The Government needs to set a target of having as few as 10 Covid-19 cases a day to avoid a fourth pandemic lockdown, Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall has warned.
In her party leader’s address she highlighted a number of requirements she believed necessary to give a “fighting chance” to get back to some level of normality.
She said the Government should require supermarkets and other retail outlets to reinstate precautionary arrangements to limit numbers with strict adherence to public health advice.
Employers should be directed to facilitate as many people as possible to work from home. Public health doctors should be properly resourced for an effective testing and retrospective tracing to establish where transmission is taking place, she said.
Mandatory hotel quarantining of all arriving passengers to Ireland and better financial supports for low-paid immigrant workers when they need to isolate were also necessary, she said.
Ms Shortall called on the Government to also establish a high-level North-South taskforce, through the Belfast Agreement all-island strategy.
In her speech to the party’s fourth national conference since its foundation in 2016, Ms Shortall said Covid-19 cases got down to single digits last July and this could happen again.
Some 700 delegates were registered for the online conference at which Ms Shortall and fellow leader Catherine Murphy highlighted successes in increasing its membership and representation.
The party aims to treble its number of TDs from six to 18 at the next election after trebling its representation at the last general election in 2020.
Ms Murphy focused on the impact of Covid-19 on housing, calling for a referendum this year to allow for the implementation of the 50-year-old Kenny report, to cap the cost of building land, end land hoarding and speculation in zoned land.
She also said the party was seeking a Citizens’ Assembly to look at the role of religion in areas such as health, education, and public life as the party overwhelmingly supported a motion to establish a formal party policy of complete separation of church and State.
Ms Shortall said the pandemic had exposed huge weakness in the provision of public services.
She claimed Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael "are content to have an arms-length relationship with public services, abdicating responsibility for providing them.
“They have this warped view that public services are just for those who can’t afford to pay for them.”
She said the social democratic view of the world is a belief “in the social contract, where everyone is expected to pay their taxes according to their means and, in return, everyone has access to good quality universal public services”.
Ms Murphy said the Government “has continued to favour a market-based approach”, which will not deliver affordable homes.
This could be seen through the “expensive and chaotic Hap [housing assistance payment] to the new scandal of long-term leasing where 25-year leases, effectively means a developer’s mortgage is paid for the duration and they own the house at the end.
“We see Reit [real estate investment trusts] getting free rein on our rental market, and a continued reliance on privately-owned land banks for the sole provision of houses for sale.”
She said a "locked-out generation" had become increasingly frustrated and to address these problems "we would start by changing the remit of the Land Development Agency.
“It must be about project management of public lands and not a clearing house for a sale and subsidy approach. We would use the public land that is available to build affordable homes.”
Ms Murphy told delegates that “coming out of the pandemic, we need to re imagine the role of the State and rethink our economy.
She said “strong public services support a strong economy. They are not in competition.
“Our society will need a recovery led by good businesses with good jobs; where there is a living wage and the right to be represented through free collective bargaining.”