Everything we do at this time must have as its immediate priority the health and wellbeing of workers and families - Mary Lou McDonald
Below is the address of Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD to the Dáil on the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Bill 2020:
"Across this island our citizens, families and communities are bracing themselves for what is going to be a very tough few months. This crisis presents us with the challenge of our lifetime - to protect health, to defend livelihoods and to save lives.
"No-one here has all the answers to all of the challenges we face, but we have been elected here and we have a job to do, to listen and be guided by sound advice, to take decisions and to lead. That is what we must do.
"Social distancing, keeping ourselves to ourselves, is the thing that will slow this virus down. Social solidarity, community and family are the things that will protect us from isolation, anxiety and fear and we need to practice both, in equal measure.
"People have responded to the collective effort to stop the spread of Covid-19. They have heard the public health information and people have made the conscious decision to minimise social contact. People and communities have rallied to the call to slow this virus down.
"Over the weekend and St. Patrick's Day people cancelled parties, get togethers and family occasions to protect and save the lives of loved ones and their neighbours. Yesterday, tens of thousands of those same people went back to work, to factories, construction sites and to places where there is no real prospect of being able to practice social distancing, where there are no hand sanitisers and where there is no adequate protection. Now these workers worry that they are bringing the virus into their homes.
"The legislation before us today affords the Minister extraordinary and far reaching powers and people want to know that these powers will be used to protect them. So they ask why is it that large gatherings are still allowed? They ask why is it that in this race against time the government has not yet introduced full measures to give effect to social distancing?
"Nobody relishes the idea of what is called ‘lockdown’ but people do want the full assurance that half measures aren’t being taken, that corners aren’t being cut and that every necessary measure is being deployed to protect their health and safety, and these things are being done now.
"The government must give that reassurance to people and give full explanations of what’s happening and when and why - because orderly, decisive action is the thing that brings calm and reassurance.
"Equally people must know that the powers vested in the Minister are used only and exclusively for the purposes of addressing this crisis.
"Tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs. Many more will lose their jobs in the days and weeks ahead as businesses have had to close their doors. For these families the fear of the virus is now matched by the fear of bills that cannot be paid, rents that cannot be paid and mortgages that might go into default.
"Today’s legislation is just the start of the welfare response for these families. Illness benefit and jobseekers payments are just part of what must be a comprehensive response.
"The memory of the banking crash and financial crisis is still fresh in peoples minds. The disastrous cutbacks and austerity had dire social consequences. We cannot walk that path again.
"The people of this State bailed out the country’s banks a decade ago and the legacy of that crisis prevails. It was the resilience of ordinary workers that got our economy back on its feet. So now, in the eye of this new storm, this State must deliver for its people as guardian of common good. That is our job here.
"At this time, people’s homes are their sanctuaries. Never before has the need for a secure roof over your head been greater. That is why today Sinn Féin have put forward an amendment to today’s legislation that will prohibit evictions for the period that this legislation is in place. I believe that must be upheld in the common good, and no threat of eviction should hang over anyone’s head at a time of national crisis.
"We have to ensure that not one single person is left behind. It is our responsibility in this place to show leadership and to reassure people that we can get through this crisis. I have no doubt that we can do that.
"We need look no further than that of our healthcare workers, who have signed up in their tens of thousands to work in our hospitals and our communities to deal with this crisis. They are the ones whose example we should follow.
"So in that spirit today the Dáil needs to resolve that during this emergency:
- No renter should be evicted.
- Nobody should have to default on their mortgage.
- Nobody should have their utilities or their phone cut off.
- Nobody should be left without enough income to put food on the table.
- No viable business should be left unsupported.
- No frontline worker should be left without the basic protections needed to do their job.
"Everything that we do - socially, economically, and politically - must have as its sole priority the health and wellbeing of workers and families.
"This is a time for us all to pull together.
"When the Dáil meets next week we need to be taking further decisions. I believe that the work of this Dáil cannot cease at a time of crisis.
"In respect of the public health response, can I take the opportunity to commend the work of our public health doctors and teams thus far. Their work is invaluable, and we salute you and your efforts at this time.
"I also want to pay a special tribute to health staff across our public health system. Truly they are at the frontline of this crisis. They are truly deserving of our respect, admiration and our solidarity at this time.
"We need to do our bit. Everyone else is doing theirs. This is a road we walk together.
"In years to come, we will talk about life before the Coronavirus and we will talk about life after the virus.
"But the most important time is the present - the here and now - at this daunting time.
"There is no doubt that we shall overcome.
"The togetherness we see in our communities, the bravery, and professionalism of our frontline health workers and the enduring spirit of our people fill us all with hope.
"We have overcome great hardship before in numerous generations.
"We are no strangers to dark days. And yet, we endure together."