Covid-19: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]

The following motion was moved by Deputy Alan Kelly on Wednesday, 25 February 2021:
"That Dáil Éireann: notes that:
— in March 2020, the Government published ‘Ireland’s National Action Plan in Response to Covid-19 (Coronavirus)’, and outlined proposed public health decisions and actions with the stated purpose of containing, delaying and mitigating the spread of the virus;
— by 4th February, 2021, 3,586 people had died with Covid-19 in the State, with another 1,899 having died in Northern Ireland;
— case numbers are over 200,000 in the State and 105,000 in Northern Ireland, more than 4 per cent of the population of the island of Ireland;
— the island has experienced three waves of infection, with the most recent wave, post-Christmas, being the highest in terms of overall infection and mortality and imposing the greatest pressure on the health service;
— our hospitals have struggled greatly to deal with the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, with over 2,000 Covid-19 patients in hospital at a point in late January;
— the economy has been shut down three times, for almost six months over the past ten months, and the movements of people have been severely restricted;
— the Government’s ‘Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with Covid19’, published in September 2020, has failed to cope with the most recent wave of infection and the emergence of more transmissible and lethal variants of the virus; and
— Ireland has an open border with Northern Ireland that should not be sealed, and essential travel must be allowed to continue on our island;
further notes that:
— repeated surges in Covid-19 infections and deaths, and repeated lockdowns now demonstrate the failure of a strategy of containment, delay and mitigation;
— vaccination alone is not a ‘silver bullet’ solution in the short to medium-term, and will not by itself rule out the need for further lockdowns;
— a comprehensive strategy to eliminate community transmission of Covid-19 in Ireland, also known as a ‘Zero-Covid’ approach, which has been recommended by the Independent Scientific Advocacy Group, is now urgently required;
— new variants, due to mutation of the virus, present a significant risk and that it is therefore vital to take fullest advantage of our island status, and to significantly restrict all movement onto the island, or, in the absence of an all-island strategy, into
the State; and
— women are disproportionately bearing the burden from the Covid-19 pandemic, as has been laid out by the Covid Women’s Voices group; and
calls on the Government to:
— adopt a national aggressive suppression strategy for Covid-19, with the aim of eradicating community transmission and getting overall case numbers down to double digits, and then using aggressive testing and tracing against any outbreaks;
— prevent travellers from boarding aircraft or boats bound for Ireland in the absence of a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test;
— introduce mandatory hotel quarantine for all travellers arriving by sea and air into the State, with the exception of designated essential and logistics workers, with PCR testing at arrivals and a follow-up test after five days;
— adequately resource the testing and tracing system to increase capacity for contact tracing;
— develop, with the Northern Ireland authorities, a fully integrated cross-border contact tracing system;
— increase permanent capacity in our public hospitals, including by nationalising private hospital capacity where necessary, as called for by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation;
— target areas of significant risk of Covid-19 outbreaks for serial testing, including healthcare settings and other workplaces where a higher risk of infection exists;
— implement rapid antigen testing in congregated settings, where appropriate;
— roll out rapid antigen testing in the community, including in our schools when they reopen, and serial PCR testing in healthcare facilities to control outbreaks;
— ensure that only genuinely essential employees are compelled to work outside the home by empowering the Health and Safety Authority to survey and inspect workplaces with 20 or more employees;
— pay student nurses who are working in our hospitals at the health care assistant rate that they were previously paid during the first wave of the pandemic;
— implement a support package for the aviation and hospitality sectors, recognising that they will not be able to reopen until Covid-19 is aggressively suppressed and a significant proportion of the population are vaccinated;
— publish, on a daily basis, the figures on the total number of people vaccinated, with details on the percentage of different age groups and priority groups that have been vaccinated;
— recognise the importance of investing in our public health system, address the longstanding concerns about the inadequate resourcing of public health in Ireland and implement consultant-level contracts for public health doctors;
— assess the public health cost implications arising from the effects of ‘Long Covid’;
— recognise the disproportionate impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on women, and to address this by implementing measures recommended by the Covid Women’s Voices group;
— continue the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme until the end of 2021, and further commit to embedding such schemes into the labour market structure with important employment rights and other conditions attached as the scheme evolves;
— ensure that there is a moratorium on all evictions and rent increases until the economy has fully reopened, and call on banks to provide payment breaks to those in need, without charging any additional interest;
— proactively pursue a joint strategy and joint measures with the Northern Ireland Executive, in order to develop an all-island strategy to eliminate community transmission on the island;
— introduce Garda checks five kilometers from the border with Northern Ireland; and
— support the international campaign, supported by Oxfam and other organisations, for vaccines to be made available for all people, in all countries, free of charge as soon as possible."
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:
“recognises:
— that like most of Europe, Ireland experienced increasing Covid-19 infection rates over the winter months and by December and January infection rates were accelerating rapidly with consequent increases in hospitalisation and mortality rates;
— that the Government, following advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), took decisive and proactive action and put in place Level 5 restrictions from 31st December, in order to reduce the rate of infection and to prevent mortality from the disease;
— the widespread commitment and continued adherence to these public health restrictions by the Irish public; and
— that health and social care workers have been at the forefront of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic in Ireland since the beginning of the pandemic, and they have worked tirelessly to care for people who have become infected, while also delivering non-Covid services across the breadth of our health and social care services;
notes that the measures taken to address the third wave of the virus have:
— resulted in significant suppression of viral transmission, and acknowledging that in January Ireland had one of the highest incidences of the disease in Europe, Ireland is now suppressing this third wave of Covid-19 infection faster than any other country in Europe;
— following a surge in incidence, succeeded in reducing incidence, and hospitalisations, Intensive Care Unit admissions and mortality are now stabilising/declining; and
— enabled the successful ongoing roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccination programme, which, up to 3rd February, has resulted in over 200,000 Covid-19 vaccines administered, with 67,000 people fully vaccinated, having received their first and second doses and this is a key element of the ongoing public health response;
cautions:
— that notwithstanding the roll-out of vaccines, the current public health protective measures like social distancing, face masks and respiratory etiquette will continue to be fundamental components of the approach to the prevention and mitigation of Covid-19; and
— that the current experience of countries across the 27 European Union (EU) Member States/United Kingdom and elsewhere, demonstrates the fragility of the epidemiological situation in Ireland and the threat still posed by the Covid-19 pandemic;
acknowledges that:
— the emergence of Covid-19 worldwide:
— has taken a significant personal, societal and economic toll;
— has had a significant impact on the ongoing delivery of health and social care; and
— resulted in a very significant increased requirement for infection prevention and control (IPC) capacity across the health system;
— these impacts are inextricably linked to the levels of transmission of Covid-19 in the community and underline the need for continued widespread compliance with public health guidelines as they evolve; and
— in light of the foregoing, the Government:
— is implementing an extensive and comprehensive strategy to the Covid-19 pandemic, including a range of public health restrictions and investments in public health capacity in line with the national framework for living with Covid-19;
— has taken measures in best interest of public health, having regard also to maintaining economic and social activity as safely as possible; and
— has taken measures in best interest of public health, having regard also to maintaining economic and social activity as safely as possible; and
— has ensured that the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) is providing support across all sectors of the economy to support viable firms and encourage employment in the midst of these very challenging times; to date, subsidy payments of almost €2 billion have been made and Pay Related Social Insurance (PRSI) relief worth over €300 million has been granted to over 46,000 employers in respect of over 515,000 employees;
— has supported businesses via the Pandemic Stabilisation Recovery Fund (PSRF) and the Irish Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), as part of the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA), has allocated €2 billion for deployment from the PSRF to support businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic and to invest in their recovery phase;
in particular, welcomes the significant investment in the vaccine programme and the successful commencement to the roll-out of the programme starting with the most vulnerable groups;
further acknowledges that testing and contact tracing are key components of the response to the pandemic and recognises the robust testing strategy under the guidance of NPHET and the comprehensive testing and tracing operation that has been put in place by the Health Service Executive, and welcomes the significant investment provided to the testing and tracing programme, amounting to €445 million in 2021, and the ongoing recruitment of dedicated community swabbers and contact tracing staff;
further recognises the very significant ongoing serial testing programme in residential care facilities and food production facilities, and welcomes the Government commitment to continue the programme of serial testing in those most vulnerable settings;
further welcomes the ongoing consideration of all appropriate mechanisms to target testing to detect and mitigate the impact of the virus across the population including the adoption of appropriate testing technologies based on evidence and evaluation;
also acknowledges the important role of strong measures in relation to travel in the wider strategy for the management of the Covid-19 pandemic, and welcomes the requirement for passengers arriving to Ireland from overseas to present a Covid-19 passenger locator form and evidence of a negative pre-departure test taken within 72 hours of travel upon arrival;
furthermore welcomes:
— the work on new travel measures, including the drafting of primary legislation to provide for designated quarantine facilities, and the introduction of mandatory home quarantine for arriving passengers, with limited exemptions;
— the investment in hospital capacity, including €600 million in the Winter Plan 2020/2021 and Budget 2021 to provide for a permanent increase in hospital beds (excluding critical care beds) of 1,146 above the number in the system at the end of 2019;
— the Strategic Plan for Critical Care which aims to bring permanent adult critical care capacity in Ireland to 321 by the end of 2021, and to 446 in the long-term, in line with the recommendations of the Health Service Capacity Review on critical care; and
— significant additional funding in 2021 to enhance the health service’s IPC responses in an integrated way across acute and community services;
further notes the agreement with 18 private hospitals to provide up to 30 per cent of their capacity, if required, to deal with the current surge of Covid-19 cases;
acknowledges the need to strengthen and reform how public health medicine operates, including the introduction of a consultant-led public health model, and notes the commitment to significant investment in public health with the announcement of plans to double the current workforce by recruiting an additional 255 permanent staff, at an annual cost of over €17 million;
furthermore, recognises the disproportionate impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on specific groups and in particular:
— the significant contribution made by women to the Covid-19 response, and the disproportionate burden which the pandemic has placed on women;
— the need for consistent consideration of how best to support women throughout the pandemic, including our predominantly female health and social care workforce and informal and family carers, within the context of the overall response; and
— the work of the Women’s Health Taskforce, which is a priority in the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future, and the additional funding allocated to the taskforce and key services for women, including maternity and gynaecology services, in Budget 2021;
acknowledges:
— that Covid-19 is a global challenge requiring close international collaboration and commits to continue the close and productive cooperation with Northern Ireland to foster commonality in approaches, where possible, in addressing the Covid-19 pandemic;
— that the Government is negotiating its participation and contribution to Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) as part of a Team Europe effort following the EU joint engagement to mobilise resources in a coherent and efficient way in the context of the EU Global Response to coronavirus and welcomes that Team Europe’s engagement will accelerate global efforts to bring the pandemic under control and scale up distribution of a successful vaccine as soon as it becomes available;
— that Covid-19 requires close collaboration across Government and across all sectors and welcomes a record level of funding for tourism of just under €221 million that has been provided, and over €100 million in support that has already been made available under schemes for Irish airlines and airports; and
— the advice to work from home where possible;
commits that:
— the Government will continue to monitor the measures that have been put in place in response to the economic challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, to support viable firms and encourage employment, including the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme; and
— regular assessments will continue to be carried out to determine whether it is necessary to adjust such schemes to better fulfil the objectives of providing the necessary stimulus to the economy so as to mitigate the effects on the economy of Covid-19, or to facilitate the efficient use of Exchequer resources and protect the public finances;
further again, acknowledges the widespread support and adherence to public health restrictions by the public and the solidarity shown by communities and citizens, in line with the Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with Covid-19;
recognises the reduction in the disease incidence, with Ireland suppressing this third wave of Covid-19 infection faster than any other country in Europe and the need to continue to maintain public health protective measures to minimise the spread of Covid-19;
welcomes the protective measures in place to ensure ongoing provision of healthcare including €4 billion to protect, reform and expand health and social care services and implement universal healthcare in Budget 2021;
highlights the measures put in place to mitigate the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, including the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment and supports for businesses, including businesses and pubs in rural areas;
emphasises the measures put in place to protect the elderly, vulnerable groups and those experiencing loneliness and social isolation, including increased funding for mental health services, extra counselling supports, home-help supports, and the expert panel on long-term residential care; and
strongly values the contribution of health and social care workers at the forefront of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
- (Minister for Health)

I must now deal with a postponed division relating to amendment No. 1 in the name of the Minister of Health to the motion regarding a national aggressive strategy for Covid-19. Yesterday on the question, "That the amendment be made", a division was claimed and that division must be taken now.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 90; Níl, 53; Staon, 0.

  • Berry, Cathal.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Browne, James.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Canney, Seán.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Carroll MacNeill, Jennifer.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Costello, Patrick.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Crowe, Cathal.
  • Devlin, Cormac.
  • Dillon, Alan.
  • Donnelly, Stephen.
  • 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.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Higgins, Emer.
  • Hourigan, Neasa.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Lawless, James.
  • Leddin, Brian.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Martin, Catherine.
  • Matthews, Steven.
  • McAuliffe, Paul.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Murphy, Verona.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Nolan, Carol.
  • Noonan, Malcolm.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Brien, Joe.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Connor, James.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donoghue, Richard.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Gorman, Roderic.
  • O'Sullivan, Christopher.
  • O'Sullivan, Pádraig.
  • Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Richmond, Neale.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Shanahan, Matt.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smyth, Niamh.
  • Smyth, Ossian.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Varadkar, Leo.

Níl

  • Andrews, Chris.
  • Barry, Mick.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Brady, John.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Cairns, Holly.
  • Carthy, Matt.
  • Clarke, Sorca.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Connolly, Catherine.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Cronin, Réada.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donnelly, Paul.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Farrell, Mairéad.
  • Gannon, Gary.
  • Gould, Thomas.
  • Guirke, Johnny.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kenny, Gino.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • Kerrane, Claire.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Mythen, Johnny.
  • Nash, Ged.
  • O'Callaghan, Cian.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • O'Rourke, Darren.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
  • Ó Murchú, Ruairí.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Ryan, Patricia.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Bríd.
  • Smith, Duncan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tully, Pauline.
  • Ward, Mark.
  • Whitmore, Jennifer.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Brendan Griffin and Jack Chambers; Níl, Deputies Alan Kelly and Duncan Smith.
Amendment declared carried.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.