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Dublin: 3 °C Thursday 9 April, 2020
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Cabinet approves emergency Covid-19 legislation ahead of Thursday's Dáil sitting

Leo Varadkar and President Michael D Higgins met this afternoon to discuss the State’s efforts to combat the coronavirus.

Image: LEAH FARRELL; RollingNews.ie

THE CABINET HAS approved emergency legislation to support the national response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The legislation, which was approved at an incorporeal meeting of ministers and the Taoiseach, puts on a legal footing the enhanced income supports for people who are diagnosed with, or required to self-isolate due to Covid-19.

The approval of the new law comes after Leo Varadkar and President Michael D Higgins met this afternoon to discuss the State’s efforts to combat the coronavirus.

They spoke about the huge challenge facing the nation and their confidence that the Irish people will pull through.

The new legislation, which will go before the Dáil on Thursday, also provides for changes to remove the waiting period for payment of Jobseekers Benefit and Jobseekers Allowance in these circumstances.

A government statement said that “these changes involve a significant Exchequer cost but are necessary to support the public health objective of ensuring people who need to self-isolate do so”.

The Bill also deals with the issue of detainment, which is something that already arose a number of weeks ago when Covid-19 was added to the existing list of notifiable diseases. This already include diseases like measles and TB.

At the moment, anytime there’s a public health emergency in Ireland or a breakout of an infectious disease, it’s declared, and powers are in place to detain an individual who has an infectious disease.

It is “very rarely used,” said Health Minister Simon Harris when speaking about the new legislation.

The legislation gives powers to detain a suspected source of Covid-19 if a medical officer believes that a person is a source of infection and that the detention or isolation of a person is necessary to prevent the spread.

“I mean most people who are sick want to be helped by the health service and so it is counter-intuitive that somebody wouldn’t. There is obviously an issue with this virus that you might be suspected of having it before it is confirmed… And therefore, it’s not proven from a legal point of view that those powers would apply to somebody who’s suspected of having it rather than just someone diagnosed with it. I really need to clarify though, it is highly unlikely that we would have to use them. Very similar provisions were in place for SARS,” Harris said today.

New laws

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has said it is imperative that any emergency legislation introduced to curb the spread of COVID-19 should be time-limited, or include a sunset clause which stipulates that once this emergency is over it can no longer be used to interfere with rights.

“We are in the midst of a national and international emergency, of the extraordinary sort that necessitates interferences with our rights for the greater public good. ICCL supports the Government’s efforts to meet this unprecedented challenge.However, the Government and Oireachtas must act within the Constitution and ensure that any restrictions of rights are proportionate and only as invasive as is necessary to protect public health,” said ICCL’s Executive Director, Liam Herrick.

He said our society will return to normal, and when it does, the government needs to ensure that there has been no permanent erosion of rights, and that no future government could ever abuse legislation introduced to deal with this public health emergency.

The Bill approved today also provides for certain extra powers to be used “in extreme situations were to arise”, in relation to gatherings\events and travel “where there would be an immediate, exceptional and manifest risk to human life and public health from the spread of COVID-19″.

A statement from government says:

“These are provisions which the Government hopes it won’t have to use, given the powers already in place under the Health Act 1947, but legislation is being introduced to give Government powers in exceptional circumstances in the unlikely event that the need arises.

“All measures in the Bill relate only to the exceptional circumstances facing the country due to COVID-19.”

Details of the Bill are due to be published this evening. It is intended to enact the Bill through the Dáil on Thursday and the Seanad on Friday.

Dáil sitting 

Only a limited number of TDs will be allowed to attend Leinster House.

The Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl wrote to party leaders proposing that just 48 TDs should attend the sitting on Thursday.

Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin will be asked to limit their TDs attending to 11 each, the Greens to four, the regional independent group to three members, and all other parties and groups to two each.

The government is due to brief parties on the on the contents of the legislation as soon as it is published later today.

Today, it was also revealed that the government has asked marketing expert John Concannon – the man behind the 1916 commemorations, the Wild Atlantic Way and the former head of Varadkar’s strategic communications unit (SCU) – to coordinate the public communications campaign on Covid-19.

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