Legislation allowing for indoor hospitality restrictions to be retained as ‘safety net’

State on course to remove curbs on October 22nd but framework to remain for winter

Legislation allowing for restrictions on indoor hospitality will be kept in place for another three months as a "safety net" in case something happens with Covid-19 during the winter, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said.

He told the Dáil that Ireland is on course to remove existing restrictions on October 22nd based on 90 per cent, or close to that figure, of people aged 16 or over being fully vaccinated.

He said the statutory regime “will be largely wound down in line with agreed removal of restrictions”.

However, he added that the Chief Medical Officer “has advised that the future trajectory of the disease cannot be predicted with certainty.

“As a result, a response to the disease that is agile and flexible, with an ability to pivot rapidly and respond to any new emerging threats, needs to be ensured.”

The Minister was speaking during a Dáil debate on the motion to extend the provisions of Part 2 of the Health (Amendment) (No 2) Act beyond its October 9th expiry date.

The legislation confines access to indoor hospitality to fully vaccinated persons and individuals who have recovered from Covid-19, as well as certain children and staff.

Mr Donnelly said the motion did not seek to extend the restrictions at all.

“It simply seeks a 13-week extension of the legal framework, should something happen during the winter,” he said. “We are coming into a tough time. The legal framework is a safety net to keep in place for 13 weeks to see us through November, December and the start of January.”

He said the Government, while working to re-open society, “must also act cautiously and prudently to ensure that the most vulnerable continue to be protected to the best of our ability, should the need arise from this unpredictable and virulent virus”.

Maternity restrictions

Sinn Féin TD for Longford-Westmeath Sorca Clarke said she could see “no proper justification” for the legislation to be extended.

Ms Clarke said these "discretionary powers would be much better utilised in sorting out the unjust and unequal discrepancies" particularly in maternity services, where restrictions remain in place despite reassurances from the Minister, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste.

She said pregnant women understood the restrictions at the beginning even if they did not like them. But “those days are gone” and it was truly shocking to see those restrictions still in place “particularly when other services across the country have started to reopen.

“People can go to an open-air concert, but they cannot go with their partner to a scan. There is no logic in that, no sense in that, no justification in that.”

Labour TD Aodhán Ó Riordáin warned there was a level of vaccination hesitancy that has to be tackled, with a recent survey showing 13 per cent of young people holding this view including “8 per cent of those aged between 18 and 24 years saying they have no intention of getting vaccinated”.

Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell criticised protests by anti-vaccination activists outside the homes of Ministers and the Chief Medical Officer.

“That’s disgraceful,” he said. “It is demeaning to the individuals who are doing it and they need to cop on.”

A vote on extending the legislation takes place on Wednesday night.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is a parliamentary reporter with The Irish Times

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