Party leaders ordered Heather Humphreys to do U-turn on PUP

Social Protection Minister forced into climbdown by Taoiseach Micheál Martin at late-night meeting as TDs blame 'over-zealous' officials
Party leaders ordered Heather Humphreys to do U-turn on PUP
Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys had initially defended the decision to withdraw the pandemic unemployment payment from people who left the country.  Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys was ordered to do a U-turn on the pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) after a late-night meeting of the three Government party leaders, it can be revealed.

The news comes as the Government confirmed that following a review of 2,500 cases where payments were stopped, a total 85 “have the potential” to receive the payment following the rule change.

Late on Tuesday night, Ms Humphreys stoutly defended the decision to withdraw the payment of the PUP from people who left the country but was forced into the climbdown on foot of a diktat from Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

Just 12 hours later, yesterday morning, she reversed that position in a statement to the Dáil.

She said: “I have listened to the concerns expressed in recent days in relation to people whose payment was stopped due to the fact they were travelling abroad on a holiday. I have directed my department to review all cases to date where people who went on holiday and had their payment stopped.

“I have now asked my officials to amend the regulations so that people on Jobseekers who wish to travel to any of the countries on the Green List can do so and continue to receive their payment,” she told TDs.

The U-turn came after the Coalition passed through legislation to put the PUP on a statutory footing on Tuesday night and set strict rules about claiming the support, including the provision that recipients must be “genuinely seeking” work.

The Irish Examiner has confirmed that Mr Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan discussed the matter at the conclusion of a Cabinet subcommittee on health and they agreed with the Taoiseach’s assessment that the U-turn must happen.

Q&A: The Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2020 - or pandemic unemployment payment — what is it?

“This was agreed by the three leaders who were working late at the cabinet subcommittee. It was clear the change had to be made and there was no disagreement from the three,” said a senior Government source.

There is considerable annoyance within the Government parties at the manner in which the rule was changed by Ms Humphreys, with some TDs blaming her officials for being “over-zealous” in their attempts to reduce the numbers on the PUP.

At a meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party, Mr Martin heard from a small number of TDs who complained about the continued mishandling of events by the Government.

Kilkenny TD John McGuinness said the PUP U-turn and the fallout of the gifting back of the €16,000 top-up allowance for super junior ministers had been “a PR disaster.”

New Dun Laoghaire TD Cormac Devlin was critical of the handling of the matters, saying the party was being “badly damaged” by Sinn Féin’s more agile approach to social media.

Mr Martin is said to have “held the line” on the 10% pay cut issue and “did not give an inch” but complained that his comments to his own party were being leaked out to the media while the meeting was ongoing.

Last night, the Department of Social Protection said it had completed the review of the 2,500 pandemic unemployment payment cases where the payment was stopped for travelling abroad.

“This review has identified some 85 cases that have the potential to be entitled to the pandemic unemployment payment for a holiday period,” it said in a statement.

“The department will be contacting the 85 individuals directly in the coming days to verify these cases."

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald the “Government’s utter hypocrisy and unfairness is galling”.

“If the Government is determined to penalise people for travelling abroad, it must have universal penalties, not ones targeted at one section of the population, because the unfairness of that speaks for itself,” she said.

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