Maternity Care (Covid-19) Bill 2021: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to ensure that mothers receiving maternity care may be accompanied in hospital during childbirth and on occasions prior and subsequent to the birth; and to provide for related matters.

As I said in the context of the previous business, it is frustrating when we put questions to Ministers. On six occasions in recent months, Ministers stated that they would come back with responses but they have not done so. It is my job to keep Ministers true to their word in this regard.

Turning to this proposed legislation, in maternity hospitals around this country today, mothers are giving birth and their partners are in a car in the car park below and not with them. As Ministers leave Leinster House, they will hear the voices of thousands of women protesting outside the gates. They are there because a cruel and inhumane restriction policy is still in place in some hospitals. The Minister expressed criticism of those restrictions as recently as this morning. He stated that the Government does not agree with them. Then, however, those in government just shrugged their shoulders and said they could not do anything about the situation. Worse than that, when Ministers are pushed on why they are not doing something about this issue, they state that there may be health reasons to explain the restrictions. They cannot have it both ways. Either this practice is wrong and needs to stop or it is right and the Government is allowing these hospitals to continue doing it. Saying it is wrong and then not following through to address the issue is the Government speaking out of both sides of its mouth. Any suggestion that the Minister cannot do more is grossly misleading. We in Aontú are introducing this legislation, which, if passed, will ensure that from now on mothers can always be accompanied during childbirth, or on occasions before and after, by a partner of their choice.

Several emails were released to me last year by the Department of Health under the freedom of information legislation. These were a selection of emails sent to the Minister by women who were pregnant during the Covid-19 period. These are heartbreaking emails. I will put a few of them on the record. One woman recounted her experience in her email to the Minister. She stated that she:

... had to sit in a room alone to be told that my baby had died. I was sent from this room alone reeling from what I had just heard to sit on a busy ward corridor sobbing alone. This is simply unacceptable. At no point was I allowed to have my husband present to provide any sort of comfort. I sat for hours alone and broken in one of your maternity hospitals. Not a single person to offer me the comfort I craved and needed.

In another email sent to the Minister for Health on 5 October 2020, a woman recalled a miscarriage that she had. She wrote:

... the monitor turned dark and the midwife told me there was no heartbeat. It was an unexpected and earth-shattering experience that no woman should have to go through [especially] alone and it is a scandal of our time that women are ... forced to endure this [by themselves].

Separately, another person sent an email to the Taoiseach and he then sent it to the Minister for Health on 28 September 2020. In this email, the individual stated:

My wife ... [has] experienced 9 miscarriages in the past 6 years and my wife is in early pregnancy at the moment. While this is great news and we are delighted we are also really nervous and anxious due to our history ...

When the Minister listens to those excruciatingly difficult personal stories, how can he reconcile such situations with the fact that nightclubs will be open without restrictions in this State on 23 October? How can he reconcile the experience of these women with the fact that all areas of the hospitality industry will be back to normal in a few weeks? I am always concerned when I hear the Government state that there is only so much it can do on a particular issue. The Minister for Health has indicated that he wants the restrictions in question lifted but that individual hospitals are responsible for their own restrictions. That is a cop-out. The Minister is in government. The Government has the majority and it creates the laws and rules which exist in this country. The Minister cannot say that he and the Government are in some way passengers on this ship. The Government is sailing the ship of State now.

How is it that a small Opposition party such as Aontú can develop a Bill that gets to the heart of the issue, that seeks the safe accompaniment of mothers by a partner in their time of need and that seeks to do this safely? Our Bill states that people must prove, through an antigen test or some other test, that they do not have Covid-19 and that they do not have any symptoms. If the tests prove that it is safe for people to go in and accompany their partners, then they should be able to do that.

I urge everybody to support the Bill and to help it go through the Dáil as quickly as possible.

Is the Bill being opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.