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Virus will scar the country, Dåil hears
Minister Simon Harris and Tanaiste Simon Coveney Pic: RollingNews.ie

20 Mar 2020 / ireland Print

Virus will scar the country, Ceann Comhairle tells Dáil

The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Republic is now 557, three weeks on from the first diagnosed case on 29 February.

The number diagnosed yesterday jumped to 191, up from 74 one day earlier with 77 positive cases in the North. This brings the all-island total number of cases to 634.

A woman in the east of the country died from the illness yesterday.

Emergency

Meanwhile, emergency laws are being debated in the Seanad today and are expected to reach President Michael D Higgins by the weekend.

Under the measures, to be enforced by the Gardaí and the Defence Forces, people can be compelled to stay indoors, non-essential businesses closed down, events cancelled and lockdowns imposed on certain targeted areas of the country.

The laws will remain in place until May 9.

Advice

Health minister Simon Harris said: “We will only use these on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer (Dr Tony Holohan) and our public health experts because we don’t expect to be in this place, we don’t want to be in this place.”

He said: “We need to have those powers to act decisively to save lives.”

The Dáil debate on the measures was attended by only 50 of 160 TDs, due to social distancing measures.

Ceann Comhairle Sean O Fearghail said: “This too will pass . . . but not before it has scarred our nation.

“Common sense and factual information must triumph, not ill-judged rumours or mutterings on social media.

Sadness

“Considerably more sadness will visit our towns in the days and weeks ahead. This is an exhausting marathon, not a sprint.”

Tanaiste Simon Coveney said Covid-19 cannot be stopped but it can be slowed down.

He said: “This virus is spreading relatively slowly but we know it is going to pick up pace.

“This is going to pose enormous challenges for society and for businesses. We need to prepare for that in the best way that we can and so that the institutions of the State and the people who are elected can manage as best we can.

Difficult

“The challenge of supporting people through a very difficult period which will pass, but will scar Irish society in a way that we are trying to limit as best we can.

“What we’re doing today is not normal.

“We’re asking people to facilitate a piece of legislation that is not getting the scrutiny it would normally get in a chamber that does not have the numbers it normally has, because it is necessary.”

The Government also announced that it would introduce a rent freeze, and a temporary ban on evictions for the duration of the crisis. Further emergency legislation will be needed for these steps.

Simon Coveney said: “I know people have a lot of concerns in relation to renters. Many people, tens of thousands of them in recent days, have lost employment in recent days and seen a significant drop in their incomes.

Struggling

“Many of those people were struggling to pay their rent in full salaries in a job.

“They will find it impossible to pay the rent on social welfare which is really about trying to support a very basic level of income for people. We will legislate to ensure there will be no evictions during this period.

"We will legislate to ensure renters are protected so they can focus on their health and the health of their families through the next number of months.”

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan offered his condolences to the family and friends of the deceased.

Impact

“It is too early to see any impact of our social distancing measures,” he said.

"This data underscores the importance of younger people to rigorously follow public health advice and social distancing measures.”

The average age of people getting the Covid-19 virus is 43, “a youngish profile”, he said.

The legislation gives the Government the ability to impose targeted restrictions on specific areas of the country.

Meanwhile Social Protection minister Regina Doherty admitted that Ireland’s jobless figures could reach 500,000.

At a Government Buildings press conference in Dublin yesterday she said: “we’re in a very different place with our modelling than we were last week”. 

Drastic

“Every day I’m seeing a new industry affected that I didn’t think was going to be,” she said, as said the figures could be drastic.

A total of 58,000 individual applications have been made for the new Covid-19 job seekers benefit, with 43,000 approved to date, with payments from the beginning of next week.

A full 20,000 people made applications last Friday alone, she said.

The department will give daily briefings from next week.

Capital

Business minister Heather Humphreys said that business supports would prioritise access to everyday capital.

Supports include a €200m working capital scheme and loans of up to €1.5m at reduced interest rates with the first €500,000 available unsecured.

The funds can be applied for through the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) website.

A €200m package for businesses which need to restructure in the circumstances is available through Enterprise Ireland.

Sole traders

Microfinance Ireland available funding has been increased to €250,000 for sole traders and firms with up to nine employees.

All 250,000 companies registered in Ireland will be written to about the supports available.

Annual returns due between now and June 30 will be accepted as filed on time.

The departmental business support call centre number is 01 631200.

Briefing

Martin Shanahan of the IDA and Julie Sinnamon of Enterprise Ireland also attended the briefing.

Sinnamon said that much Brexit mitigation preparation is now being used in the Covid-19 situation.

All companies should take a “no regrets” approach to their preparations, she said.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland