Every day there is some good news with the declining number of new cases, but it is tempered by the sadness and grief at the loss of more lives. Although the numbers are small, every single one is heart-breaking and our condolences go to all the families and friends affected. While we may be adjusting our lives to a ‘new normal’, we will never get used to the deaths caused by COVID-19, and we continue to mourn their loss, and reaffirm our desire to do everything we can to honour their memory.
As of last night, 1659 people have died in our State from COVID-19, and a further 534 in Northern Ireland. In total, 25,111 people in the Republic of Ireland have been diagnosed with the disease.
In total, almost 350,000 tests have been carried out, more than 22,000 in the past week, of which 389 were positive, resulting in a positivity rate of 1.7%. That rate continues to decline.
Given these numbers we can see that we are making real and measurable progress.
When I spoke in the Dáil last week, we had 73 new cases, 268 in hospital, 48 in ICU, and 17 new deaths reported. A week later, we had 47 new cases last night, 165 in hospital, 36 in ICU, and 3 new deaths reported.
We are now nearing the end of Phase One of our plan to re-open business and society. Cabinet will meet tomorrow morning to decide whether it is safe to move to Phase Two and this decision will be made on the basis of the available medical data and the expert advice from NPHET, alongside reports from key Government Departments including the Department of Health and the Department of Business.
As I have always said, we need to be confident that it is safe before making that move. I am concerned that this week many people were calling for us to accelerate things and jump ahead before we even knew what impact the Phase One lifting of restrictions has had on the spread of the disease. I believe it is better to adopt a slow and steady approach than to go too far, too fast and risk falling backwards.
Our plan to re-open the country can be accelerated but only if it is safe to do so.
Given the trend of the numbers, I am confident that we will be able to proceed to Phase 2 on Monday.
If Cabinet approves this move tomorrow, it will mean a further lifting of restrictions on Monday.
The economy will continue to reopen. More people will go back to work, and we will see more businesses resume trading, particularly the retail sector.
More outdoor sporting and fitness activities will be allowed, including team sports training in small groups, as long as social distancing can be maintained and there is no physical contact.
We will be able to meet in small groups, indoors as well as outdoors; travel up to 20km from home for exercise; and people who work alone or can effectively social distance will be allowed to return to their work places more frequently.
Ceann Comhairle, I hope that as the world returns to a new normality we will see international air travel resume in the first instance through ‘air bridges’ with countries that have suppressed the virus to a similar extent to us. With ‘air bridges’ we could lift travel requirements if people are flying to or from another country where the virus has been successfully suppressed. This is however some weeks away and it is far too soon for anyone to book holidays yet, but summer is not yet lost.
Amárach, déanfaidh an Rialtas cinneadh ar cé acu an rachaimid ar aghaidh go Céim a dó dár bplean chun Éireann a athoscailt nó nach rachaimid, cinneadh atá bunaithe ar chomhairle leighis na saineolaithe go bhfuil sé slán, sábháilte chun an chéim seo a thógáil. Ní thógfaimid aon riosca má tá aon baol ann agus impímid ar an bpobal aon riosca nach gá leis a sheachaint chomh maith.
Sna seachtainí agus sna míonna atá amach romhainn, tá súil agam go gcuirfimid go mór leis an ndlúthpháirtíocht a chonaiceamar le linn na míonna seo chaite agus go n-oibreoimid le chéile chun Éireann níos fearr a bhaint amach. Ní mór dúinn infreastruchtúr sláinte phoiblí agus folláine a thógáil, athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar conas mar a sholáthráimid cúram do dhaoine aosta, an cur chuige atá againn maidir le tinneas san ionad oibre a athrú, cothromaíocht oibre is saoil a ghlacadh, taisteal nach bhfuil gá leis a laghdú agus meas dár dtimpeallacht nádúrtha a chothú.
Ceann Comhairle, last week I said I would provide an update on the new proposals from the European Commission. The post-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework will total €1.85 trillion over seven years, and will include a completely new €750 billion allocation for what is being called ‘Next Generation EU’. These euros will be used to protect lives and livelihoods, repair the Single Market, and build a lasting recovery across Europe. It will be funded through one-off Commission borrowing on financial markets as an exceptional response to the unprecedented circumstances we now face.
I welcome the broad thrust of last week’s proposal and will work with colleagues in the European Council to reach early agreement on a substantial, frontloaded recovery instrument. This will reinforce the three safety nets of up to €540 billion for citizens, businesses, and countries that we have already agreed.
Every EU Member State has been affected by this Emergency, some more than others. We need to kick-start economic and social recovery and get funds flowing to sectors and regions that need them most. To overcome new challenges arising from COVID-19, the EU budget must also deal with issues which were vital for Ireland before the crisis – including CAP, cohesion, research and innovation. I believe we must use this opportunity to set Europe on the right path for the future, building a greener, fairer, more resilient, digital and sustainable Union.
In doing so though, we must be honest with the Irish people. We are now net contributors to the EU Budget. A bigger EU Budget means us paying more as well as getting more out. However, the value of our membership is incalculable in terms of security, access to the single market, European citizenship, and the cost-sharing gains from joint projects and joint programmes. It is money well spent.
In recent days the world has watched, in horror, the events following the killing of George Floyd. It has prompted a palpable outpouring of emotion, spontaneous expressions of solidarity against the poison of racism. We have also seen genuine revulsion at the heavy-handed response in some instances towards peaceful protestors and journalists. We have witnessed the absence of moral leadership or words of understanding, comfort or healing from whence they should have come. It is right to be angered by injustice.
Racism is a virus, transmitted at an early age, perpetuated too by prejudice, sustained by systems, often unrecognised by those whom it affects, possible to counteract and correct for, but never easy to cure.
The Ireland I grew up in is a very different place to the one we live in today. In recent decades we have been enriched by racial diversity - people of colour who came here and more born here.
I believe we are fortunate to have a policing model based on consent, strict gun control and an unarmed and highly professional police service of whom we can be proud, An Garda Síochána.
However, we do not need to look across the Atlantic to find racism. We have many examples in our own country. Discrimination on the basis of skin colour or race is pernicious.
Sometimes, it's overt, discrimination when it comes to getting a job or a promotion or being treated less favourably by public authorities including sometimes Government officials. Sometimes it manifests itself in the form of hate speech on-line, bullying in school, name-calling in the streets, or even acts of violence.
Sometimes, it’s almost innocent and unknowing and all the more insidious, little things, small but none the less othering - being asked ‘where do you come from originally’ because your skin or surname looks out of place, how often you ‘go back’ to the country that your mother or father was born in, being spoken to more slowly, cultural and character assumptions made based on your appearance, being made to feel just that little bit less Irish than everyone else.
Sadly, this is the lived experience for many young people of colour growing up in Ireland today.
We have come together as a country, in this fight against COVID-19. Let us use that sense of solidarity and community so present in recent weeks, to take on racism and change the experiences of young people of colour in Ireland for the better. We can learn from the mistakes of other countries and make sure that we do not follow their path or be subject to their fate.
Finally, the PUP expires on June 8th. The Government decision will be made tomorrow morning with these three assurances:
It will be extended for months, not weeks;
Nobody who was working full time before the Pandemic will see their PUP cut. It will stay at €350 per week for those who were working full-time prior to the Pandemic hitting;
Some people who were working part-time will see their payments reduced but their weekly payments will still be more than they were earning on a weekly basis before the Pandemic.