Speech on Order of Business: Campaign for a 'Catch-Up for Children Scheme' and 'Covid Dividend', Zero Covid, Solidarity with Ulster Bank workers & the ESB Georgian House Museum

22 February 2021

Ivana Bacik

I join other Members in expressing my solidarity and great concern for the many staff of Ulster Bank who are facing such devastating news about the job losses resulting from the closure. I urge the Government to do all it can to ensure jobs may be saved in the sector.

I wish also to ask the Leader to raise some matters with the Cabinet sub-committee on Covid. As Deputy Alan Kelly said at the weekend, we in the Labour Party are seriously concerned about the lack of a coherent strategy on Covid from the Government. All around us, we are all seeing increasing frustration, an increasing drift back into offices as people feel a lack of hope for the future and the lack of any clarity in communication from the Government on how we progress our way out of this awful pandemic. In this House, I have urged successive Ministers to adopt a zero Covid strategy, to adopt a national aggressive suppression strategy along the lines the Labour Party is advocating for. All Opposition parties are united in calling for a more aggressive suppression strategy, the introduction of a much tighter level of control on the level of people coming into the State, the speeding-up of the mandatory hotel quarantine measures and the need to ensure people feel there is a strategy for coming out of this and for ensuring that this is indeed our last lockdown.

There is also a need to ensure that where people are being policed, within the 5 km limit and within all the other restrictions, that it is being done for a purpose and that the purpose is to ensure the rates go down to zero and that they stay down because we keep Covid out of here through much stricter and tighter border controls. I simply cannot understand why the Government cannot adopt a strict border control policy and a strict mandatory hotel quarantine policy for incoming travellers. People are deeply frustrated when they see others flying in and out, apparently without sanction, yet they are subject to such severe restrictions and curtailments of their civil liberties here. It is a real issue.

I welcome the fact that today, pupils with additional needs and special classes are returning to school and we are going to see further opening up of special schools. Again, however, I urge that there be a more coherent and clear strategy on the return to school of all students. That must be a priority. We are again seeing mixed messaging and a lack of clarity around dates. We really need to ensure children know when they are coming back. I think we all know the deep frustration felt by children, parents and teachers about the lack of clarity. I support the call by the Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon, for a "Covid dividend" for children to invest in infrastructure to ameliorate the terribly negative effects of the pandemic. It is in line with Labour Party policy, specifically the Catch-Up for Children scheme we have advocated. We have urged the Government to adopt such a scheme to ensure supports for children and to put in place a €100 million dedicated fund to enable children to come through this.

I welcome the news about the Georgian museum, that is, that the ESB has been refused permission to close it. I put in an objection myself. It would have been a very retrograde step at a time when we all need to ensure support for cultural heritage. I am delighted with the decision.