Labour TD Ged Nash says Ireland must not return to “business as usual” once the coronavirus pandemic ends, urging legislators to turn emergency measures as implemented in light of the crisis into “the new normal.”
The Drogheda-based TD said – in a speech laid out before the Dáil while he was absent, electing to stay at home in light of guidelines on non-essential travel – that much work is needed to avoid an unnecessarily long and deep recession, referring to the “devastated lives and broken dreams” of those hit by job losses in the last three weeks.
Dáil Éireann resumed on Thursday after last week’s mammoth session as emergency legislation was passed which gave government new powers to fight the pandemic. Having outlined their position earlier in the week, Labour TDs were absent from the Dáil chamber as they boycotted the sitting, stating with no legislation to pass it was non-essential.
In absentia, Deputy Nash provided a recorded speech in which he urged those in power to rethink how supports and services are provided for the public, in light of emergency measures introduced over the last two weeks.
“This crisis has proven that once the common good becomes paramount, all things impossible suddenly become possible. It has been said before that there are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen,” he said. “We are now living those weeks.
“We have seen the State take control of private hospitals, directly pay the wages of childcare staff and both unions and employers come together to protect and support workers. This needs to be the new normal.
“We cannot afford to backslide into business as usual once the crisis has abated,” he added. “There is also a need to redefine work in terms of the socially embedded economic policy. How can a worker in a low-paid precarious job who shares a cramped room with 3 or more people possibly “afford” to self-isolate?
“The reality is, precarious work leads to precarious lives, and all these economic injustices have a human face and a broader social cost.
“This shows the need and the value of a legal right to collective bargaining which is the only way we can ensure that we set a social floor under which no-one can fall under.”
The TD also called on Ireland to adopt pay-related welfare, rather than the flat-rate approach currently used to provide social protection, citing the introduction of the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme and the Covid-19 payment “as a welcome break from the old and wholly inadequate dispensation.”
Nash said he wanted to “provide a floor of decency that can become the mark of a good and fairer society.”
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“We are all shocked and staggered by the scale of the job losses experienced by our people over the last two to three weeks. Today’s Live Register figures represent hundreds of thousands of broken dreams, devastated lives.
“We need to work day and night and do the right things to ensure hope is restored and to avoid an unnecessarily long and deep recession,” he said. The Deputy also raised a number of issues that exist within the current framework for Covid-19 supports for workers – specifically cross-border workers.
“The Coronavirus is an external shock, a war-like situation which requires a war-like response.”
On the subject of Labour TDs decision to boycott Thursday’s sitting, Deputy Nash said it was important to show solidarity with those living through the strict -stay-at-home guidelines.
“The interests of wider society and the battle against the pandemic are not served by the presence of Deputies here today. That is why the Labour Party have decided not to attend today’s non-essential sitting and instead use the option available to us to have our statements recorded.
“We believe that now more than ever we need to lead by our actions, not just our words,” Nash, who was re-elected to Dáil Éireann in February after four years in Seanad Eireann, said.
“Although our democracy should never be suspended, there are clearly other ways to express our views safely in support of our frontline staff. The best way to support the citizens we depend on to keep us safe and the best way to help stop the spread of Covid-19 is to stay at home and only leave if we really have to.”