Speech on Order of Business: Zero Covid, National Aggressive Suppression Strategy, Childcare, Brigid's Day
1 February 2021
I will begin by wishing everyone a happy St. Brigid's Day and first day of spring. I know the Cathaoirleach has already mentioned that it is an auspicious day and I hope there are better times ahead for everyone as we enter the month of February.
I wish to express my serious concern regarding the events in Myanmar, or Burma, that have unfolded over the past 24 hours with a military coup. I ask the Leader to make representations to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, to express Ireland's concern and to seek to take any steps we can through the EU or otherwise to ensure that democracy is respected in Myanmar and that we do not see a return to military rule as appears likely now, unfortunately.
I ask the Leader to allow a debate on zero Covid in this House. I note that today at 1.30 p.m., the Independent Scientific Advisory Group will launch a people's campaign for zero Covid. The case has been very eloquently made by some of my Trinity College colleagues, including Professors Tomás Ryan and Aoife McLysaght, who have called for a very clear strategy of "crush, contain and chase". They have set out clearly how it can be done. We all know of examples from other countries. Public support for stricter measures is clearly evident, as was seen in the The Business Post poll yesterday. My own party leader, Deputy Kelly, last week put forward the Labour Party's plan for an aggressive national suppression strategy incorporating many of the zero Covid strategy elements. In addressing the issues that Government spokespeople keep raising about the lack of practicality of a zero Covid strategy, people are increasingly frustrated hearing them saying that it is not practical to have a zero Covid strategy. Why is it not practical to implement an aggressive suppression strategy and yet it is practical to keep us in rolling lockdowns; to keeping people within 5 km of their home; to deny children the right to return to school and even to deny children with additional needs to right to return to school? Why is that more practical than the sort of active border management measures that Deputy Kelly put forward, some of which have now been taken up by the Government?
As I was saying, we are all conscious that there will be a more delayed vaccine roll-out this year than we had anticipated. We see new and dangerous variants coming in and as we have seen extraordinary and deeply devastating levels of Covid transmission over the past month, the case has become stronger for an aggressive suppression strategy. The concern most people have is about the absence of any clarity from the Government as to what is the alternative if it is not to embrace zero Covid or aggressive suppression strategy. What is the Government's strategy beyond 5 March? What is the Government strategy for managing or suppressing Covid until we see full vaccination? This is now not likely until much later this year than we had hoped. I ask the Leader to allow for a debate on Government strategies, specifically on zero Covid or aggressive suppression strategies.
Finally, as Members are aware, the childcare sector has valiantly remained open over the last few weeks for children of essential workers. Childcare workers are at the front line. The SIPTU Big Start campaign published groundbreaking research last week, which showed just how deeply concerning it is for many workers in the childcare sector to face daily risk and yet receive such poor pay levels generally, as well as lack sick pay and so on. I ask the Leader to allow for a debate on childcare during a time of Covid.