Donegal Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty has said that the latest social welfare figures highlight the ongoing neglect and lack of investment in Donegal. Figures published on Monday show that 22,500 people are now availing of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment in the county. This represents almost 50% of the total workforce in the county and is the highest percentage of workers, per capita, of any county, receiving the payment.
Deputy Doherty said:
“This figure is stark and is reflective of the plight of workers and those who were employed by small and medium rural businesses who have been hit hard by this pandemic. It shows how vulnerable Donegal is following decades of neglect and a lack of proper investment in the county.”
“I have spoken to various agencies within the county today and I am calling for a joint and coordinated approach between state agencies such as Údaras na Gaeltachta and Enterprise Ireland, supported by Donegal County Council and others. What is clearly needed are stimulus packages for our local businesses to help kickstart the economy and to get people back to work when this pandemic passes and when it is safe to do so.”
“We cannot let our small and medium rural businesses be left to fend for themselves. Our communities need them. They are the lifeblood of rural Ireland and they will be the ones to help us and our workers to get back on our feet when this is over. But they need support now.”
“Sinn Féin is advocating that the current loan scheme introduced by the Government to provide cash to businesses is changed so that the current 4% interest rate that is being charged is lowered to 0%.”
“In addition, we need a system of grants for businesses, with targeted grant schemes for certain sectors of the economy that may need that extra support.”
“We also need an injection of capital spending on infrastructure such as roads and building projects in Donegal to help create jobs, support the local businesses that are currently in the region and to entice new businesses to come and locate themselves in the northwest.”
“We need to provide a clear roadmap for those workers currently in receipt of Pandemic Unemployment Payment in the county to ensure that the businesses that were employing the workers before the crisis are there when this is over.”
“Donegal has been left behind by successive governments. Before this crisis we were just about able to see the light at the end of the tunnel following the last economic crash. Now we have been plunged back into darkness. We cannot be left waiting another 10 years before we start to see economic recovery again.”
The opportunity for a multi-million funding package for Derry and Strabane coupled with the proposed medical school at Magee provide a unique opportunity for prosperity in the North West, Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson has said.
Martina Anderson said: “The Inclusive Future Fund for Derry was announced last May. Combined with the City Deal and Executive match-funding, this would represent a game changing £210 million investment package that delivers economic regeneration and the much-needed medical school and expansion of Magee university.
“This is even more urgent at a time of a global pandemic when retired NHS staff are being asked to return to work. A medical school in Derry will provide the much-needed NHS heroes of the future and, crucially, they will be trained and retained where they are needed.
“The opportunity currently available to address regional imbalance and deliver tangible benefits across the community in the Derry and Strabane area should be embraced urgently and enthusiastically by all parties.”
Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew has welcomed today’s update on implementing pay parity for Health and Social Care workers.
The Sinn Féin health spokesperson said:
“One of the first actions of the incoming Executive and the Health Minister was to address the issue of pay parity for Health and Social Care (HSC) workers.
“Today’s news on pay parity is welcome.
“It’s right that HSC staff are being universally recognised as vital frontline workers protecting the health of the community.
“However only a few months ago HSC workers were forced to take industrial action to achieve pay parity and a safe staffing environment.
“They have always been vital in providing frontline services to the community.
“HSC workers deserve pay parity and they deserve to work in safety with adequate staffing levels and the right equipment to do the job.”
Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD has urged the Minister for Social Protection to reverse her decision not to provide a Covid-19 domestic violence rent supplement payment.
The Dublin Central TD said:
“Earlier this month, Safe Ireland submitted a detailed proposal to the Minister for Social Protection warning her of the urgent need to enable domestic violence victims to access an emergency rent supplement payment for a period of three months or for the duration of Covid-19 emergency.
“Under this proposal specialist domestic violence service professionals, An Garda Síochána and health professionals, along with the Department would serve as direct referral pathways to this payment. This would provide a formalised and efficient mechanism to provide alternative accommodation for victims in a way which is sensitive to their particular needs.
“Sadly, domestic violence service providers have warned in stark and worrying terms that victims of such crimes are likely to be at greater risk of harm due to the ongoing pandemic. Many women and children are trapped at home with an abuser, while options for escape or support have been cut off from them.
“We owe it to them to work urgently to provide specific services to help them at this time of crisis. Where victims need to urgently relocate they should not face further hoops to jump through. Delays can cause further suffering, unnecessary distress and potentially serious risk to their lives.
“The Minister’s refusal to progress or even engage with Safe Ireland’s proposal is deeply disappointing and fails to recognise the unique and urgent circumstances of victims’ accommodation needs during the current crisis.
“I am calling on the Minister to meet with Safe Ireland so that she can better understand why this failure to meet the housing needs of victims of domestic abuse and their children needs to be urgently addressed.”
Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew has welcomed the news that a COVID-19 contact tracing pilot is to commence in Belfast but expressed concerns regarding the decision to stop contact tracing in March contrary to the advice of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The party’s health spokesperson said:
"Contact tracing is recommended by the WHO for all phases of the COVID-19 crisis and we have still to receive an adequate explanation from the Department of Health as to why tracing ceased as far back as March.
"The message has been clear from the WHO. Test, Trace and isolate, has been the repeated advice by global experts.
"Testing confirms who has COVID-19 but tracing is necessary to identify who have been in contact with confirmed cases of COVID-19 so that they can isolate and reduce the transmission of the virus.
"The evidence at the Health Committee confirmed contact tracing ceased here from the 12th March.
"The absence of contact tracing for nearly a month and a half during this crisis makes it all the more difficult for those attempting to begin to recommence it now.
"Environmental Health Officers from all the councils are already trained in contact tracing and this resource could have been used to do tracing throughout the crisis especially given the social distancing and restriction measures had considerably reduced interactions.
"For any system of contact tracing to work, it must function on an all island basis.
"While the pilot which is due to focus on priority groups like healthcare workers and those within care homes and other vulnerable settings, is welcome it must be rolled out to full contact tracing.”
Donegal Sinn Féin TD's Pearse Doherty and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn have today written to the Minister for Health asking him to urgently amend the Health Act 1947 (Section 31A - Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) Regulations 2020, which would allow Gardaí to enforce Covid-19 restrictions not just on those resident in the State but also on persons visiting.
Both TD’s have said that the situation has again highlighted the pressing need for an all-island approach to this crisis.
Speaking today, Deputy Doherty said:
“Both Pádraig and I have been contacted by many constituents here in Donegal, and by people across the island, who are understandably concerned in relation to the news that has come to light over the weekend regarding the limitations of the Gardaí to enforce Covid-19 restrictions on visitors.
“It is not difficult to correct this and it can be done by the Minister at the stroke of a pen. The primary emergency legislation that we passed in the Oireachtas a number of weeks ago provided for regulations to be made by the Minister which could be imposed on '…persons or classes of persons resident in, working in or visiting locations…
“However, the Regulations that the Minister did make, define an “applicable person” on whom the restrictions can be imposed as: '…a person whose place of residence is located within a relevant geographical location.'
“Therefore, we are calling on the Minister to urgently amend the regulations to widen the definition of an “applicable person” to include all persons, regardless of their place of residence.
“In this unprecedented public health emergency, An Garda Síochana must have the full suite of necessary powers available to them to enforce the restrictions equally, without exception.
“During this time, our normal daily lives have been suspended. The vast majority of people have been adhering to the restrictions and staying at home. Our elderly and vulnerable citizens have been cocooning. It is important that everyone is treated equally and that nobody is seen to be outside the scope of these restrictions.”
Sinn Fein health spokesperson Louise O’Reilly TD has said that the government’s contact tracing app must be data transparent and human rights compliant to ensure maximum adoption.
Teachta O’Reilly said:
“There is no disputing the value of a contact tracing app from a public health perspective.
“In other countries apps have been effective in speeding up contact tracing and therefore have enabled health services to track the virus and break its transmission.
“There are a number of ways to get this information and have it available for public health officials.
“It is possible to develop, as in Germany and other places, an app that uses Bluetooth and records on your phone your close contacts without recording location and that this information is held by you on your phone and not shared with any third party.
“Indeed, it appears that only Ireland, Britain, and France are proposing the more intrusive model where people’s locations will be tracked by the app - while other European countries are using the Bluetooth version.
“In any event, the government must state that no information on users will be held, stored, or shared with external parties – there is no reason for this information be held, stored, or shared by the HSE or any government agency.
“Just as with the Public Service Card there are significant issues regarding privacy and the holding and sharing of data with the proposed app.
“The reason these issues of data transparency and human rights are so important is that they potential barriers to adoption of the app.
“For an app such as this to be really successful and effective it will need to be adopted by at least 40% of people.
“If there are concerns over data protection and location tracking then people will not use the app and this will defeat its whole purpose.
“We know that the government are conducting a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) at the moment – this report must be published in advance of the app going live.
“Furthermore, the data for the app must be decentralised, not centralised.
“With a centralised app model, the data is collected by GPS and you have to share your phone number with the government.
“In the decentralised app model using Bluetooth you have the data on your phone and the app alerts close contacts and advises them to contact the HSE for assistance.
“There are many international examples where decentralised contact tracing apps have balanced public health benefits and the privacy concerns. That is what the government should be seeking to do, not only because it is right, but because it will result in maximum take-up for maximum effectiveness.”
Sinn Féin's Economy Spokesperson, Caoimhe Archibald MLA, has written to the British government calling for the introduction of a Windfall Tax on several multinational giants making super-profits as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
The East Derry MLA took the initiative following the announcement of soaring share prices and subscriber figures for multinational giants such as Amazon and Netflix.
Caoimhe Archibald MLA said:
"I have written to the British Chancellor to call for the introduction of a Windfall Tax on the profits of those multinationals and large corporations who have made substantial profits as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
"Several large companies such as Amazon, Netflix, and large food retailers have enjoyed a significant increase in their profits as a result of the lockdown.
"These profits should be taxed, and the revenue raised should be used directly to deal with this public health and economic crisis.
"In fact, several of the companies concerned are taxed very little anyway due to their exploitation of a complex network of tax loopholes. The British government must seek to collect all corporate tax as a matter of urgency."
Sinn Féin TD for Louth and East Meath Imelda Munster has described as an ‘absolute scandal’ that staff members at Sunhill Nursing Home in Termonfeckin, Co. Louth have reported that staff who tested positive for Covid-19 last week were given the option of continuing to attend work - in clear contravention of guidelines issued by the HSE and the Department of Health; which require that anyone who has tested positive for the virus, or who has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, to self-isolate for fourteen days.
It is understood that one member of staff that tested positive for the virus continued to work until contacted by public health officials, who advised them to immediately return home to self-isolate.
Deputy Munster said:
“Last Monday, residents and staff at Sunhill Nursing Homes were tested for the virus. On Friday, results showed that 30 residents and 20 members of staff tested positive, including nurses, kitchen staff, management and carers.
“I have been informed that management at Sunhill called sections of staff together and advised them that if they tested positive - but were not displaying symptoms - they could remain at work and that the decision was up to each individual.
“I have been made aware of one member of staff who continued to work until advised to go home to self-isolate a day later by public health officials.
“This advice has led to a very serious situation whereby staff who tested positive were given the option to remain at work, caring for residents and working alongside staff who had tested negative for the virus.
“Last Friday, I raised this matter with the Minister for Health, the HSE and HIQA. I have been advised that there are now no members of staff who tested positive working at the nursing home. However, it appears that this was not the case in the period between the results coming in, and public health officials contacting staff members who tested positive to ensure that they were self-isolating.
“I received a statement from Sunhill this morning saying that a contingency plan was put in place over the weekend and that the situation is being managed in-house with support from the HSE, their GP and Public Health. I would have to question the assertion that the plan was put in place over the weekend when we know that staff who tested positive were not sent home by management on Friday and Saturday.
“The residents of nursing homes are among the most vulnerable in the State, and they are the most vulnerable in terms of Covid-19.
“We need a full review of this matter to establish how this advice was given to staff, how many staff remained at work after receiving a positive test for Covid-19 and who they were in contact with.
“We also need to have confidence that this is not happening elsewhere. To ensure compliance, we need to have clear guidelines for people who want to report such breaches. There does not appear to be a clear pathway for the investigation of complaints of this type. HIQA cannot investigate individual complaints. We have the Gardaí to police businesses and house parties, but nobody to ensure that nursing homes are following the guidelines.
“I wrote to the Minister today calling for him to act on this matter immediately. We need a point of contact, or preferably a separate body, tasked with policing this to ensure that those living in nursing homes are protected.”
The Irish Government must look at a bespoke solution to support cross-border workers impacted by Covid-19, Senator Elisha McCallion has said.
Seanadóir McCallion commented:
“It’s unacceptable that weeks into this crisis no has solution been found to extend pandemic unemployment benefits to workers living in the north.
“As a result of necessary measures to halt the spread of Coronavirus, many workers and the self-employed have sadly lost their jobs and while Government supports are welcome, they must be available to all who need them.
“This is a challenging and uncertain enough time for many and it is welcome that protections are in place for workers and families north and south.
“However, it is even more devastating for people who, despite paying their taxes in the state, will be refused benefits because they happen to reside in a different part of Ireland.
“It’s time to end this injustice. The government must work speedily to ensure workers are able to avail of this payment or look at a bespoke model to support cross-border workers.”
Sinn Féin's Economy Spokesperson Caoimhe Archibald MLA has today written to motor insurers in the north of Ireland to ask that they provide a refund in premiums to car insurance customers.
The East Derry MLA said that car insurance companies had a responsibility to pass savings built up from a sharp reduction in claims back to customers’ pockets.
Caoimhe Archibald MLA said:
"Today I have written to a number of major motor insurance companies in the North to ask they pass savings back to customers through a refund in premium payments.
"Some estimates point to a 70% reduction in traffic. Claims have fallen dramatically as a result.
"Some insurers in the south of Ireland have signalled they will provide rebates or reductions in premium payments.
"On the whole, the insurance industry has been found wanting in doing its bit to support families and businesses during this crisis.
"As everyone has sacrificed to protect public health, it's up to those who have profited through this crisis to return these savings to the pockets of workers and families."
Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew has said the additional funding and extra protection measures announced for residential and care homes will help ease the concerns of families but said full testing is required across all care homes.
Colm Gildernew said:
“The finding package announced by the health minister to help tackle COVID-19 in residential and care homes and keep residents and staff safe is welcome.
“New precautions and procedures will also be put in place which will see an increase in testing and new measures around patients who have been discharged from hospital into care settings.
“These are measures we have been calling on the health minister to introduce in order to protect those in care homes.
“While these measures will go some way to addressing the fears and concerns of families who have loved ones in residential and care homes, more is needed.
“In order to get a full picture of the scale of COVID-19 in care homes then proper provision of testing of all residents and staff needs to be carried out.
“Those living and working in care homes are among the most vulnerable in our society to COVID-19 and we must make sure we are doing all we can to protect them.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health Louise O’Reilly TD has called on the HSE and government to ensure that necessary supports are in place to help problem gamblers at this time, with data from Britain suggesting that problem gambling habits are becoming more intense and riskier.
Teachta O’Reilly said:
“COVID19 presents huge challenges to everyone’s way of life. Within the crisis though, there are many ongoing smaller crises, with problem gambling one such issue.
“Emerging data from a Survation poll in Britain has found that casual gambling has fallen during the COVID19 crisis, but betting habits amongst problem gamblers have become more intense and many people have moved towards risky habits such as slot machines and virtual and online casino games.
“In the north of Ireland, over 11% of respondents said they were gambling more than before the onset of the COVID19 crisis.
“On the basis of that information - and knowing the scale of problem gambling in this State - then we have to assume that there is a similar crisis happening in communities in the south.
“Early last week, data was released which showed that more than 230 people sought help with a gambling addiction last year - a 7% increase on the number treated for gambling as a problem in 2018.
“The HSE and the government need to ensure that support services are in place to help people with a problem gambling habit if they seek help.
“I would also urge the Minister for Health and the Minister for Sport to contact all online gambling companies operating in the State to demand they do more to protect customers from harm."
Sinn Féin TD for Donegal Pádraig Mac Lochlainn has called on the Minister for Health to immediately amend regulations to allow Gardaí to enforce emergency travel restrictions on movement of all persons who travel in the State during this public health crisis.
Teachta Mac Lochlainn said:
"The confirmation that regulations allowing Gardaí to enforce restrictions on movement of travel during this Covid-19 crisis can only be applied to persons living in the State has understandably caused real anger.
"It is important to say that the vast majority of people have been adhering to the travel restrictions, north and south, but these emergency laws are for the very small minority who won’t and who are undermining the immense sacrifice of the many at this time.
"It is unacceptable that the Minister and his senior officials have made this error; considering that all of the government legislation goes through the Attorney General’s office.
"I will be seeking for this to be resolved as soon as possible. The Minister should immediately amend the regulations concerning travel restrictions as they are underpinned by emergency legislation passed by the Dáil and Seanad."
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Finance Pearse Doherty TD has said that the differing positions of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael on the age of entitlement to a pension is a 'clear illustration that their co-opting of the word "change" is nothing but spin'.
"It is noticeable that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael's joint framework document contains no mention of the age at which workers can retire and avail of a pension.
"Today, it is clear that they have no position on this - with the Fianna Fáil leader saying one thing and Fine Gael saying another.
"What Fianna Fáil have actually proposed is a postponement of the increase to 67, but this goes nowhere near enough in meeting the demand of people for change and the reversal of the pension age to 65.
"Sinn Féin are the only party that has published legislation to do this - the Right to Retire at 65 Bill.
"We are unequivocal about this issue and we are the only party that will guarantee the right to a pension at 65.
"Workers are entitled to dignity and respect in retirement, and a pension at 65 - if they choose to retire.
"This is a clear illustration that the co-opting of the word "change" by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is nothing but spin. They cannot be trusted.
"Only Sinn Féin in government will guarantee the right to retire at 65 with access to a pension."
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health Louise O’Reilly TD has said that the HSE need to ensure that patients with non-COVID19 related health issues access proper care and do not suffer in silence, as data from the Irish Patients Association shows that attendances and admissions to hospitals are down by over 60,000.
Teachta O’Reilly said:
“The COVID19 crisis has created many difficulties across the health service and, indeed, across society. One particular issue that has arisen below the surface is that of patients not coming forward to access healthcare because they are afraid of contracting COVID19 in healthcare settings.
“Data from the Irish Patients Association shows that Emergency Department activity is down 52,180 in the last six weeks compared to this time last year and admissions to hospital are down 11,347.
“There is no doubt that people are suffering in silence or ignoring health issues because they are afraid to reach out for care. While this is understandable given the current circumstances, people should not ignore their health and wellbeing.
“Our fantastic GP network and our hospital system are able to care for all illnesses and people should not be suffering and allowing their health needs to escalate
“The HSE need to look at an awareness campaign to reassure people that if they need care they will get it and they will be given every protection necessary.
“The government must also start utilising our newly acquired public hospital capacity which has been sourced under the private hospital's agreement.
“These are now public hospitals and their capacity and resources need to be put to work in the interest of public health.
“We have the resources and capacity to help people who have non-COVID19 related health issues, we just have to reassure them they can access that care and they will be kept safe.”
Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson has condemned the growing issue of fly tipping at reservoir sites and has called for such irresponsible behaviour to end immediately.The Foyle MLA said: “There has been a growing problem of illegal dumping occurring at reservoirs throughout the north, including sites in Derry, Fermanagh and Tyrone.“These reservoirs store our drinking water supply and it is inexcusable that such illegal dumping hinders front line staff access to these important sites.“The provision of drinking water is an essential service and these reservoirs play a critical role in its delivery. Especially at a time of public health crisis, this needs to be realised and respected.“I condemn this irresponsible behaviour and call it to end immediately so that front line staff can continue to deliver their essential service during this crucial period."
Sinn Féin health spokesperson Deputy Louise O’Reilly has said that transparency cannot be disregarded by Fine Gael during the COVID-19 crisis as Freedom of Information requests from journalists have revealed that records are not being kept at some ministerial meetings.
Teachta O’Reilly said:
“COVID-19 is one of the biggest crises this state has faced.
“The world has we know it has been completely changed and the measures that have been taken to protect public health are unprecedented.
“These difficult times have led to tough and challenging decisions, everyone knows and appreciates that.
“Indeed, we are all incredibly aware of the difficulties that COVID-19 has created for work practices and in people’s everyday lives.
“However, that does not mean that record-keeping and transparency can be disregarded by Fine Gael.
“Information has arisen tonight on foot of FOI responses to journalist Ken Fox that no written records have been kept of certain meetings had by the Minister for Justice regarding COVID-19 and Direct Provision centres.
“This is an incredibly worrying situation.
“These are unprecedented times, and in and of itself that makes it more important than ever that written records are kept of meetings and the decisions being taken.“The government, as a matter of urgency, need to state categorically if written record keeping has been disregarded by ministers during this crisis.“If it has, then this is a truly undemocratic behaviour from a caretaker government and caretaker ministers.”
Tá fáilte curtha ag an Seanadóir Niall Ó Donnghaile roimh fhógra ón Aire Deirdre Hargey go mbeidh deis ag achan duine a fuair Sparántacht Gaeltachta ó Líofa le haghaidh na bliana 2020 freastal ar na coláistí samhraidh an bhliain seo chugainn.
Leanann cinneadh an Aire cinneadh na Roinne Cultúir, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta, cúrsaí Gaeltachta an tsamhraidh seo linn a chur ar ceal de bharr na géarchéime sláinte Covid-19.
Dúirt an Seanadóir Ó Donnghaile;
"Is maith an cinneadh a rinne an tAire Hargey inniu lena dtugtar faoiseamh áirithe do thuismitheoirí agus daltaí ar dhóigh leo go gcaillfidís amach ar chúrsa na bliana seo agus na bliana seo chugainn fosta.
"Beidh deis ag achan duine ar éirigh leo i mbliana, freastal ar chúrsa an bhliain seo chugainn. Faigheann an iliomad daltaí taithí sóisialta, cultúir agus oideachais agus tá cinntiú i gcinneadh an Aire Hargey inniu go mbeidh an taithí dearfach céanna ag ógánaigh an bhliain seo chugainn.
"De réir chinneadh an Aire fanfaidh na hiarlaisí i seilbh na gColáistí féin rud a chuideoidh leo i leith costaisí reatha le linn na tréimhse deacra seo againn.
”Leanfaidh Sinn Féin orainn ag cur brú ar an Aire Kyne, go n-eiseoidh sé amlíne maidir le pacáistí tacaíochta do na Coláistí is na Mná Tí.”
A Once-in-a-Lifetime Chance to Reshape Our Society – Chris MacManus (Sinn Féin)
‘All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born. – WB Yeats
Do Yeats’ words hold sway in these times? There’s no doubting that what we have witnessed is ‘terrible’ beyond measure. There has been a staggering loss of life on our island due to Covid-19, and family and friends who have lost love ones have had to mourn in an untypically distanced manner. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it must be for these people, and my sincerest sympathies go out to each and every one of them.
We also know for sure that things have ‘changed utterly’. These passing weeks will define how we live now and for decades to come. Society will see monumental change. Will it be for better or worse? Is there room for Yeats’ ‘beauty’ in our considerations?
These are uncertain days, days that have turned into weeks, and weeks that may turn into months. However, we must be certain of one thing and that is, as a society both locally, nationally, and globally, we must learn from this crisis. We must learn that when we work together, show solidarity with each other, and place the resources of the state for the common good, then we have the ability to forge a better society.
The current Covid-19 crisis has required Fine Gael – an instinctively right-wing party – to implement emergency policies as a caretaker government that can only be described as left-wing in nature. We will see, at least in the short-term, a single-tier healthcare system where patients receive care based on need, not wealth; where people can no longer be evicted into homelessness; where rent freezes are all of a sudden constitutional; where the state is playing a substantial role in funding childcare; and social-protection benefits have been increased.
My party, Sinn Féin, saw a groundswell of support based on these policies in the recent election. However, no one could have foreseen the exceptional circumstances under which such policies would come to be implemented, nor the irony that they’d be brought in by a caretaker government who spent the election campaign dismissing them.
This is not a time for recriminations, as we cannot change the past. But we can shape the future. Firstly, we must acknowledge the effect that years of austerity has had on the role of the state in our economy and society. The closure and downgrading of hospitals, such as Roscommon or Monaghan, as well as a litany of other regional health facilities, have come into sharp focus.
Not only in health, where there has been a failure to increase capacity, but also in housing, where many suffer costly, unsuitable and overcrowded accommodation. Witness the swagger of some within the banking community, who continue to profiteer off the backs of hurting citizens. It seems that eaten bread is soon forgotten.
Behold the incredulous spectacle that was the British border across Ireland over the last weeks: two different sets of advice from our media; two different health systems; two different lockdown dates; two different compensation payments for cross-border workers, and no doubt two different dates for when restrictions are finally lifted. The latter of these quandaries is perhaps the most dangerous.
First Brexit and now the coronavirus have exposed the damaging nature of partition. It is a fault-line that runs through our society and its dangers will continue to be exposed in times of crisis. Ignoring it is no longer tenable. Unity is something needed now more than ever.
Regardless of the current crisis, and as seen at the last election, Irish society is seeking change. Post-pandemic, that thirst for change will only grow. People will rightly ask questions about our health service, our housing needs, and the quality of our environment. Quality-of-life issues such as working more from home, commuting less, and seeing more of our children, must be at the forefront of many minds, as is the way many of us have come to value the importance of the role of our older citizens in our communities.
To again paraphrase my fellow Sligonian, WB Yeats: ‘All changed, changed utterly.’
Let me be clear. The coronavirus has highlighted injustices in our society and frailties in our economy. The Government might point to an ever-glowing set of financial accounts as a sign of a healthy society and economy, but the enhanced GDP didn’t stop nurses striking last year for only the second time in the history of the state because they were being overworked and underpaid. Rising GDP apparently doesn’t mean a living wage for many workers, such as cleaners, shop workers, and lorry drivers, who we now recognize as ‘essential’ to basic services, at great risk to themselves and their families. Rising GDP doesn't stop more and more people becoming homeless, skyrocketing rent, or us having the longest hospital waiting lists in Europe.
As I said already, the recent general election saw a major shift. We saw an electorate voting en masse for Sinn Féin and an alternative to the status quo. Why? Because most people in Ireland didn’t need a global pandemic to see that the interests of ordinary workers and their families were not being put first.
Whether or not Sinn Féin are excluded from the next government, there’s one thing that has become abundantly clear: change is being thrust upon us. But we must grasp it if we don’t want to return to the pre-Covid days of an unequal society. Make no mistake, this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to start over.
There can be no going back!