Taoiseach: Legislation changes may be needed amid Coronavirus outbreak

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that extra legislation may be needed to strengthen employment and social laws to protect those who have to self-isolate in response to Covid-19.

Taoiseach: Legislation changes may be needed amid Coronavirus outbreak

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that whatever changes to legislation are needed in light of the Covid-19 outbreak will be clearer on Monday.

Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon, Mr Varadkar said that while he did not foresee the need for major legislative changes, government will have a better handle on this after a cabinet sub-committee on the outbreak of the virus meets on Monday.

Mr Varadkar said that changes in legislation may be needed to ensure that those who are told to undergo the 14-day self-isolation period recommended do so.

“We may need to enhance legislation on employment and social protection so as to not to deter people from self-isolating should they need to,” Mr Varadkar said.

“We will have clarity on this on Monday.”

The Taoiseach later said those who need to self-isolate should receive income support, but stop short of saying where that money would come from.

Pay

Throughout the evening, members of the Dáil delivered statements on the outbreak, with Health Minister Simon Harris saying that this is “a time of national and international challenge”. However, he stressed that there is no evidence of community transmission in Ireland.

“This is not a time for panic, nor is a time for complacency.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, whose children are in isolation due the closure of their school, said that workers must be protected in the event that they are forced to take time off work.

“People must have confidence that they can self-report to protect themselves and others. Particular care must be given to low-paid workers and those in precarious positions. This may necessitate changes to legislation. If that is the case, so be it.”

Ms McDonald said her children had tired of the isolation, noting that it had become “no craic whatsoever”.

Labour TD Sean Sherlock warned that workers may not be in a position to miss work. He warned that legislation may be needed to ensure that people who were forced to self-isolate would not be negatively impacted. He said that many would risk going to work if it was a financial imperative.

“If workers cannot put food on the table or pay the rent, they will go to work.”

People Before Profit TD Brid Smith said that the state needed to intervene, saying this was “not just a workers issue, but a public health issue”.

Fianna Fáil health spokesperson Stephen Donnelly raised the question of whether there would be restrictions on flights from Northern Italy.

“I understand we’re following EU advice. But there is a lot of people coming from Italy, including from the affected areas.

“I wonder if there’s a question of whether we need to look at restrictions.”

Committee

The Taoiseach also defended the decision by the Dáil Business Committee not to establish an all-party committee on the Coronavirus, which has so far infected six people in Ireland.

He said that while no party wanted to politicise the outbreak, it was imperative that medical professionals were given space to focus on the virus itself.

“Senior medical professionals need to be able to focus on their jobs. They don’t need to spend all of their time being held to account and no time doing their work. We need to ensure a balance to that.”

Speaking in the Dáil on the rejection of his request, Labour TD Brendan Howlin said that “if there is to be significant decisions to be made, they need political underpinning”.

Mr Varadkar said that while the government retained “full executive authority”, it was custom that no major policy or legislative decisions would be made without consultation.

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