5 March 2020
By Elaine Murphy
Cork East TD Seán Sherlock has said the Caretaker Government has no mandate to deal with the COVID. 19 threat and a Dáil Committee and overnight sittings will be required to pass legislation to combat the global pandemic.
Said Deputy Sherlock:
“Collectively, we in the Dáil must up our game with regard to Covid-19. In the UK, the Prime Minister has announced that workers will be entitled to statutory sick pay if they are self-isolating in cases of coronavirus. The Conservative Government has also modified the entitlement rules, so that workers are paid from day one, not the fourth day. This is not because of their love of workers’ rights; it is because these measures are necessary to help contain the spread of the virus.”
“The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has called for the same changes to be made here but the Government has, so far, failed to move on these issues.”
If workers cannot pay the rent or put food on the table they will go to work even if they are risk of spreading Covid-19. This is the reality of our economy. We need to change the social protection rules so that workers can afford to stay at home if they need to self-isolate.
“The caretaker Government that we have has no democratic mandate or legitimacy in introducing such serious measures if they become required. The Government has proposed to provide briefings to Opposition parties or to consult them. This is not acceptable. It is not for an interim Government or interim Ministers, some of whom are no longer members of the Dáil, merely to inform Opposition Members about what they are doing. The Minister for Health is part of an interim Government, headed by a Taoiseach who failed to secure the confidence of the majority of the Dáil at its first meeting.”
“The Labour Party’s proposal for a Dáil committee on Covid-19 has, perhaps, been misconstrued or insufficiently explained by us. Let me clarify our proposal. In the absence of a new Government that can command the confidence of a majority in the Dáil, it is the Dáil itself that should be making these decisions, not a caretaker Government. A Dáil committee on Covid-19 would not be a talking shop taking up hours of health officials’ time. It should be an executive group that would work with the interim Ministers to provide democratic legitimacy for the difficult decisions that may be required. This group should literally be available at a moment’s notice to agree actions that are necessary. These are not just health decisions. They are decisions about transport, retail and control of people’s liberty.”
“Potentially, we will have to decide whether to cancel St. Patrick’s Day parades before the Dáil meets again in two weeks. While others have spoken about the Dáil’s willingness to meet to pass legislation, we all know that this cannot happen overnight whereas some of the vital decisions that may be required in the coming weeks may require rapid decision-making to respond to a quickly evolving emergency. This is how serious the situation is. We must not be complacent. The public needs to see the political system acting responsibly and maturely in response to Covid-19. We need to get ahead of the issue so that we can shut down misinformation and unnecessary panic.”
“I would make the point that the Dáil sat overnight when it came to the financial crisis. The Dáil also took immediate and strong action when farming was threatened by foot-and-mouth disease. People’s lives and their peace of mind are being threatened by Covid-19. It is unthinkable that we would be any less diligent and responsive to Covid-19 when there is clear evidence that this is a very serious emergency.”
“I spoke to the mother of a child with a compromised immune system. She cannot understand why the Government has not required businesses to provide hand sanitisers, as we did for foot-and-mouth. The people want clear instructions and guidance, including on travel and ordinary business, to come from those with democratic legitimacy. This is not a sensationalist position. I do not doubt that our officials and public servants are doing everything they can to address the situation but we do not have a proper Government in power. It is incumbent on all of us in the Dáil to fill the democratic deficit until a new Government is formed. There are a great many workers who will find it very difficult to survive on statutory illness benefit of €203 per week. Many workers will have no contractual entitlement to anything beyond this, but they will have the same requirements to pay rent, pay bills and heat their homes. They may have additional costs associated with GP fees or the cost of medicines. This is the reality for low-paid workers, and one in four workers in this country is classified in this category, as the OECD has confirmed. We have to take action to help these workers take the right actions to stop the spread of the virus, and to the extent that it is possible to do so, we have to avoid low-paid workers being made materially worse off for doing the right thing.”
“Doctors, nurses and other hospital staff are also likely to be affected by the need for self-isolation as a result of Covid-19. We could very quickly find ourselves in a situation where we do not have enough medical staff to operate our hospitals or primary care centres. This is on top of the problems in our health service where the Government relies far too heavily on temporary agency staff and has an effective staffing embargo that has stopped people gaining permanent roles. This is why we need a committee of the Dáil put in place to make executive decisions collectively. This is what the emergency requires.”
“It is frankly disappointing, to say the least, that some Members are proposing briefings along the lines of the Brexit briefings, as if we had a normal Government with democratic legitimacy. It is also disappointing that some Members are proposing dedicating time at the Dáil’s next sitting to making statements on various issues rather than demanding that we deal with the emergencies facing our society where we, as the people’s representatives, are the democratically elected decision-makers. We cannot afford this kind of complacency and I hope that all of us as Members will reflect as the Covid-19 situation evolves and become more prepared to insist on the Dáil’s prerogative to be central to democratic decision-making about how we respond to this emergency.”
The Dáil is not scheduled to meet again until March 19th.