Government risks 'losing the dressing room' if PUP not restored to €350 a week

'Now is not the time to be cutting supports,' says Mary Lou McDonald
Government risks 'losing the dressing room' if PUP not restored to €350 a week

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said it is not the time to be cutting supports, especially as the Government confirmed it would seek to appoint 10 special advisers to junior ministers.

The Government risks "losing the dressing room" if the pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) is not restored to €350 per week, the opposition has warned.

The payment, which was introduced at the beginning of the pandemic, is still being claimed by more than 200,000 workers laid off due to Covid-19. 

It was last week cut to €300 a week for those who earned over €300 per week before the pandemic, and to €250 per week for those who previously earned between €200 and €300 per week.

The opposition has hit out at the cut to the payment, at a time when businesses are being forced to close due to Covid-19 restrictions and other industries, such as the arts, have yet to reopen.

Speaking in the Dáil, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said it was not the time to be cutting supports, especially as the Government confirmed it would seek to appoint 10 special advisers to junior ministers. The ministers of state had earlier been told they would have to use a pool of advisers.

"This is being done at a time when he [Taoiseach Micheál Martin] is cutting payments to people in real difficulty who have lost their jobs. If this is the case it is outrageous and I ask him to clarify this matter," said Ms McDonald.

"At a time when sectors of the economy are still closed down or are vulnerable to being closed down again, when thousands of people are out of work, this is not a time to be cutting the very payment upon which they rely to pay their bills and look after their families.

This decision needs to be reviewed immediately and reversed

Mr Martin accused Ms McDonald of "hypocrisy" — pointing to the fact that her party employs special advisers in the Northern Ireland Executive.

Mr Martin claimed the Sinn Féin president has been "one of the original enthusiasts" for special advisers and "always has been".

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said that the Government would risk undermining public solidarity if it did not reverse the cuts.

"This is grossly unjust and a serious danger to the collective social solidarity that is absolutely critical to defeating Covid-19. If the Government loses the faith of the people and punishes those who have lost their jobs and income as a result of its restrictions, it will lose the dressing room. People will lose faith in the public health effort and it will unravel."

Mr Martin said that decisions must be made with an eye on the future.

"The Government has made the most unprecedented intervention in underpinning income in the history of the State. We have to think ahead. 

All of this is being borrowed on behalf of the taxpayer. We have to work ahead and make sure we can sustain it for an indefinite period

Meanwhile, the Government has indicated it will begin consultation on a bill that would give statutory sick pay to workers.

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly will this week introduce a bill to the Dáil which would provide guaranteed sick pay to employees. 

Labour senator Marie Sherlock, who is the co-author of the bill, said there cannot be a delay to introducing the measure.

"The lack of statutory sick leave is a fundamental weakness in our fight against the pandemic. We can’t wait six months for a public consultation when a second wave is under way. We are more likely to see a vaccine delivered sooner than a government proposal on sick pay after a public consultation."

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