Seanad hears outdoor amenities like Dublin Zoo should reopen

Government urged to grant ‘vaccine bonus’ and ease restrictions on those inoculated fully

The Government has been urged to grant a “vaccine bonus” by easing restrictions for those who have been inoculated fully against Covid-19.

A call has also been made for outdoor amenities such as Dublin Zoo and Fota Wildlife Park to be reopened as they can control numbers entering their gates in a way public parks cannot and can ensure distancing between visitors.

Fianna Fáil Seanad leader Lisa Chambers said "there has to be some benefit to receiving the vaccine". She referenced the "additional freedoms" to be given to those in the 80 and upwards age cohort and to frontline healthcare workers who have been vaccinated.

The Cabinet this week begins discussions about the level of restrictions to put in place after April 5th. Ahead of that date Senators urged the Government to give at least a “tentative guideline” for easing of restrictions.

Ms Chambers said an older person who is fully vaccinated should not be stopped “from getting back out and living”.

Speaking in the Seanad the Mayo Senator said: “I see no reason why somebody in their 80s cannot access the public pool facilities in Castlebar for example, that is open to elite athletes. It’s there, it’s open, it’s staffed.”

She warned of the loss of public support for current restrictions. “I know for a fact that there are multiple shebeens operating down the country. People are getting their hair done . . . we need to provide hope and a pathway out of this.”

Labour Senator Ivana Bacik said: "There should be a vaccine bonus for those who are vaccinated". And she called for a "plan and timeframe to give people hope".

Fine Gael Senator Emer Currie called for the reopening of outdoor amenities like Dublin Zoo and Fota Wildlife Park which are "able to control numbers entering their gates by the hour in a way the public parks can't".

Radius of travel

Ms Currie said Dublin Zoo is struggling to survive “and we could be making use of local outdoor controlled attractions”. She said the zoo could keep its indoor facilities closed but “it runs a one-way system, it’s pre-booked . . . and it could open only for people within their radius of travel”.

Independent Senator Lynn Ruane highlighted the need to get young people back playing outdoor sports. "I think obviously the risk of Covid-19 is huge and real. But that risk has to be offset against the risk of not being able to in some shape or form get kids back on to the pitch".

She said that “in many of our working-class communities sport is the only way out whether to university or to be able to access a life through academics . . . sport has given so much chance to so many kids in our community . . . The pitch is almost a sanctuary for many of our kids.”

Seanad leader Regina Doherty (Fine Gael) agreed "there must be some liberty and freedom with the vaccination" or people would lose hope.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

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