Extending the use of the “clearly discriminatory” COVID cert system could cause further division in society that could be “very difficult to repair,” according to the ICCL.
On The Hard Shoulder this evening, Irish Council for Civil Liberties Executive Director Liam Herrick said it is not clear what the COVID cert system is supposed to achieve and “very little evidence” regarding how successful it has been.
He was speaking as senior Government ministers meet to discuss the latest advice from NPHET this evening – including increased use of antigen testing, extending the use of COVID certs and advising people to work from home where possible.
They are also considering updated NPHET modelling which suggests the peak of the current wave of infection may still be some way off.
Mr Herrick said the COVID cert system is “clearly discriminatory” – and said the real question is whether it is “justified and proportionate.”
“It is clear that we are in a difficult position at the moment and Government has to make difficult choices,” he said.
“Some public health measures it can introduce don’t have an impact on people’s rights and are not discriminatory. For example, providing free access to testing is not problematic and requiring people to wear masks on public transport is a very limited imposition on people’s right.
“But what we seem to be moving towards here is a wider use of something that clearly is discriminatory – that is the vaccine cert system – and doing so when there has been very little evidence produced about exactly what function the cert system is performing and how it is performing in practice.”
Mr Herrick noted that, if the cert system was about encouraging more people to get vaccinated, it is no longer needed.
“We have the highest level of vaccination of any country in the world – how much encouragement do we realistically think we are going to achieve?” he said.
“We might have a counter-effect here. There are a small number of people in society who have chosen not to take the vaccine. Some for medical reasons and some for other personal reasons.
“Some people believe … they are suspicious of the State around these matters and these kinds of discriminatory policies might in fact reinforce that belief and might in fact create a worse problem.
“It is completely reasonable that bodies like NPHET will look at this from an immediate point of view of the hospitals in crisis and disease control – but Government needs to look at the wider societal impact and the long-term effects and we need to think about creating divisions in society that might be very difficult to repair.”
He warned that vaccine certs were originally supposed to be phased out as soon as a large enough proportion of the population had been vaccinated.
“It seems to have had different purposes at different points in time,” he said. “The Government hasn’t really brought forth any evidence of how it is performing in practice.”
“So, to rely on this as a significant public health measure without any evidence, when we know it is discriminating against people – including people who can’t get the vaccine for medical reasons – I think is troubling.”
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