'Any measure to coerce vaccination would be a very dramatic shift': Proposals for mandatory vaccines are slammed

The Taoiseach said today that the voluntary system would be maintained. 
'Any measure to coerce vaccination would be a very dramatic shift': Proposals for mandatory vaccines are slammed

This evening, the Taoiseach moved swiftly to downplay the issue, saying Ireland had achieved one of the highest vaccination rates in the world under a voluntary system.

THE Executive Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties has slammed proposals for mandatory vaccines saying they will only serve to demonise a section of society.

Minutes from a meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) revealed the issue is under discussion, with a paper being prepared by the Department of Health.

Professor Karina Butler, chairwoman of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) said on Monday that mandatory vaccination could be “necessary for the overall good”.

This evening, the Taoiseach moved swiftly to downplay the issue, saying Ireland had achieved one of the highest vaccination rates in the world under a voluntary system.

Speaking from Cork on Monday, Micheál Martin said: “I think Nphet will examine every issue, so it can give advice to Government from time to time."

He said however, "from my perspective, we have achieved one of the highest rates in the world through a voluntary system and that’s the system that we will maintain.”

Speaking prior to the Taoiseach's comments, Executive Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Cork man Liam Herrick said that mandatory vaccination would hugely undermine trust in the Irish people as well create alienation.

"The strong constitutional protection of the right to bodily integrity and protection of the right to private and family life under Irish law and international rights laws are our starting point," Mr Herrick said. "Any measure to coerce vaccination would be a very dramatic shift. There are circumstances globally where there are extreme justifications for mandatory vaccinations. This is a measure of last resort. There is a very strong commitment in Ireland to voluntary vaccination. That's been a huge success and any deviation from that policy at this stage would be of major concern."

Difficult to justify 

He said that mandatory vaccines would be difficult to justify.

"What we are seeing in Europe at the moment in terms of mandatory vaccination policies is not forced treatment which under human rights law would be impossible to justify. What we are seeing is a legal obligation to become vaccinated that can result in people being fined. This has been introduced in places like Greece, Italy, and Austria. Even these types of laws are seen as extreme measures that would be very difficult for the Irish Government to justify. Very often they prove counterproductive because they undermine public trust which has been such a valuable commodity here with regard to the success of our vaccination programme. I don't think the conditions are in place in Ireland to justify this extraordinary measure."

Mr Herrick honed in on the topic of consent and added:"We have to be mindful that we are still encouraging people to get vaccinated. If we break public trust about the principle of consent the long-term damage this time could be huge. We need to be careful about demonising any section of the population on the basis of vaccination or health status. To be fair to the government they have not chosen some of the more drastic policies of alienation and discrimination."

Covid restrictions 

He emphasised his views on continuing restrictions.

"In the Irish Council of Civil Liberties, we are certainly concerned about the Covid cert system and how it has expanded over time. We find this regrettable and unnecessary. We are opposed to any proposal for mandatory vaccination. We think this would be a huge mistake. I would trust the government not to make that mistake because they have set so much store on the principle of consent. The wider concern for us is the continuing use of extraordinary ministerial powers. The powers of the Minister for Health are up for review in March. I think at this point in the pandemic we need them to be abandoned and see an end in sight for the wider use of Covid certs."

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