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Government wins vote on indoor dining laws labelled as 'discriminatory' by opposition TDs

12 government members were not present for the vote.

Health Minister Stephan Donnelly
Health Minister Stephan Donnelly
Image: Oireachtas.ie

THE GOVERNMENT HAS won a crucial Dáil vote on legislation that would allow for indoor dining to resume for vaccinated or Covid-recovered persons.

Yesterday evening, the Dáil passed the second reading of the bill by 72 votes to 66.

There had been suggestions that the government may not have the numbers to pass the legislation if a number of  TDs rebelled but the vote passed with a majority of six despite 12 government members not being present for the vote.

Just one member of the Regional Group of TDs voted with the government, with the remainder of the opposition voting against it.

The government is hoping the legislation can complete its passage through the Dáil and Seanad by Friday and then come into force next week after it is signed by the President.

The government’s plan is that he new rules would be in place for the following weekend, allowing indoor dining in restaurants and pubs take place for the first time this year.

Pre-legislative scrutiny of the bill was waived yesterday to fast-track the process but all of the opposition parties and many independents objected to the pace of the bill’s passage, stating that they did not have enough time to examine it.

The bill essentially allows for a phased return of indoor hospitality, initially to people who can produce verifiable evidence of vaccination or immunity from Covid-19.

Objecting to the bill on the grounds that it is “discriminatory”, Alan Kelly TD said that there are “serious legal questions over it” that will “go to another forum after the Oireachtas”.

“What we are doing here crosses a line that should not be crossed, in that we isolate, treat people differently and say to people that because of the order we have decided you will be vaccinated, we can discriminate against you,” Kelly said.

The Labour leader went on to question the constitutionality of the legislation, describing it as “constitutionally dubious”.

“The sunset clause is another issue. I believe the sunset clause is in this legislation because it has to be for fear the legislation may not be constitutional. If there was no sunset clause, the risk of it being unconstitutional is higher,” he said.

Sinn Féin’s Thomas Gould TD described the legislation as “discriminatory” and “unworkable” and took issue with the provision allowing children into restaurants if their parents are fully vaccinated.

“This does not make sense to people and raises serious questions about understanding the impact the pandemic is having on young people in particular,” he said.

PastedImage-64685 Results of the Dáil vote. Source: Oireachtas.ie

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall TD said opposition parties have “in the main, been supportive of the government in dealing with Covid” but that this legislation is “very far-reaching”.

“It provides, for the first time, for discrimination based on a person’s health status – in this case, his or her vaccination status. That has implications for solidarity across the generations,” she said.

It is regrettable given the very difficult time young people have had over the past almost two years.

Independent TD Catherine Connolly criticised the waving of pre-legislative scrutiny of the bill, saying that it is being “rammed through the Dáil”.

Defending the bill from the attacks from the opposition, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said that passing the bill would “achieve the best possible balance” between a return to normal activities and “the very sound principles of public health”.

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Donnelly said all groups will “very shortly” have the opportunity to receive a Covid-19 vaccine and that it is “an act of solidarity” to allow vaccinated persons enjoy indoor hospitality first.

He also rejected the various claims of discrimination raised by opposition deputies, arguing that the principal of treating vaccinated and unvaccinated persons differently is already accepted in the context of international travel.

“The entire EU Digital Covid Certificate is based on vaccination status and there are additional measures that people have to take if they don’t have that vaccination or testing status,” he said.

“So we’ve already accepted, and many of the deputies here who were saying we can’t differentiate based on their health status, they didn’t read any of these issues or any of these concerns. When it pertained to international travel. So the principle is there.”

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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