Seanad pass 'draconian' emergency Covid-19 legislation despite 'serious concerns'

"I never thought I'd see a bill like this before us, but we know it must be passed," said Senator James Reilly. .

Seanad pass 'draconian' emergency Covid-19 legislation despite 'serious concerns'

Seanad Éireann put "serious concerns" to one side to pass the government’’s "draconian" emergency COVID19 legislation.

The Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Bill gives the government sweeping new powers to restrict travel in and out of the state, to certain areas within the state, ban gatherings and detain those they suspect of carrying the virus, were passed with one amendment in the Dáil on Thursday night.

The amendment, tabled by a number of opposition politicians, is a "sunset clause" which ensures a time limit until November 9 for the legislation.

Any extension to the law after that date will need Dáil approval for any further extension.

This was welcomed by the members of the Seanad who voiced concerns about the severe nature of the powers.

Senator Michelle Mulherin said the chamber was debating laws that "in another circumstance would be seen as draconian".

Tánaiste Simon Coveney made a passionate speech to the chamber during opening statements, requesting they set aside their concerns due to the "unprecedented circumstances" the country finds itself in.

"We’re living in difficult times and we need strong measures, that need to be appropriate, these are restrictions we would never usually contemplate, but we do need them to make sure we have the power to act quickly to protect vulnerable communities," he said.

Senator Michael McDowell said he welcomed the sunset clause, although he felt the legislation is proportionate.

"Some of the powers in this legislation are very far-reaching, and would have consequences on people’’s civil liberties if they are wrongly implemented, but the truth is, if we did not implement legislation of this kind no it would be a failure of duty to protect those most vulnerable in society," he said.

Senator Dr James Reilly thanked the opposition for putting politics to one side, and welcomed the time limit.

"I never thought I’’d see a bill like this before us, but we know it must be passed," he said.

Senator Máire Devine added: "Every single thing we agree here today must be overturned when this crisis is over."

Health Minister Simon Harris told the Chamber that the Dáil had "landed" on November 9 for "as much consensus as possible", and said he understood the need for the clause, however due to the evolving crisis, his department needed powers to take decisive actions when they Dáil are not able to meet to vote at short notice.

He assured the house that the laws would be subject to review to ensure that they are working effectively.

As well as the sunset clause, issues around health in prisons, rent allowance, the undocumented in Ireland, Housing Assistance Payment, and evictions from properties in distressed mortgages were also raised.

The Seanad tabled 34 amendments to the bill in total, however none were carried, and the bill passed the Seanad after a three hour debate, which saw a reduced chamber due to social distancing measures.

The Seanad plans to sit again next week.

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