Calls have been made for Ireland to reverse its position on vaccine intellectual property rights and support a temporary international waiver when the World Trade Organisation (WTO) decides on the issue on Friday.
The European Commission represents the EU on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (Trips) and, in conjunction with the US, opposes the waiver which would allow developing countries to access and manufacture Covid-19 vaccines.
Opposition TDs appealed for the Government to use its influence to persuade the EU to support the waiver at Friday’s crucial WTO meeting, to ensure global equity of supply.
People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith said it made no sense to impose intellectual property rights “in the middle of a global pandemic”. She said “it can only make sense to a greedy, selfish cohort of capitalists who see this as an opportunity to make fast profits”.
“I ask the Taoiseach to put Ireland on the right side of history and make that phone call to Joe Biden and the European Union.”
But Micheál Martin said there had been “too many simplistic conclusions drawn”. Ireland and the EU had shown moral leadership on the issue, he insisted, adding that Europe had led the charge in terms of vaccine production and export for the entire world.
Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon, who raised the issue, pointed to the crisis in India and said the "richest nations account for 16 per cent of the global population but hold 53 per cent of all purchased coronavirus doses".
He warned that at current rates India and other countries may not reach a 60 per cent vaccination threshold until 2023 or later. “We need to defend people, not profit, and show solidarity with India and all low and middle-income countries,” he said.
Solidarity TD Mick Barry quoted a Financial Times report that industry lobbying had escalated in Washington with companies warning that a waiver "could allow China and Russia to exploit platforms such as mRNA, which could be used for other vaccines" and similar lobbying was taking place in Brussels.
He claimed “Ireland is in the front line of the EU countries” fighting the waiver and he called for the Government to reverse its position on the issue.
Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns said it was “sickening” that the EU, US and others refused to allow a vaccine waiver which “would allow countries in the global south to produce the vaccine themselves”.
Last week in the Seanad, Minister of State for Business Robert Troy said Ireland should show leadership on the issue. Independent Senator Alice Mary Higgins said a similar waiver “was crucial in combating Aids and HIV in the past” and the public had invested in the development of Covid-19 vaccines. She pointed to the warning by the head of the World Health Organisation “of the dangers of catastrophic moral failure”.
But insisting that Ireland had shown leadership on the issue, the Taoiseach said the EU through its pre-purchasing agreement “has done an awful lot to ensure proper research and production of vaccines, which are being exported all over the world and the barriers have not been put up to stop it”.
Mr Martin said Europe had led the charge in terms of vaccine production and export for the entire world.
The issue needed to be studied carefully because “the model that has evolved has resulted in unprecedented production of vaccines in record time”.
This was unlike 2003 when Sars was potentially developing into a global pandemic and there was “zilch by way of manufacturing capacity or co-operation among pharmaceutical companies or between pharmaceutical companies and governments”.