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'Many people will now get paid': Emergency Covid-19 legislation signed into law by President Higgins

The Bill will now be signed into law by President Michael D Higgins.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe speaking in the Seanad this afternoon.
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe speaking in the Seanad this afternoon.
Image: Oireachtas.ie

Updated Mar 27th 2020, 10:35 PM

PRESIDENT MICHAEL D HIGGINS has signed into law a package of emergency legislation to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

He signed the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill 2020 after its passage through both houses of the Oireachtas 

The Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill was passed in the Dáil without a vote last night and passed through the Seanad without amendments.

Senators also passed a motion asking the president to bypass the usual five-day waiting period and sign it into law as quickly as possible.

The legislation deals with issues such as a nationwide rent freeze, a ban on evictions, measures to allow the re-enlistment of former members to the Defence Forces, as well as retired health workers to be re-hired.

There’s also a  €3.7 billion aid package that will see the government contribute to wage packets.

The President said: “As we enter a crucial period in our response to the Covid-19 pandemic, may I again express my sympathies to all those who have lost a family member or friend, and my best wishes to all those who have been infected by the virus, all those who have not had the opportunity to express their grief, or offer their care and visits to those they love.

“May I express, on behalf of the people of Ireland, our shared sense of sadness at the increase in the number of our people who have died as a result of the pandemic.

“Behind the statistics we will hear, or have read, that there are families grieving and people in distress because they cannot meet their loved ones.

“As we muster our resolve to be far more vigilant as we enter a most difficult phase of tackling the virus, it is appropriate for me to express my thanks to the Irish people for their response to the crisis, and urge them to stay the course and encourage others to do so.

These are difficult times, but our difficulties will come to an end. Let us make sure that, through the decisions and actions we take at present, we ensure the health and safety of each other, all of us together.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe thanked senators for passing the Bill, saying it means many people will now get paid in the coming weeks. 

“It is really important during a period of an emergency like this that the normal functioning of democracy continues, that questions are asked and that opposing views are aired, but it is so important that this Bill be passed through this House this afternoon.

“I want to thank all senators for allowing that to happen and for the manner in which you raised your concerns or views on the Bill.”

Donohoe added that when the Bill becomes law “very many people who will need support from the State next week who will now get it”.

Donohoe said we are living in “extraordinary” times. To highlight his point he referenced the new Wage Subsidy Scheme, stating: “The Revenue Commissioner tonight is about to become an institution of the state that is paying people.”

Donohoe noted that the measures included in the emergency legislation were “conceived a great speed” given the nature of the crisis and, as such, he believes issues will need to be ironed out in the future.

“I have no doubt at all that there are issues that we will need to address, that there will be anomalies, that there will be issues of detail that will require work.” The minister asked people to “bear with us as we work on this”.

A reduced number of senators were present in the chamber today so that social distancing guidelines could be adhered to. 

Today’s session is the last sitting of the current Seanad, ahead of elections next week. Donohoe wished those going for reelection “every success” and wished those who are standing down from politics the best for the future.

Need for government

Earlier Tánaiste Simon Coveney said that a government can be formed quickly, and urged other parties to play their part.

Coveney said yesterday was without doubt the “darkest day” in this country’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic, 10 ten people passing away because of the virus.

“We’re being confronted with a once in a century crisis in the aftermath of an election with no clear winner” Coveney said.

“Ireland also needs a government. One that is strong and stable,” he added.

seanad Tánaiste Simon Coveney said a stable government is needed now. Source: Oireachtas.ie

“I invite others to play their part. Ireland needs you,” he said, adding that a government is needed now to provide leadership in the years to come, but also to make quick decisions in the face of the pandemic. 

Coveney said it is possible to get a government formed quickly, stating that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are putting in place a process he hopes will encourage others to join them.

Legislation drafted in haste

Addressing senators today, Coveney also admitted that the legislation was drafted in haste, but he said it needed to get passed in the Seanad today. 

“If we can’t … people won’t get paid. It is as simple as that,” he said.

A number of TDs and senators have spoken about some unintended consequences of the legislation.

“If mistakes are made we will correct them in the weeks ahead … if there are problems we will look at them and correct them in time,” he said, adding: “There are hundreds and thousands of people who need us to get this done.”

Coveney added that we need to “brace ourselves for a lot worse to come, this is not nearly over”.

Before the Tánaiste addressed the Seanad today, senators applauded healthcare workers in unison in the chamber this afternoon.

Last night, TDs applauded at 8pm in support of health workers, as did many people around the country.

Speaking in the Seanad today, Senator Lynn Ruane spoke about a personal tragedy, stating that she and her family had to bury their much-loved grandmother this week. 

She said it is a hard time to lose someone who you love, especially when you “can’t hold them and embrace them in your grief”. 

Her colleagues gave their sympathies to Ruane, with Fine Gael’s James Reilly stating that she spoke eloquently about the tragic experience of losing someone through these dark times. 

Fianna Fáil’s Catherine Ardagh said that while healthcare workers in hospitals need personal protective equipment, so do to the workers in Ireland’s nursing homes, who she said are “crying out for help”. 

Reilly said that as a GP there is a lot of confusion out there in relation to the testing criteria changes. He also said that coughing or spitting on someone is the same as threatening someone with a syringe with blood in it, and those people should face repercussions for their actions. 

Donohoe told the Seanad that the assumption the economy can go back to what it was before is perhaps underestimating the extent of the emergency. 

He added that he wants to do all he can “to maintain capital expenditure” particularly in housing, stating that when this is all over they will need to “rebuild the economy very very, quickly”. 

Donohoe said if the government cut that expenditure now, the need would only “grow in the future”, adding that he hopes to avoid having to make any of those decisions. 

With reporting by Órla Ryan and Adam Daly

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