Dáil passes legislation giving Government emergency powers

Bill prevents evictions, imposes rent freeze, allows restaurants become takeaways, provides for rehiring of retired staff

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has opened the Dáil debate on the latest emergency legislation to deal with Covid-19, stating that preparations for Brexit will stand to the country in dealing with coronavirus. Video: RTÉ News Now

 

The Dáil has passed all stages of an Omnibus Bill giving the Government extensive emergency powers to combat the Covid-19 pandemic and mitigate economic collapse.

It came after a day-long debate on the Bill with Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe saying State funding to combat the coronavirus crisis is about €300 million a week and is “a massively significant intervention”.

“That cost is only based on estimates we are at a point of huge uncertainty. That cost could grow, depending on the challenge we face, or it could diminish if we are successful.”

Mr Donohoe was speaking during the marathon Dáil debate on the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill which covers measures from six Government departments which would normally have taken months to draft and debate.

The Bill prevents evictions of tenants, imposes a rent freeze, allows restaurants to become takeaways and provides for the rehiring of retired health care workers and former soldiers.

It also provides temporary income support schemes by contributing to wage costs to allow employers to continue paying their employees.

Opening the debate Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the thousands of hours spent in extensive planning for all possible Brexit outcomes has meant Ireland is in a better position to face the challenge of the Covid-19 crisis.

But he warned the Dáil that “this emergency has already cost lives and cost jobs, and is going to get worse before it gets better”.

The Dáil stopped all business at 8pm to join a national moment of applause for health workers, shop assistants and all those on the frontline of the Covid-19 crisis. This was agreed following a proposal from People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith to pay tribute to “all those making huge sacrifices”.

Mr Varadkar said they were taking unprecedented actions to respond to an unprecedented emergency.

The Taoiseach said the extensive Brexit planning about supply lines and potential sudden shocks to the economy was now being deployed against a different kind of national threat.

“When it comes to so many of our plans on the shelf, we’re simply rubbing out Brexit and writing in coronavirus.”

Social partnership

He said they were very much prepared for a financial crisis and were in a much stronger position.

“Although the challenges are great we are ready to face them and although the cost will be very high we are prepared to pay that price even if it takes a number of years.”

Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin said his party supported the legislation and a call for a “wartime” mobilisation for the EU’s resources.

He said they had to plan for the post-crisis scenario and a social partnership model had to be looked at. He said that “to have the funds to pay for social supports, public services and rebuilding jobs tough decisions will have to be made, even with a significantly higher deficit”.

Green party leader Eamon Ryan said they also had to plan to deal with endemic social problems. “We should be looking to really ramp up our public housing programme straight away as a way of lifting, as a stimulus.”

Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty warned that a Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil government would not deliver real and lasting change or the required stability.

“Politics needs to change,” he said. “A new government must reflect the demand of the people to do things differently.”

He also warned it was not acceptable that banks and vulture funds would “profit on the back of the pandemic” by charging interest on the three months moratorium on mortgages.

As part of required social distancing measures, just one third of the Dáil’s 160 TDs were present and sitting two seats apart for the debate.

Votes were taken by roll call rather than walking through the lobbies, normally required for financial measures.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath said they were in a warlike situation and former Army Ranger commander Cathal Berry said he believed no more than 12 former Defence Forces personnel would rejoin.