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 Header Item Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions (Continued)
 Header Item Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 996 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin] The issue now is what it will take to restore these services. I have not seen the final print of that, if I am honest. I have not seen the final bill. What I really want to see is a structured response stating when the services will be restored. The HSE is working on that.

   Deputy Róisín Shortall: Is there a Minister in charge of that?

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin There is a Minister of State. As the Deputy is aware, it is a new Department. It is located in the Department of Health right now and that whole area governing disability will move to the new Department with responsibility for children, youth affairs and disability.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy The discrimination against PUP recipients is a shambles worthy of the Government. Ten minutes before Leaders' Questions began, the Minister responsible was in the House announcing what sounded like a partial U-turn on the policy. It leaves PUP recipients wondering if the discrimination has ended. It leaves those who have been penalised wondering if their money will be reinstated. They need clarity on this. After Deputy McDonald asked about this issue, we got five minutes of speechifying from the Taoiseach about everything other than this issue. Can the Taoiseach please provide clarity for PUP recipients?

  I have to hand a copy of a letter sent to a new social welfare applicant last week. It refers to important information about the person's jobseeker's benefit, and in respect of holidays states the person may take up to two weeks' paid holidays in a calendar year and that the person must tell the Department before he or she goes. There is nothing in the letter about a travel advisory, green lists, red lists or anything else. The person may take holidays and has to tell the Department. If the person takes holidays, he or she could lose all of his or her income. Billy Kelleher, MEP, has suffered no loss in income, the tax exiles are facilitated and special assignee relief programme, SARP, recipients suffer nothing at all. It is deeply immoral to have this blatant discrimination. It is not just immoral. The problem in which the Taoiseach finds himself is that this is illegal. There is no legal basis for the discrimination, as has been pointed out by the Free Legal Advice Centres, FLAC.

  Yesterday, I spoke to a man called Ciarán. He is 25 years old and has paid taxes all his life, and is in receipt of the PUP through no fault of his own. On Thursday, 7 May he took a flight and was stopped at the boarding gate by plain-clothes gardaí who said they were conducting an immigration check and asked for his passport. He handed it over, and they took it and gave it back. He got on the aeroplane. He came back to Ireland and found his PUP had been stopped. He contacted the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, which told him he was on a particular flight and, therefore, his PUP was being taken off him. On what legal basis did gardaí ask for his passport and then transfer information to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection? There is no legal basis for that. That is why, when representations were made by his constituency representatives, Deputies Nolan and Stanley, his payment was restored.

  If there was no legal basis then for stopping payments, there is still now no legal basis for this discrimination. The statutory instrument introduced on 10 July explicitly related to jobseeker's benefit and does not reference the PUP. What about the case of a woman who is reported in The Irish Times as having booked a ferry trip that she did not take, but lost her PUP simply for having made a booking? I do not want to hear long rhetoric around the coronavirus crisis, the point of the PUP or anything else. Rather, I want clarity on what is going to happen.

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Deputy does not want to hear the fact that the pandemic unemployment payment has been a very substantial and effective intervention in our economy. He cannot bring himself to say that. He cannot bring himself to say that the wage subsidy scheme was a very effective intervention and that the continuation of both schemes to the end of March represents a substantial policy response to people who are in difficulty arising out of the very negative impact Covid-19 has had on our economy.

I make no apology for continuing to restate that, because that is the antithesis of the Deputy's assertion of shambles and so on. The very fact that the July stimulus programme has, in a very measured way, continued what are very substantial and significant intervention speaks to, in my view, a very sound economic policy that is designed to result in a substantial deficit this year in order to keep as many jobs as we can in the economy and create alternative jobs. That is the big picture of what we are doing.

I am not responsible for operational decisions taken by people on the ground in respect of compliance with social protection rules. I said yesterday that I would want the cases of those who have lost their PUP to be reviewed. The Deputy already referred to one case which was reviewed and the payment was restored. As I have said, this needs to be kept in perspective. The Government has no agenda to single out anybody, and I certainly do not, just because he or she is in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment.

As the Deputy is aware, there always have been compliance checks at the airports. He is equally oblivious to the fact that 90% of the pandemic unemployment payments that were stopped were in respect of people who were residing permanently outside of the State. The checks are in place and will continue.

I have already outlined the Department's legal basis upon which compliance checks are done at the airports, which have been forwarded to me. People working for and on behalf of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection apply the social welfare code and seek compliance with it. I have made it clear that reviews should take place.

The number of people who have been denied the pandemic unemployment payment because of holidays is very low. From what I can gather, about 100 people have been affected. Given that 287,000 people are currently in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment, that gives us a sense of the issue we are dealing with, and it is an issue that can be resolved.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy The Taoiseach has been in the House a lot longer than I have but my understanding is that this session is called Leaders' Questions. The implication is that we ask questions and, I presume, we get answers as opposed to policy statements, rhetoric or anything else.

I will restate the basic questions people need to know. This is not a question about whether there will be reviews of individual cases. Rather, it is a question of policy. The Taoiseach is responsible for questions of policy. The question is simply whether PUP recipients who go on holiday to a green list or non-green list country will lose payments. I do not think people should go abroad at all. That is my advice. However, in circumstances where they do so, will they be penalised? It is a very simple question. Will people have their PUP taken away? The question that flows from that is if it is the case that the Department will not penalise them in the future, will they be refunded the money that was taken from them as a result of the current penalisation?

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Deputy has said he thinks people should not travel at all, and I hear what he is saying. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection has made the situation clear in respect of people travelling back to Ireland from countries that are on the green list. They do not necessarily have to restrict their movements when they return to Ireland from a green list country, as per Government travel advice.

I again make the point that the numbers are extremely low. The Government has not set out, in any shape or form, to collectively target the recipients of pandemic unemployment payments. As I have said already and as the Minister said earlier today, the cases involved will undergo a review. This issue can be resolved.

The overall view of the Government is that we have strengthened the legislative basis underpinning the pandemic unemployment payment, we have given added protections to those in receipt of pandemic unemployment payments, namely, that they are deemed to have made contributions which will help them later on, and we have extended the payment to the end of March. By any yardstick, that represents a very substantial intervention by the State in terms of supporting people who are going through a very difficult situation as a result of Covid-19.

Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl We will move to Questions on Promised Legislation. Before the clock starts ticking, I want to advise Members that 37 Deputies have indicated. A number of those have been carried forward from yesterday.

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