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Q&A: What’s in the latest Covid-19 unprecedented emergency law?

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Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl,Picture: Maxwells

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl,Picture: Maxwells

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl,Picture: Maxwells

FOR the second week in a row the caretaker government is asking TDs to back an unprecedented emergency law to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

Meeting in reduced numbers, the Dáil will thrash out the details of the legislation today.

Q: What’s first up on the Dáil agenda?

A: A: The day will begin with a motion being tabled to remove planning barriers to building temporary medical facilities as part of the Covid-19 response. Other proposed changes will mean restaurants can switch to providing takeaways without requiring planning consent.

This comes after the Government said restaurants that wish to stay open should switch to takeaway. The main work of the day will be debating the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid) Bill 2020.

Q: So what’s in this new law?

A: It provides strong new powers to temporarily ban evictions and freeze rents. But the wide-ranging Bill also allows for the Government’s planned wage subsidies and includes measures to make it easier for health care professionals to re-register and return to work. Another section of the law deals with mental health tribunals. The law also allows former soldiers to rejoin the Defence Forces at the same rank at which they left.

Q: So what will it mean for renters?

A: Landlords won’t be able to serve notices of termination during what the law describes as “the emergency period”. This is defined as three months in the Bill. Rent increases are also prohibited for three months. This period can be extended by the Government depending on the threat posed by the coronavirus but any extensions must later be put to the Houses of the Oireachtas for approval.

Q: What about wages for at-risk employees?

A: With hundreds of thousands of jobs threatened the Government has pledged to pay 70pc of an employee’s wages up to €410-a-week for businesses willing to meet the remainder of their staff’s weekly payment. The employer must be adversely affected by the virus crisis and have suffered at least a 25pc reduction in turnover or customer orders. The proposed law allows for the wages subsidies to be paid.

Q: And what about former health staff?

A: More than 60,000 people have responded to the HSE’s ‘Be on Call for Ireland’ initiative. The legislation amends laws relating to doctors, nurses and pharmacist re-registering to make it easier to bring back former medical professionals. It includes a provision that no fee would be charged for re-registering.

Q: Will the legislation pass?

A: In all likelihood yes. Opposition parties will table amendments to the Bill - for instance Sinn Féin want protections for renters who have verbal agreements to rent rooms - but ultimately it will get over the line due to the need to protect renters and provide wage subsidy payments.

There’s also a deadline which will focus minds. There have been warnings that, in the absence of a new government being formed, new laws must be passed before the new Seanad is elected next week.

Q: What changes are the Opposition seeking to the legislation?

A: Opposition parties have tabled a string of amendments to the emergency law. Proposed changes to the Bill are to be debated later this evening.

Among the suggestions put forward are:

Fianna Fáil want the government to publish regulation for payment break criteria for all mortgages including the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan Scheme.

Sinn Féin put forward an amendment to ban evictions or rent increases in instances where the tenant is renting under licence or in an informal rent-a-room arrangement for the duration of the emergency.

Independent TDs Michael Fitzmaurice, Marian Harkin and Michael McNamara want an option to extend the proposed three month rent freeze for a further five months.

Solidarity TD Mick Barry is seeking the publication of a report within two weeks on legislative changes required to ensure tenants in student accommodation are able to leave contracts early without having to pay rent for the remainder of the year.

Solidarity-People Before Profit want a line included "for the avoidance of any doubt" that all Travellers who are currently resident in any location should not be evicted during the crisis. Exceptions to this would be "where movement is required to ameliorate hardship and provide protection" but it would be "subject to consultation with the Travellers involved".

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly has suggested that nurses or midwives living here who qualified or practiced in the UK be able to register to work in Ireland.

Immigrants that are trained doctors, nurses and pharmacists would be allowed to register to practice in Ireland under amendments tabled by Solidarity-People Before Profit.

Those seeking abortions should be able to do so by "tele-medicine consultations with doctors" with medication or prescriptions sent through the post according to an amendment tabled by Solidarity TD Mick Barry.

Sinn Féin wants the government's €350 Covid Payment for those that lose their jobs set at 100pc of the applicant's former net pay up to a maximum of €525-per-week.

Independent TDs Denis Naughten and Cathal Berry want new regulations for Mental Health Tribunals surrounding a patients to continue in operation for no more than 30 days without further approval from the Dáil or party and group leaders.

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