endorsement.
I will take this opportunity to ask the Minister a specific question and I would welcome an answer to it. We are allowing the Minister to define a dwelling event, the holding of which will be a criminal offence punishable by law. I would put question marks over the constitutionality of that measure. They are no more than question marks, but I believe the provision needs to be teased out. At the very least, an event is an event. A rave or the benching of a judge might constitute an event but a friend visiting a friend, a grandparent visiting a grandchild or a child visiting a parent is not an event by any stretch of language. It may be contrary to public health advice, at least if precautions are not taken, but it is not an event. Will the Minister clarify that he will not seek to impose fines in respect of the normal daily occurrences which I have just described? For the avoidance of doubt, I am talking about a friend visiting a friend or a parent visiting a child. These are not events. It is an abuse, if not of the Constitution, then certainly of language and of the political process for the Minister to seek to bring a Bill before the House to declare these actions to be a criminal offence. I am not saying that it is not contrary to public health advice or that such advice should not be followed, but we are talking about criminal offences.
I will return to the issue of public health advice, which has been raised. As Deputy Boyd Barrett stated, this is about punishing breaches of public health advice. The Minister has portrayed all of this as being driven by public health considerations. We have public health advisers on the one hand and the Government on the other. The Government says that the advisers tell it what to do and that it does it while not influencing the advisers in any way. I was, therefore, really concerned by the comments of the chairman of NPHET which suggested that we should not concentrate so much on the absolute and utter shambles of a tracing system we have because it could not possibly deal with the number of cases we have and because these measures are needed. Was that public health advice? Was the chairman speaking as a member of NPHET or as a servant, agent or official of the Department of Health, who answers to the Minister, to absolve the Department and the health authorities of their obligations to follow public health advice? I have never heard anybody suggest anything other than that testing and tracing is key. It has been repeated for months, by a committee of which the Minister was a member before he took office, that our tracing system is not working.
We can seek to criminalise the poor for being poor. It will not work because our fines system does not work. We can give An Garda Síochána the job of handing out these notices. I have no doubt but that it will do the job this House assigns to it.
I am sorry. Deputy McNamara is moving away from his microphone and we are having difficulty picking him up.
I apologise. If I stand too close to it, I walk into it. I probably need to lose some weight. I am not the only one, but that is a different matter.
We do not want to lose what the Deputy is saying.
I have no doubt that An Garda Síochána will do the job this House assigns it to do but will the Minister rule out asking gardaí to fine a parent visiting his or her child? If parents cannot pay such a fine, will the Minister have him them brought to court? If they will not go to court, a bench warrant will be issued, which An Garda Síochána will have to execute because that is the position of our fines system at the moment. There was recently a District Court enforcement list of 600 cases in Limerick and 400 bench warrants were issued. I do not know whether An Garda Síochána has had the capacity to execute all of those warrants but this is not an efficient use of its time.
There are other policing matters with which the Garda should and needs to be dealing. In effect, we are assigning the Garda to seek to compensate for the failings of our testing and tracing system and our health response. We had moved away from that. In every area, we had agreed that deficiencies in health, matters of health and personal autonomy, which is an essential part of health, were not the appropriate subject matter of policing.
I welcome the Sinn Féin amendments for the simple reason that they require the Minister to bring the regulations he is going to make before the House. In the event that he is not going to accept the amendments, I ask the Minister to clarify that when he is talking about events, he is talking about parties involving large numbers, raves and, heaven forbid, benchings, and not about a parent visiting a child or someone dropping in to a neighbour to make sure he or she is okay as we head into the winter.
I want to pick up on something the Minister said. What has happened in nursing homes has been one of the most heartbreaking aspects of this whole crisis. The most vulnerable have been the most exposed. They make up the majority of those who have lost their lives to Covid-19. Yesterday, I raised the issue of the nursing home in Galway at which 26 of the 28 residents tested positive for Covid-19. I quoted the information that I got to the effect that the director of nursing stated the HSE was not listening. The HSE's first response was that the home should get agency staff. The nursing home found that there were just none available. While the HSE did send somebody, it did not send hands-on help for the nursing home. In the words of the staff, the HSE did not provide boots on the ground. As an Opposition Deputy, it was my duty to criticise this event owing to what happened in the first half of the year. I criticised the fact that the then Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and the current Minister both refused to investigate the Government's handling of the nursing home crisis at the start of the year. In my contribution, I also criticised the fact that both Ministers, the Department, HIQA and the HSE have refused to investigate the case of Mary Bartley Meehan, a constituent of mine, given how tragically her husband died. I also raised the fact that the Ombudsman has articulated his frustration over not having the ability to investigate clinical decisions made in nursing homes. These are all fair and genuine criticisms.
I made reference to the comments of Deputy O'Dowd and the Minister. The Minister repeated what he said today. I heard him say that the nursing homes are private businesses, private organisations. In some ways, he is washing his hands of responsibility for them. He is erecting a paper wall to prevent responsibility leaking into his area. The truth is that those affected are all citizens of this country. We are all responsible for them, whether they are in a private nursing home or a public one. The truth is that these elderly people are in a private nursing home because the Government has been derelict in its duty to provide the necessary public spaces for them over time. The Minister is entitled to deflect the criticism but the manner in which he did so is completely odious. He stated earlier that we were criticising the workers in the nursing homes and that he was standing up for them and defending their actions. That is the furthest thing from the truth because we were actually criticising the Government's handling of the nursing homes issue. Trying to twist the matter to say we are criticising the staff in the nursing homes is simply outsourcing responsibility again. It is absolutely wrong and the Minister should withdraw what he said earlier.
A speech could be very brief today based on the previous contributions, which submitted that the Government is responsible for absolutely everything, even for the pandemic itself. I, along with a few others, but not everybody, attended the briefing given by the Minister's officials yesterday on what Jonathan Swift would have called modest proposals, yet we have heard today a litany of questionable comments, unusually from Members I would normally consider sensible, including Deputy McNamara, who is in the gods up above me, who makes a lot of sense on Covid and who chaired - very intelligently - the Covid committee, a committee that is missed. The idea that legislation is planned by the Government so the Garda can fine and criminalise parents who visit their child or children who visit their parents is catastrophising what are modest proposals. It adds to the stress of people listening. To those who might be listening, I say that nothing could be further from the intentions of the Government in this legislation. The proposals are very simple and modest, in response to the fact that, while the vast majority of people continue to abide by the guidelines and the advisories issued by the public health authorities, HSE and NPHET, there are those who breach the guidelines, sometimes inadvertently, and cause difficulties for everybody else. Issues have arisen over larger-than-allowed gatherings in family homes. Some of those gatherings do not constitute raves or massive house parties but we are aware, based on the evidence that NPHET has given us, that they have been the source of super-spreading incidents.
We are also aware that the philosophy behind this legislation and the manner in which the Garda has commendably policed our country throughout the pandemic have been, first and foremost, to engage with the public, educate in a gentle, consent-led way those who are not complying, encourage those who are not complying to change their behaviour and, as a very last resort, introduce enforcement proceedings. People need to catch hold of themselves. The country is up to its neck, stressed out and anxious. The kind of language used today, particularly by those on the left, does nothing except add to the catastrophising of the crisis we face. They need to take a long, cold shower and listen to some of the rubbish they bleat about some of the regulations, advisories and guidelines that the Government is trying to introduce in the midst of a pandemic, the environment around which changes hourly and daily. The pandemic creates enough crises of its own without individual Deputies in here catastrophising one event after another, the latest concerning hand sanitisers, as though the Government deliberately procured dangerous hand sanitisers for schools and as if every school had procured them and every school would have to close down.
A Deputy for whom I have a lot of regard was in the upper tier earlier looking for advice on music schools.
The Deputy knows the answer to this, he just does not want to be the one to deliver that news. It is set out as plain as the nose on my face in levels 1 to 5. We know from various groups and residents that most people understand it. Many people need hand-holding and an awful lot of people ask questions to which they already know the answers but they wish the answers were not so. They want someone else to give them that answer and when they get the answer the person giving it gets a barrage of criticism. I have my own issues with level 5. I support what the Government is doing. We have gone into a phase for six weeks and we will have to wait and see what the outcome will be.
Then we look at the hard left. Deputy Shortall, whom I greatly respect, spoke about the entire House coming to a consensus on how we deal with these issues and on the fines and the levels of enforcement measures the Garda takes. We do not have the time for this. The Deputy knows the House would not come to agreement on any measure on the pandemic. The Government has to take the difficult and courageous decisions. This is what governing involves sometimes. It is not the easy decisions and the crowd pleasing decisions that come from the hard left that are so easy to make. It is the really difficult tough unpopular decisions that are the decisions the Government has to make. The Government does not always get it right and when it does not get it right it comes back and it says we have to change this and amend it. With regard to the hard left's latest proposal on zero Covid, I looked online, and yesterday my colleague, Deputy Jim O'Callaghan, referred to the fact there are 66 active cases in New Zealand, which has been one of the pin-up countries for a zero-Covid policy.
This is a virus. The Government is doing its best. Our health service is doing its best. The testers and tracers are doing their absolute best, as are the HSE, nurses, doctors, shelf stackers, teachers, special needs assistants and caretakers. The Government got the schools back and ensured the delivery and fulfilment of the social contract that protects as best as possible those who lost their jobs or whose businesses are struggling but never a word from the left about how the Government has fulfilled the social contract with the most vulnerable. In the pandemic, the most vulnerable can have various hues because they include businesses, entrepreneurs and the private sector and not just those who would traditionally be regarded as vulnerable. Never a word from the left in the House about how the Government has absolutely supported them at a time when they most need it. The Government has poured billions into ensuring that stability is maintained in society at a time of unforeseen and sudden crisis. All the left does is catastrophise, attempt to divide and cause more anxiety and upheaval because that is the environment in which it thrives. The Government's responsibility is to keep order in the midst of chaos. What a challenge it is to maintain order in the midst of chaos.
I will communicate privately with the Minister on my next point. There are other measures the Government could take from a behavioural point of view. Nobody is thrilled that we have moved to level 5. We will know in six weeks whether it has worked. It may be a fork in the road for the country in terms of whether it has. I truly hope it does work because we are facing into Christmas and a time of hope for people. Members of the public looking on need to know that the vast majority of Members of the House, on the left and right, and all of those who support the Government are doing their absolute best to help them through the crisis and to maintain order and stability. The proposals before us today from the Ministers for Health and Justice and Equality are modest. They are in response to the anxiety and concerns of the public about the fact that while they have been obeying the laws, they see others flagrantly not obeying the laws but have not seen any enforcement on this. These proposals are modest efforts to attempt to tackle this issue.
There are a number of points on which we can all agree. We can all agree we want to bring the virus under control, reduce the spread of Covid-19 and do so by working together. I do not just mean all of us in the House but each and every one of us in the country. I also think we can agree, particularly as we are now at level 5 and infections are increasing at the rate they are, that we cannot do whatever we want to do, visit whomever we want to visit, drive wherever we want to go and carry on as normal because if we did, we would not be able to bring this pandemic under control. We would all agree with this.
At every stage of this process, when the Government has put in place regulations and measures, we have always tried to work and engage with people. We will all agree, because almost everybody who has spoken so far has said so, that the vast majority of people have complied. They are trying. We all make mistakes and nobody is perfect. People might have breached the regulations without meaning to or without realising it, but we are all trying. We can all agree the legislation will not actually apply to the vast majority of people.
Earlier this year, I brought forward legislation specifically relating to pubs, restaurants and premises selling alcohol because it was apparent to the vast majority of premises that were compliant that there were no penalties for those that were not compliant. Members of the House supported me, perhaps because the publicans supported the legislation. What happened very quickly afterwards was that the number of repeat offenders dropped and offending then disappeared. What we are trying to do here is very similar. The regulations will not apply to those who are adhering to the guidelines but there needs to be a very clear example for those who are adhering that there is a difference between them and those who are continuously and repeatedly breaking guidelines and putting the health of others at risk.
Deputies are asking to what this will be applied. The legislation is to bring the penalties in line with the breaches. At present, we believe the penalties are too severe because penalties are applied whether it is 5 km visit or gatherings. These have all been in place from the very beginning but because we are working from legislation based in the 1960s, the penalties are up to €2,500 or six months in prison. I do not think these are fair, and nor do other Ministers and most Deputies. This is why we have set a limit of €500.
Deputies cited the Garda Commissioner. They could also cite the Commissioner's statement that with regard to house gatherings, the Bill is good. We have not brought about this particular measure because we want to or because we are trying to be mean or stop people's fun. Far from it. There will not be gardaí going around looking in people's windows. What we are doing is responding to the fact that the Garda and the Chief Medical Officer have said the concern at present is very much connected to large gatherings in homes. We are trying to respond to this. Those who are not breaching guidelines will not come into contact with the Garda or the legislation but we need to send a message to those who are, particularly at this time and given that we are trying to bring this pandemic under control, that it is simply not acceptable.
On a point of order-----
We cannot have a debate now because we have concluded.
We have not had a chance to debate the other amendments but we will not accept the grouping of amendments, which I accept are important. I have not had time to respond to the various points.
I am required to put the following question: "That in respect of each of the sections undisposed of the section is hereby agreed to in Committee, the Preamble and the Title are hereby agreed to in Committee, the Bill is accordingly reported to the House without amendment, Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed."
- Berry, Cathal.
- Brophy, Colm.
- Browne, James.
- Bruton, Richard.
- Burke, Colm.
- Burke, Peter.
- Butler, Mary.
- Byrne, Thomas.
- Cahill, Jackie.
- Calleary, Dara.
- Cannon, Ciarán.
- Carey, Joe.
- Carroll MacNeill, Jennifer.
- Chambers, Jack.
- Collins, Niall.
- Costello, Patrick.
- Coveney, Simon.
- Cowen, Barry.
- Crowe, Cathal.
- Devlin, Cormac.
- Dillon, Alan.
- Donnelly, Stephen.
- Donohoe, Paschal.
- Duffy, Francis Noel.
- Durkan, Bernard J.
- English, Damien.
- Farrell, Alan.
- Feighan, Frankie.
- Fitzpatrick, Peter.
- Flaherty, Joe.
- Flanagan, Charles.
- Fleming, Sean.
- Foley, Norma.
- Grealish, Noel.
- Griffin, Brendan.
- Harkin, Marian.
- Harris, Simon.
- Haughey, Seán.
- Heydon, Martin.
- Higgins, Emer.
- Hourigan, Neasa.
- Howlin, Brendan.
- Humphreys, Heather.
- Kehoe, Paul.
- Kelly, Alan.
- Lahart, John.
- Lawless, James.
- Leddin, Brian.
- Madigan, Josepha.
- Martin, Catherine.
- Matthews, Steven.
- McAuliffe, Paul.
- McEntee, Helen.
- McGrath, Michael.
- McHugh, Joe.
- Moynihan, Aindrias.
- Moynihan, Michael.
- Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
- Murphy, Eoghan.
- Nash, Ged.
- Naughton, Hildegarde.
- Noonan, Malcolm.
- O'Brien, Joe.
- O'Callaghan, Jim.
- O'Connor, James.
- O'Dea, Willie.
- O'Donnell, Kieran.
- O'Donovan, Patrick.
- O'Sullivan, Christopher.
- O'Sullivan, Pádraig.
- Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
- Ó Cuív, Éamon.
- Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
- Rabbitte, Anne.
- Richmond, Neale.
- Ryan, Eamon.
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- Sherlock, Sean.
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- Smyth, Ossian.
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- Varadkar, Leo.
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- Boyd Barrett, Richard.
- Browne, Martin.
- Buckley, Pat.
- Cairns, Holly.
- Canney, Seán.
- Carthy, Matt.
- Collins, Joan.
- Collins, Michael.
- Connolly, Catherine.
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- Cronin, Réada.
- Crowe, Seán.
- Cullinane, David.
- Daly, Pa.
- Donnelly, Paul.
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- Farrell, Mairéad.
- Fitzmaurice, Michael.
- Gould, Thomas.
- Guirke, Johnny.
- Kenny, Gino.
- Kenny, Martin.
- Kerrane, Claire.
- Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
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- McGrath, Mattie.
- McNamara, Michael.
- Mitchell, Denise.
- Munster, Imelda.
- Murphy, Catherine.
- Murphy, Paul.
- Murphy, Verona.
- Mythen, Johnny.
- Naughten, Denis.
- O'Callaghan, Cian.
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- Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
- Ó Murchú, Ruairí.
- Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
- Pringle, Thomas.
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- Ryan, Patricia.
- Shortall, Róisín.
- Smith, Bríd.
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- Tóibín, Peadar.
- Ward, Mark.
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- Wynne, Violet-Anne.