Senator Higgins welcomes Minister’s change in position on COVID legislation after Senators protest “indefinite extensions” of emergency COVID measures
Following pressure during yesterday’s second stage debate and the tabling of amendments from Senators Alice-Mary Higgins, Lynn Ruane and Frances Black, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly told the Seanad today that he had “reflected overnight” and accepted the demands for a clear “endpoint” to the emergency legislation.
The Bill as published had allowed for what Senator Higgins described as “indefinite extension of emergency powers by simple resolution with no requirement for legislative scrutiny and no ultimate end date”.
Senator Higgins, along with her Civil Engagement Group colleagues Senators Lynn Ruane, Frances Black and Eileen Flynn proposed amendments to the Bill which would allow for only one extension by resolution after the November 9th expiry date.
While Minister Donnelly said he could not accept that amendment today die to time constraints, he committed to seeking the approval of Cabinet to bring his own version of that amendment when the Bill moves to the Dail.
That would mean that the legislation would only allow for one three month resolution after November 9th and would have a hard end date in February 2022.
Moving the Civil Engagement Group amendments in the Seanad Senator Ruane said:.
“A resolution or motion is not a substitute for legislation. This is especially the case when the legislation at issue is as far-reaching and consequential as the emergency legislation we are debating today. Our amendment seeks to ensure that if the emergency measures are extended more then once it should be thorough a new Bill, to be scrutinised and debated in the Houses of the Oireachtas”
Speaking after the debate, Senator Higgins said: “I am glad to see the Minister accepting our demand for a clear end point, albeit one that is further then we would wish. To allow such serious powers to continue indefinitely without proper scrutiny would be bad for democracy.”
Senator Higgins also noted the need for a review of the various pieces of emergency legislation passed in the last year. “Myself and my colleagues also proposed an amendment which would require the Minister to publish a report on the operation of the emergency powers and to report on its compliance with human rights law. Unfortunately, the guillotine on the debate meant that these issues where not discussed, however we are urging the minister to commit to such a review as the Bill moves through the Dail.”
Senator Higgins added “New variants have been referenced as one of the reasons as to why emergency measures might need to be extended, it is important to note that one very practical way to reduce such variants is by urging the EU to support a TRIPSwaiver to accelerate global access to vaccines”