Ireland north and south is currently in the eye of a storm. We need to deal with the COVID-19 crisis and delay its spread while supporting health care staff, workers and those most in need.
We need to see a massive increase in testing capacity and urgent steps taken to ensure frontline health and social care staff are properly resourced with appropriate Personal Protection equipment.
We need to ensure maximum cooperation across the island of Ireland and ensure financial measures are put in place to protect workers and families.
Our priority is to ensure that every worker and family are safe. This is not a time for delay. This is a time for decisive action. If we are going to ensure that our health services are not overwhelmed we need to act. Everything other than absolutely essential business and services should be put into suspension.
We need to see further action in relation to workers in unsafe working environments, protecting renters during and beyond this crisis, tackling the behaviour of those in the insurance industry and banking and many issues in relation to testing for frontline workers and the changed criteria which has meant many people who were due to be tested have had them cancelled. We also need to ensure that people have enough to live on.
We believe the Irish government's initiatives fall short of what is required at this time and more needs to be done. It is very important that during this crisis that the government is held to account and that the Dáil continues to sit.
We need a massive increase in testing capacity and increased resources for tracing and contacting duties. We need to ensure that we have all available capacity within our health system to tackle this outbreak. This means having enough ventilators and respiratory equipment, enough beds, especially ICU beds. Throughout this crisis we must ensure that our frontline health workers are protected.
The lack of protective equipment for health workers, carers and others is causing a lot of concern – with frontline workers taking to the internet looking for resources and the government have stated that home help workers don’t need PPE. The changed criteria for testing has put huge pressure on GPs who are contacting patients to tell them their test is cancelled. This is causing concern and uncertainty for people also.
Sinn Féin’s proposals for the south in this regard would guarantee 100% of income up to €525 a week for workers and the self-employed who are laid off due to this crisis. The Irish government’s proposal comes nowhere close to that and does not go far enough. €350 is not enough for people who have lost their jobs. They will not be able to cope, to pay their mortgage or their rent and their bills, and for an adult with an adult dependent they would already be entitled to nearly €350, so this is of very little benefit to them.
This shows how little is being provided to those who need it most and falls well short of what is needed to support workers and their families at this time.
Finance Minister Conor Murphy has introduced protections for workers, small businesses and is lobbying the British Treasury to support the self-employed. He has brought in rate relief, including a three month rate holiday for all businesses and grants to support SMEs.
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has streamlined the benefit system to make it easy for those affected by COVID-19 to access benefits, including sick pay for workers. She has also introduced support measures for the community and voluntary sector.
With rent payments due at the start of April many people are very worried as they will have no way of paying their rent. While we welcome the Irish government's proposals to prevent mass evictions, ban on rent increases and additional rent supplement payment, it does not go far enough and there are two real concerns - many renters who do not have a tenancy agreement need to be included. Secondly, there are tens of thousands of renters who will accumulate substantial rent arrears debt during the emergency. With average rents at €1200 per month state wide and €1762 in Dublin this debt burden could be between €3000 and €6000 per renter depending on their rent levels and the length of the Covid-19 emergency.
There is a solution. We must ensure that landlords whose tenants are unable to pay their rent get a real moratorium on their mortgages. In turn tenants must get real rent reductions and rent waivers. We will be putting forward amendments and are asking the other parties to support them.
In the north, Sinn Féin Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has introduced measures to support those in the public housing sector and we have called for mortgage relief for homeowners and businesses.
The behaviour of the insurance industry and banks needs to be tackled – they are failing to respond properly to this crisis.
The insurance industry is trying to find ways of avoiding providing coverage to businesses who pay very high insurance premiums and have been forced to close as a result of the crisis. They need to be reined in by the Central Bank and taken to task over this behaviour. Nothing less than this is approach is required.
Many people with a €200,000 mortgage will pay close to €2,000 more over the lifetime of their mortgage because the banks are not only charging interest but interest on the interest. This is how the banks are intending to profit out of this crisis and it is outrageous. We want the Central Bank and the banks called in by the government and this to be stopped. We have been in touch with the Minister, the Central Bank and the banks on this. The fact is that they already charge twice the average EU interest rates for mortgage - they need to waive all interest during the period of the emergency and not profit on it.