I want to thank the people of Dún Laoghaire for electing me. I’m honoured to represent them in this historic chamber and I look forward to doing everything that I can to represent Dún Laoghaire.

I also want to thank the various deputies here that I spent time with over the last number of weeks, from the four parties that the Green Party has met with. I think that has been a very useful first step. I look forward to meeting deputies from Solidarity, if they will meet me, deputies from the Independents – and any other deputy in this chamber. We’re willing to speak to everybody, and we look forward to that process.

So far, there are nine confirmed cases of the Coronavirus in Ireland. The advice from the World Health Organisation is that if you get these symptoms and you self-diagnose and think ‘I may have this illness’ that you should isolate yourself for 14 days.

If you work in a company, a large company, like Google and you wake up in the morning, and you have a dry cough and not feeling yourself, you know that you can ring in – and you know that you will be allowed to work from home. You know that you will get full pay. You know that probably your whole building will be sent home as well and that there will be no negative consequences for you.

But that’s not the case if you’re working in a job, where you serve the people who work in a company like Google. Perhaps, you are working in a sandwich bar, or you’re a barman, or you are operating a checkout – and your job involves handling food and handling money and handling credit cards – and dealing with hundreds of people every day. It’s obviously critical that those people so stay at home, when they are ill.

But how can they? Because they’re in a situation where if they don’t earn money, if they don’t earn enough money, they can’t pay their rent. They can’t make that decision. There is no sick pay guaranteed for people in that situation, who need it most.

Now there is, from the Government, there is Illness Benefit – and that kicks in after seven days, except it doesn’t kick in. After seven days you can apply for it. If you have enough PRSI stamps, you might get it, but you don’t know.

How can you gamble on that – on that future – on the first day, when you have those symptoms. If you get it wrong, if you don’t get the money, you may not have enough money to pay your rent and you may leave yourself and your family homeless. That’s a situation that is utterly unfair, but it is also putting society at risk.

I would ask the Minster for Health to speak to the Taoiseach and to speak to the Minster for Social Protection and work out a way that people who find themselves in that situation, who find themselves possibly with those symptoms, that they know that they will receive their pay – their net pay – until such time that they are tested and it is found they are well enough to go back to work.

They need to be given an assurance that’s really clear through a communication – through an advertising campaign or through some form of communication that everyone can understand – that the right thing to do is not to go to work that day, and that it’s feasible and possible to do. I think this is in the interest of the workers, but also in the general interest.

There are very good communications from the Chief Medical Officer every day and from the HSE advising people on the status of this Coronavirus. They’re generalised; they’re the same information for everybody. Yet there are groups in society that are looking for specific information.

We’re told that if you don’t have a breathing problem, if you’re not an elderly person, you may be fine if you get the Coronavirus – well that’s no reassurance to people who do have those problems.

So, for people who have underlying breathing problems, who have illnesses like cystic fibrosis, who have a rarer type of chronic breathing illness like bronchiectasis – those people need specific information. They need to have a portion of the website that explains to them if there is something different that they should do. Perhaps their behaviour should be different to that of the general population. Perhaps they should avoid crowded situations. They don’t know – and they are asking for that information.

I would like the Minister to consider appointing one person as the contact person for those vulnerable groups, to give them their information.

Members, thank you very much.

Ossian Smyth TD, Maiden Speech, 5th March 2020

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