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'A society divided': Opposition lines up against government's indoor dining legislation

The government hopes the legislation will come into force sometime next week.

Michael Healy-Rae TD.
Michael Healy-Rae TD.
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

THE OIREACHTAS HEALTH Committee has voted to waive pre-legislative scrutiny of the indoor dining bill by eight votes to six, despite strong concerns voiced by the opposition. 

The government last night announced plans for the return of indoor dining and said it envisaged that the legislation will come into force sometime next week “hopefully before the weekend”.

This would require that the legislation be passed by the Dáil and the Seanad this week and then be signed by the President before it can come into effect.

The allow this timeline to be kept, pre-legislative scrutiny of the bill needed to be waived and the Health Committee voted this afternoon to approve this despite opposition by all of the opposition members. 

Government parties have a majority on the Health Committee. 

Sinn Féin member of the committee David Cullinane TD tweeted that the legislation was “rushed” and “unworkable”. 

“The re-opening of hospitality needs to happen safely and for all. Instead we have a plan that is discriminatory, divisive unworkable,” he said. 

The across-the-board opposition to the proposals was displayed this morning with the Labour Party, People Before Profit and the Rural Independents Group all outlining concerns about the indoor dining legislation on the Leinster House Plinth.

Labour leader Alan Kelly said that the legislation was “full of holes” and that his party would only support it if amendments the party is bringing forward were accepted by government. 

Kelly said that his party wants what he described as “discrimination” removed from the legislation and that antigen tests should be part of the reopening of hospitality “now” and not at a point in the future as is provided for in the legislation

“I can’t fathom why a government would actually go down this road, with an unenforceable, unworkable discriminatory piece of legislation,” Kelly said. 

It would be far easier to use the Covid Travel Cert as the mechanism by which you open up indoor dining and hospitality and also to use proven testing techniques, PCR and antigen testing, along with other techniques when it comes to ventilation, in order to ensure that every citizen has an equal right to be able to enjoy the dining experience.

The Rural Independent Group of TDs calls indoor dining laws “draconian and bizarre” with Michael Healy-Rae saying that “a society divided” was being created. 

Healy-Rae also said that the legislation is being “rushed at an alarming rate over the next 72 hours”. 

“We have a hospitality sector which I desperately want to see open, I want to see it opened in a safe way, but what is being proposed here certainly is a cause of great concern,” he said. 

Healy-Rae raised concerns about additional burdens being placed on restaurateurs and publicans, adding that many have large premises that would allow for social distancing. 

Speaking to reporters, publican and TD Danny Healy-Rae declined twice to say if he’ll check the vaccination status of patrons entering his pub if the legislation comes in.

“I won’t say until I see legislation as it’s presented. I have hundreds of emails and letters and phone calls asking us not to vote for this because it is a violation of a person’s right to confidentiality and medical status,” he said. 

People Before Profit have also voiced opposition to the legislation with deputies describing it as “extremely problematic”.

Paul Murphy TD also raise concerns about “discrimination” but also said that there is a risk to young unvaccinated hospitality workers due to the spread of the Delta variant of Covid-19. 

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He said that these concerns together meant it was “crazy” that the government wanted the legislation passed this week. 

“We’re in a really crazy situation where, in the final week of the Dáil, the government is attempting to ram and rush through legislation that is unprecedented, which raises questions of discrimination, which raises all sorts of ethical concerns in terms of health surveillance and yet the government is determined to get this through this week, this is an extremely problematic approach by the government.” 

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Rónán Duffy

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