News & Media

EU must be accountable on vaccine failures

24 March 2021

Speech by Brendan Howlin TD
Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Brexit and Justice

Contribution by Brendan Howlin TD during Dáil statements on the European Council meeting summit and vaccine supply.

"I have noticed the European Commission has, most unusually for that institution, been belligerent and noisy in advance of this week's Council meeting. The reason for that is obvious. A new wave of Covid infections has erupted and the roll-out of vaccines remains painfully slow across the European Union.

"Here, we look at our nearest neighbour where more vaccines were administered each day last week than we have managed to administer in three months. It is delivering 720,000 vaccines a day. Proportionately, that would equate to 60,000 vaccines per day here. The truth is we are nowhere near reaching that level of delivery.

"The Commission put its hands up in the early part of the pandemic. There was no health competence within the European Union, as we know. Things were slow to be organised in the face of the pandemic. Co-operation in the initial months was not as it should have been. All of that was gradually understood and acknowledged. We were promised that lessons were learned and vast improvements would be delivered upon. This has not happened. Vaccine procurement, the Commission's single most important task, has been unacceptably poor. Our purchase agreements and contractual arrangements have proven to be significantly inferior to those negotiated by the United Kingdom and the United States.

"Most amazingly of all, the EU has somehow managed to put itself, in the past week or so, in the position of being seen as the aggressor, threatening to stop the export of vaccines, when in truth since February more than 40 million vaccines have left the European Union to 33 other nations in total, including 10 million vaccines which were exported from the European Union to the United Kingdom. That was one-way traffic, since the AstraZeneca vaccine cannot leave Britain because of its UK-first contract clause.

"There must be a process of accountability for this unacceptable state of affairs. The promise solemnly given almost a year ago to do better has not been delivered on. Those of us who remain strong supporters of the European Union must require its institutions to be accountable in the full measure of that phrase.

"For the past few days the Taoiseach has preached calm, no vaccine nationalism and no vetoing of exports. It should never have reached this point. There has been a failure of procurement, a slowness in authorisation and a communications strategy that has painted the most generous of national blocs as vaccine grabbers. Meanwhile, the UK – and more luck to it – has administered more than 720,000 vaccines per day while European Union citizens patiently wait and watch the number of infections rise.

"The European project will succeed when we know we can depend on the competence of those whom we entrust with leadership and on our systems of political oversight to properly address the situation when that leadership and those solemnly given commitments fail.