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Debate to pass emergency coronavirus legislation under way

Proposals under discussion will prevent evictions and implement a rent freeze throughout the health crisis.

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People queue at The Moose Box cafe in Dublin as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has introduced a number of sweeping measures to tackle the coronavirus, including cafes and restaurants limiting themselves to takeaway and delivery only (Brian Lawless/PA)

People queue at The Moose Box cafe in Dublin as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has introduced a number of sweeping measures to tackle the coronavirus, including cafes and restaurants limiting themselves to takeaway and delivery only (Brian Lawless/PA)

People queue at The Moose Box cafe in Dublin as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has introduced a number of sweeping measures to tackle the coronavirus, including cafes and restaurants limiting themselves to takeaway and delivery only (Brian Lawless/PA)

A major debate to pass further emergency legislation to deal with the coronavirus crisis is under way in the Dail.

The proposals, detailed in the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill, will prevent evictions and implement a rent freeze throughout the health crisis.

The emergency measures are part of a major effort by government to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 and the economic consequences of the virus.

The Dail also agreed on Thursday to pause business at 8pm to applaud health workers following a request from the Health Service Executive (HSE).

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the emergency legislation is a response to an “unprecedented emergency”.

Speaking in the Dail, the Taoiseach said: “Unfortunately, we cannot stop this virus, but working together we can slow it in its tracks, push it back and put it back in its box.

“Our national objective is to suppress the virus and flatten the curve.

“We can succeed if everyone takes sustained action – nothing less will do.”

Mr Varadkar added: “As a doctor, and also as a politician, I know the value of repetition; give advice, the best advice, give it again and keep repeating until it becomes second nature and engraved.

“So I want to advise everyone in the public to follow the public health advice, and to keep following these five basic steps, simple steps to protect all of us from the virus.

Today's legislation, to last for the duration of the emergency, will freeze rents, prevent evictions and make it easier for healthcare professionals to re-register and return to work and also enable former members of the Defence Forces to rejoin at the ranks they left.Leo Varadkar

“Regular hand washing; coughing etiquette; not touching your face; maintaining physical distance and staying at home if you feel unwell.”

Mr Varadkar said there was a positive side to the amount of time spent on planning for Brexit.

He said that the thousands of hours spent on preparing for Brexit leaves Ireland in a better position to deal with major issues.

“For the past three-and-a-half years, so much of our political time and energy was taken up by the issue of Brexit,” he said.

“Who would have thought quite a different crisis would bring our country to a standstill?

“But in one sense, this was valuable time, and in other circumstances might be directed at other pressing national issues.”

He added: “Today’s legislation, to last for the duration of the emergency, will freeze rents, prevent evictions and make it easier for healthcare professionals to re-register and return to work and also enable former members of the Defence Forces to rejoin at the ranks they left.

“The truth is, these are extraordinary times.”

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said the people of Ireland continue to face real fear and uncertainty.

Speaking in the Dail, he added: “To an extent never seen before, people are subject to major personal restrictions which limit their ability to mix with others, look after family members and go to work.

“The measures which we adopted last week and those which we are adopting today are not ones that we would even discuss in normal circumstances.

“But clearly, this unprecedented situation has justified, and will continue to justify, an unprecedented response.”

Mr Martin also said that Ireland needs a government “which can discuss and implement an urgent recovery plan”.

Coronavirus
People walk past a sign encouraging social distancing in Dublin’s Phoenix Park as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has introduced a number of sweeping measures to tackle the coronavirus, including restricting all public gatherings to four people.

He called for an introduction of “some form of social partnership model”.

He added: “In Ireland we will need to develop our own national recovery plan to be implemented immediately when social and economic restrictions are significantly lifted.

“No-one can be in any doubt that in order to have the funds to pay for social supports, public services and rebuilding jobs, tough decisions will have to be made even with a significantly higher deficit.

“We already know about the massive increase in spending which must be implemented.

“I believe we need a government which can discuss and implement an urgent recovery plan. In doing this, we should certainly look at the introduction of some form of social partnership model.

“This should involve key stakeholders so that there can be real engagement and a true societal response to what will be a plan for our national recovery post-Covid-19.”

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan told the Dail that the chief executive of the HSE, Paul Reid, told him during a meeting that they did more in a week to move towards Slaintecare than they would normally do within a year.

Mr Ryan said the resources being pumped into healthcare was an opportunity to invest in the system “in every aspect”.

He added: “At a time of this radical and rapid change, it’s a chance for us to invest in a health system to bring it in the direction we want, and that will require investment.

“Similarly, if we have tens of thousands of workers and hundred of thousands who will be unemployed, we should be looking to really ramping up our public housing programme straight away, as a stimulus to come out of unemployment that may come with this economic downturn.”

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett has called for a rent, mortgage payment and utility bill holiday or amnesty.

Speaking in the Dail, he said: “We think that a rent, mortgage payment and utility bill holiday or amnesty for people is a must.

“People who cannot work and have lost or will lose income because of this crisis, need the stress of bills, mortgage payments and rents, which in many cases are extortionate, and the potential for arrears, to be removed.”

PA