Taoiseach defends plan to link dole payments to employment history

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Correspondent

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has defended controversial Fine Gael plans to link dole, paternity pay and sick leave to someone's income tax history, despite concerns the move could damage the long-term unemployed.

As revealed in today's Irish Examiner, the party's new "rolling manifesto" includes a reference to the changes which could potentially see social welfare payments linked directly to PRSI contribution levels.

The proposed system is used in France and other parts of continental Europe, where unemployed claimants receive payments based on their previous social insurance contributions.

However, while the yet to be implemented policy is intended to better support people who have recently lost medium-to-long term jobs, it also means the long-term unemployed could receive lower payments.

Asked about the plans at a media briefing during Fine Gael's national conference at the Slieve Russell Hotel in Co Cavan this afternoon, Mr Varadkar confirmed he wants to see the move take place.

He defended the potential policy as being fairer to people who have a history of working, and also revealed he wants to see it extended to sick leave and paternity pay - which is currently not in the official policy plan.

He said: "Bear in mind it's already the case in Ireland that PRSI payments are related to benefits.

"The reason you get PRSI benefit, maternity pay, job seekers benefit without any means test is because you pay PRSI, and that's the way the system currently works.

"What we'd like to move towards is a system we had in the past, pay-related benefits, that is now the norm across Europe which is that if you lose your job for example, if you become sick, if you go on maternity or paternity leave, instead of just getting the same amount there will be a link to the amount you paid in.

"So if you look at Denmark, Germany for example, if you lose your job in the first couple of weeks you can get up to 60-70% of your salary while you're looking for a new job, while in Ireland you get around €200.

"We want the basic minimum rate to change.

"We're not suggesting that it be cut, but we are saying that people who do pay PRSI for 10 or 20 years, when they lose their job, if they go sick or need to take paternity leave, they should get a little bit more. It is their money after all," Mr Varadkar said.

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