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Senator Martin Conway.

Call for exemption for support group meetings if Covid-19 restrictions increase

ADDICTION support meetings should be allowed to continue in person, as and when Covid-19 restrictions move to Level Three and beyond, according to Clare-based senator Martin Conway.

Fine Gael’s Seanad spokesperson on health, has described support group meetings as “life saving” and called for them to be designated as essential services, even in the event of restrictions moving to the highest, Level Five, status.

Since Dublin moved to Level Three restrictions last Friday, face-to-face meeting have been suspended there. Senator Conway said the issue wasn’t just of concern to the capital but to the whole country, given the likelihood that restrictions would have to be tightened in different areas as we move through the pandemic.

“I understand that AA together with Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Gamblers Anonymous (GA) have had to take this decision in order to comply with the public health guidelines as set out in the roadmap,” the Ennistymon native said. “These organisations are a lifeline to thousands of people who struggle with addiction on a daily basis and it is my view that a way needs be found to allow the meetings to continue during this pandemic. Addiction is a serious health issue and there are people whose health will be negatively affected in the absence of these face-to-face meetings.”

The Fine Gael member acknowledged that huge effort are being made to facilitate online meetings, but said there are concerns over the significant numbers of people who do not have the skills or resources to engage online.

“While the organisations involved have made valiant efforts arranging meetings online through Zoom and Webex, this isn’t working for many due to age, lack of access to technology and ICT illiteracy,” he said.

“I believe that a resumption of these meetings is in the interest of public health and I am calling on the Minister for Health together with the acting chief medical officer (CMO) to engage with NPHET and the addiction organisations to identify solutions to allow this happen, this is a health issue not a social gathering.”

Senator Conway highlighted the need for protocols to be put in place saying that “Level Three [restrictions] and other levels will be part of our future living with Covid19”.

“We have heard much commentary recently on the opening of wet pubs, I would suggest that a set of protocols to allow AA and its sister organisations to continue the vital life-saving support is much more important,” he said.

About Fiona McGarry

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Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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