I rise without a prepared speech because I am so angry that I could bite something. While the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Amendment No. 9) Regulations (NI) 2020 allow people to go and stay in overnight accommodation, even though we had a cross-party motion in the House that recognised the pressure on carers, we still cannot have overnight respite care for people with disabilities or older people. I appreciate that the rules and regulations are being laid in a specific way that adheres to legislation, but our carers' needs are falling on deaf ears.
I say to both junior Ministers this morning, "Go back to the Executive and ask the Executive to sort things out for carers". We heard, over the past few days, that some respite services may be available and that daycare centres may be open for 10% of the people with learning disabilities and older people. Honestly. We have carers who have been working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for 16 weeks. They are at breaking point. How many times do we have to ask in this place for their needs to be recognised? Fantastic: we can all go and stay in a B & B, we can go to the bookies, but we cannot give a carer a break.
I am so angry about this. We worked so hard together as parties to recognise the needs of carers and of those with disabilities, who, to be quite honest, are sick looking at their family because they still cannot go out through the door. We are not looking after them. I reiterate what Pam Cameron said: we need to look after ourselves and one another. I ask the junior Ministers please to put carers at the front of the queue. They have been part of the rainbow of heroes throughout the pandemic; they have worked quietly in the background, and, as has been recognised in the motion, they have been scared, they have been alone, they have been isolated, and they have done all that without much thanks or any recognition.
I push for the next regulations, the ones that have not yet been written — we already know what they are; they have been talked about today — to have the needs of carers in them. We need the junior Ministers to tell the trusts that there has to be fair and equitable treatment of all people with disabilities and of older people and their carers across Northern Ireland. I make this plea: while amendments Nos 9 and 10 to the regulations are absolutely welcome, it is the people who are doing the work on the ground in looking after the most vulnerable in society who need our help now. I am asking — I am pleading with — the Assembly and the Executive please to put carers first in their next considerations.