Marathon Dáil, Seanad sessions to pass Bill to mitigate economic collapse

Legislation includes €3.7bn support package for housing, health and defence measures

The Government has stressed that the legislation must be passed by the weekend and before next week’s Seanad election counts. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

The Government has stressed that the legislation must be passed by the weekend and before next week’s Seanad election counts. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

The Dáil will sit on Thursday and the Seanad on Friday for marathon sessions to debate and pass an Omnibus emergency Bill on housing, health, defence, social welfare and wage protection to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic and mitigate the economic collapse.

The Government has stressed that the legislation must be passed by the weekend and before next week’s Seanad election counts because it believes that a new Upper House cannot sit until a new administration is formed and legislation cannot be passed without Seanad perusal.

The Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill states that for compelling reasons of public interest and the common good “extraordinary measures should be taken to mitigate, to the extent practicable, the adverse economic consequences” of the pandemic and to mitigate its impact.

The Bill includes the approximately €3.7 billion temporary income support scheme package which will be run by the Revenue Commissioners where 70 per cent of take home pay up will be paid up to a weekly maximum amount of €410 to allow companies to continue paying employees.

The payments are liable to income tax, taxable by review at the end of the year.

Temporary lay offs

Workers who have already lost their jobs and those claiming the Covid-19 illness benefit will receive a Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment of €350 a week. Already 103,000 applications have been received for the jobseekers’ benefit or the pandemic payment.

Workers who are temporarily laid off or kept on short-time will not be entitled to claim redundancy “until a longer period has passed”.

The Bill prevents tenants from eviction and rent increases for the duration of the crisis. A landlord will not be able to serve an eviction notice during the emergency period and if a tenant has already received a notice to vacate, that is paused.

Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin will introduce amendments to deal with the substantial rent arrears debt burden tenants will have at the end of the pandemic by including a scheme that combines a rent supplement payment with rent reductions and rent waiver, particularly where the landlord has a mortgage moratorium from their lender.

In the 11-hour Dáil session TDs will remove the requirement for planning permission for the construction of emergency health facilities such as hospitals. The 38-page Bill also introduces a simplified registration process to facilitate the recruitment of retired health sector professionals.

It also provides that “where a registered health practitioner carries out activities under the direction or control of a registered medical practitioner, that person may not be investigated by the Medical Council for performing those functions”.

And it will amend the Defence Act to allow for the re-enlistment of former members of the Permanent Defence Forces to fill “certain critical technical positions”.

Mental health amendment

It will amend the 2001 Mental Health Act to facilitate the ongoing operation of the mental health tribunals but Independent TD Denis Naughten said the measures should only last for 30 days and should only be extended with the prior agreement of all party and group leaders in Dáil Éireann.

The Bill provides for the continuation of mental health tribunals, on the detention of people in hospital. It increases the number of psychiatrists available to the tribunal and extends the period in which the Tribunal must make decisions on individual cases.

It will allow for reduced physical contact by allowing a second psychiatrist to examine a patient remotely and it will allow for one member, paper-based Tribunals minimising personal interaction.

Changes are also being made to the registration of births and deaths if registration offices are closed during the pandemic, including removing the requirement for next of kin to attend a registration office to register a birth or death during the coronavirus crisis.