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Varadkar: Employment laws may need strengthening in response to Covid-19

The 33rd Dail met on Thursday for the second time since the general election.

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar tells the Dail 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 (Dail/PA)

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar tells the Dail 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 (Dail/PA)

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar tells the Dail 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 (Dail/PA)

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.

The Fine Gael leader said clarity will be provided on Monday after the Cabinet sub-committee meets.

It comes as the Dail agreed not to establish a special committee on coronavirus.

The 33rd Dail met on Thursday for the second time since the general election.

One of the first items TDs discussed was the measures in place to deal with coronavirus.

Brendan Howlin’s proposal for a special committee on Covid-19 was rejected by the Dail.

A number of TDs expressed concern that busy senior health officials would be called before the committee.

For our part, we want the absolute assurance that everything that needs to be done is being done.Mary Lou McDonald

“We have very strong legislation around public health and we don’t believe at this stage that needs to be enhanced,” Mr Varadkar told the Dail.

“We may need to enhance legislation around social and employment protections so that people are not disincentivised to self-isolate if they are asked to do so.

“We will have clarity on that most likely on Monday after the sub-committee meets and it’s possible for the House to legislate before a government is elected.”

Mr Varadkar later said that the need for people to self-isolate requires employers and social protection schemes to be “flexible and responsive”.

He added that workers should receive income support if they have to self-isolate in line with medical advice.

In a statement, Mr Varadkar added: “Following consultation with employers and trade union representatives, proposals will be considered by the Cabinet sub-committee next Monday.”

The statement added that all employers are being urged “to engage and to be as flexible as possible” with employees.

Mr Varadkar told the Dail that the Business Committee made a wise decision not to advocate for a full Oireachtas committee to discuss the coronavirus outbreak.

“We have a relatively small number of very competent and very hard-working health officials,” Mr Varadkar added.

“The chief medical officer and his team have been working flat out since January and many haven’t taken a weekend off since then, so we need them to focus on their jobs and get rest and make sure they don’t spend all of their time being held to account.

“There have been briefings and will continue to be briefings with party’s health spokespeople. There will be weekly briefings for all members, for deputies who have queries.

“The necessary resources will be provided in addition to the (health) budget this year to take whatever actions are necessary to contain Covid-19 in Ireland. A decision was taken today to go ahead and open any ICU beds that are closed.”

Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald said: “I share the views of the committee that those at the front line of this emergency, all of their time, attention and resources need to be spent on keeping the community and people safe.

“That said, we have a caretaker government and it is absolutely essential that those of us on the other benches aren’t left as an afterthought when policy decisions are being made.

“For our part, we want the absolute assurance that everything that needs to be done is being done.

“We want to have access to information and we want to influence, in an appropriate and constitutional way, the very big decisions that will be made on this matter. I’m not convinced that an Oireachtas committee is the best vehicle for that.

“I also know what we currently have is absolutely deficient, where we are hearing – after the matters appear in the media – about matters of the most grave and serious and public importance.”

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett told the Dail the two-tier health system should not operate during the outbreak of Covid-19.

Mr Boyd Barrett said any financial obstacles that would prevent someone who may have Covid-19 accessing healthcare should be removed.

“There should be no impediment to people doing what the Health Service Executive says they should be doing,” he added.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said that health officials are working under “incredible strain and stress”.

“I spoke to deputies on our parliamentary party who have already experienced cases in their constituencies and basically the phone explodes,” he added.

PA