MARY Lou McDonald has called for a meeting of party leaders to discuss the threat posed by coronavirus.
As the number of cases of Covid-19 in Ireland continues to rise, the Sinn Féin leader said she has contacted Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to urgently convene talks on the outbreak.
Today, the Cabinet sub-committee will meet to set out measures to deal with the impact of the virus and consider strengthening employment protection laws.
Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly said the public are asking questions about coronavirus in constituency clinics across the country.
She told RTÉ’s The Week In Politics programme: “People need information, everybody wants to play their part but they need to know how to do that.
“We also have a situation where we have a caretaker government so we know that in all likelihood the people who are sitting around the Cabinet table won’t be the same people who are going to be sitting around it in a couple of weeks’ time.
“So all of the main parties need to be involved at a centralised level in this decision-making process because what we cannot afford is, when the government is formed, for those people in charge to take two weeks to read themselves into their brief — they need to hit the ground running.
“This is a very, very serious public health issue. We also need the voice of working people at the table because workers are very concerned. In a time of a public health emergency sick pay actually becomes an issue of public health, not industrial relations.”
Fine Gael’s parliamentary party chairman Martin Heydon said the Dáil will sit before its next scheduled date if emergency legislation needs to be passed to fast-track sick pay.
“I have no doubt we will act in unison on that and we will leave aside party politics to deal with what is a really serious threat,” he added.
“I think we need to reassure and not to scaremonger. Important decisions that need to be made are being made with clinical advice of the Chief Medical Officer (Dr Tony Holohan), following the guidance of the World Health Organisation.”
Fianna Fail’s Jim O’Callaghan said the Government needs to look at flight restrictions.
He said: “[Italian] prime minister Giuseppe Conte made a decision that they were going to quarantine the northern part of Italy, in particular Lombardy, and they’re told they can’t travel outside that region.
“Yet we still have flights coming into Dublin from northern Italy, so that’s a development that needs to be looked at by the Government to see to what extent measures need to be put in place to restrain people travelling on public health grounds.”
The senior Fianna Fáil TD also said his party might have been “too definitive” in ruling out going into government with Sinn Féin.
With the impact of the coronavirus putting a strain on government formation talks, Mr O’Callaghan said he is not ruling anything out.
He added: “We said before the last election that we wouldn’t go in with Sinn Féin, maybe we were too definitive about that but we said it and said the same about Fine Gael.
“However I think we all need to get together to try to establish a government.
“I’m not ruling in or out anything, but we need a government and we need a government promptly.
“I think all party leaders should meet in respect of discussing government formation, we should be meeting to discuss a national agreed response to this.”
It has been reported that health officials in Ireland fear 1.9 million people will fall ill with coronavirus, with 10% of them likely to need ICU treatment.
People Before Profit TD Brid Smith said the number of ICU beds in Ireland is below the EU average.
She said: “We’re in a big problem here and it has been said internationally that of all the countries across the EU, Ireland faces the biggest challenge because our health service is so underfunded and our nurses haven’t been treated properly.”