The Taoiseach has defended cuts to Covid-19 unemployment payments, insisting the Government may need to fund pandemic financial support measures through the whole of 2021.
Micheál Martin was responding to calls in the Dáil to reverse the reduction in the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP). The €350-a-week payments have dropped to between €200 to €300. More than 150,000 people are still in receipt of the benefit.
During leaders’ questions, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald urged Mr Martin to reinstate the original payments.
She contrasted it with a Government move to appoint 10 special advisers to junior ministers.
Ms McDonald said it was extraordinary that last week’s move to cut the PUP came just 24 hours before tighter coronavirus restrictions were announced for Dublin.
Mr Martin said the PUP was originally planned as a 12-week intervention. He said while the rates had now be reduced, the scheme had been extended until next April. The Taoiseach also raised the prospect of the Government requiring to fund similar measures through to the end of next year.
“We’re now looking at a much longer horizon for the Pandemic Unemployment Payments,” he said.
“And one of the decisions we took in July was to extend it out to April of next year.“This government has already put €3.5 billion into the Pandemic Unemployment Payment – that’s what it has cost. This year alone government will spend €28 billion on social protection – that is an unprecedented intervention by the state and by government in supporting incomes and, yes, rates have come down in line with the decision in July, but are still very closely approximated to what people would have been earning prior to coming onto the Covid payment.
“We also now have to look beyond April and we have to realise that the impact of Covid, particularly economically and financially, could be right through the entirety of 2021, and therefore the planning, the fiscal planning, the planning around social protection budgets, has to take that into consideration and will.”
Ms McDonald also called on Mr Martin to reinstate a full ban on evictions, claiming changes to the emergency coronavirus measure had left tenants more vulnerable. She also urged him to act to press banks to extend mortgage holidays for citizens and businesses.
“The real danger that we face now is this that people become more terrified of losing their job, of losing their home, of not being able to provide for their family than they are of the virus,” said the Sinn Fein leader.
“That would be the worst possible situation we could walk in to.”Ms McDonald said she was “astounded and gobsmacked” at news of the special adviser appointments.
The Taoiseach defended the move and accused Sinn Féin of hypocrisy, given its use of special advisers in the Northern Ireland executive.
“You’ve been a long term advocate for special advisers in politics,” he told Ms McDonald. “You’ve never shown any disdain for that to date and your party hasn’t either, so stop the hypocrisy in relation to that issue.”
READ MORE‘Stop the hypocrisy’ Taoiseach tells McDonald over special advisors