Header Item Prelude
 Header Item Teachtaireacht ón Dáil - Message from Dáil
 Header Item An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
 Header Item Planning and Development Act 2000 Regulations: Motion
 Header Item Restoration of Bills to the Order Paper: Motion
 Header Item Houses of the Oireachtas Commission: Motion
 Header Item Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2020: Second Stage
 Header Item Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 270 No. 9
Unrevised

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Chuaigh an Cathaoirleach i gceannas ar 13:00:00

Machnamh agus Paidir.

Reflection and Prayer.


  1 o’clock

Teachtaireacht ón Dáil - Message from Dáil

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly I have received a message from Dáil Éireann that Dáil Éireann has passed the Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2020 on 28 July 2020, to which the agreement of Seanad Éireann is desired.

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

Senator Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding exempted development regulations concerning Dublin Airport, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion regarding restoration of Bills to the Order Paper, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, motion regarding the appointment of ordinary members of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 2; and No. 3a on the supplementary Order Paper, Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2020, all Stages, to be taken at 3 p.m., with the time allocated to the group spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed eight minutes, for all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given not less than eight minutes to reply; and Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately thereafter.

Senator Mary Fitzpatrick: Information on Mary Fitzpatrick Zoom on Mary Fitzpatrick This morning I draw the Seanad's attention to the tragic loss of life of five homeless people in Dublin city this week. They were five people under 40 years, most of them women. That tragic loss of life in one week in this city is unprecedented. I would like the House to join me in offering sympathy to the families and friends of those five people. I want us to offer our support to everyone who works in homeless services both in a voluntary and professional capacity. Their job is incredibly challenging and they do it with great generosity and strength. They deserve the full support of the House, which I am sure the House will give.

  However, we need to go further than that.   The Dublin Region Homeless Executive is charged with providing a response to homelessness for the four local authorities in the Dublin area. In its most recent report, the executive provides up-to-date figures. These were only up to the end of May, so there is a delay in the reporting of numbers. Although the numbers have decreased over months and years, they are still unacceptably high. The last reported numbers indicate that more than 1,300 families are in some form of homeless accommodation. There are more than 2,000 children in some form of homeless accommodation, be it hotels, temporary hostels or family hubs. Essentially, all of those people's lives are on hold. While the Dublin Region Homeless Executive is working day and night to support them, the fact that five people died in the past week alone must be examined, as well as the type of supports that are being provided.

  I spoke about families but there is enormous pressure on single people in terms of inadequacy of supply of accommodation. The Dublin Region Homeless Executive had to decommission 500 single beds because of Covid-19 in order to ensure adequate social distancing. I ask that the Minister come to the House for a debate on the provision of homeless services in Dublin and to examine what led to those five tragic deaths, what more can be done to support homeless people in Dublin and to those who are providing services to them, and, critically, what more the State can do to ensure that all of those people exit homelessness into permanent homes.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly I call the father of the House, Senator Norris.

Senator David Norris: Information on David Norris Zoom on David Norris I thank the Cathaoirleach. I have two matters to raise. The first is a question that has been drawn to my attention by a couple. The man is infertile as a result of Klinefelter syndrome and they got a friend of theirs to donate sperm. The woman got pregnant and a child was born. They approached the Adoption Authority of Ireland and it advised that the father apply for a step-parent adoption, which they did. They applied for and obtained guardianship of the daughter as well. They looked into the Children and Family Relationships Act, the Assisted Human Reproduction Act and the Adoption Act. They understand that parentage is being granted to social parents of donor-conceived children who are conceived in a hospital or clinic setting but this took place outside the hospital setting in the home. Is there any chance that the relevant legislation could be amended to include, and not to exclude, families such as this?

  The second matter is the question of dog theft. There has been an enormous spate of dog thefts recently, particularly since Covid-19. Under the current law, the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001, pets are considered property and they are treated in the same way, for example, as the theft of a mobile phone. Pets are not property, however, they are loved companions. They are children for people who cannot have children of their own. They are therapy dogs and service dogs. They are dogs for people who are blind. They are companions for those who have nobody else to turn to. Hundreds of dogs are being stolen every day. There are these facts: resale - some buyers will not check a pet's background before buying a dog, which makes things very difficult; ransom - a thief can take advantage of a vulnerable owner who will offer a reward for the safe return of the beloved dog; breeding - stolen dogs are used on puppy farms; and fighting, which is appalling - some dogs are used as bait in dog fights.

  I had a case where a Springer Spaniel was attacked and her puppies stolen. They dumped her after using a knife to cut her microchip out of her neck, leaving her to bleed to death. They put Super Glue her mouth, and a young man was attacked and hospitalised for trying to intervene. A woman walking her dogs in the woods in Tipperary was approached by two men who instructed their trained fighting dogs to attack her in order to allow them to steal her dogs. Dog thieves are flying drones over housing estates to locate dogs and to mark houses where there are dogs available for theft. I ask that this problem be examined. I understand that legislation has been proposed in the Lower House and I ask that this House support that in order to protect family pets.

Senator Annie Hoey: Information on Annie Hoey Zoom on Annie Hoey Over the weekend I spoke on the Labour Youth panel at our Tom Johnson Summer School about the issue of tackling systemic racism. The speakers on the panel were Amanda Nyoni from the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland, MASI, Bernard Joyce from the Irish Traveller Movement, and Dr. Ebun Joseph, who is an incredible lecturer. If Members have a free moment, I suggest they take the time to watch that panel discussion, which is available online, on systemic racism in Ireland and the actions we need to take both within ourselves and very much as legislators.

  Merely days after we were on that panel talking about what we can do, more issues have arisen here in Ireland. I am extremely concerned about the conditions at the Skellig Star direct provision centre in Cahersiveen and the treatment at the centre, which has led to 32 residents beginning a hunger strike over ongoing problems, including food rationing. The residents are being given 1 l of water a day. There is a boil water notice in place in Cahersiveen. Locals are trying to bring bottled water to the residents, and if they run out of that they have to boil their own water. It is unacceptable and disgraceful that people who come to this country in desperate need of support, help and care cannot even get water. It is unacceptable that this inhumane regime of segregation and isolation is continuing. I am aware the Government has great plans to end the current system of direct provision, but in the meantime, we should at least be able to give people water to drink.

  This morning, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission published groundbreaking research conducted with the ESRI. The survey, Hidden versus revealed attitudes: A list experiment on support for minorities in Ireland, demonstrates the extent of racist beliefs in Ireland and shows how far we need to go in tackling racism. It is particularly striking how people with higher education hide the extent of their racism through more socially acceptable responses.

  I greatly welcome the report, Invisible People: The Integration Support Needs of Refugee Families Reunified in Ireland, published yesterday by NASC, on family reunification for refugee families. It highlights the many challenges faced by reunification families, including significant barriers to accessing housing, resulting in a high risk of homelessness. If the Leader has an opportunity, I would encourage her to read the Invisible People report.

  I fully support calls today from the Immigrant Council of Ireland to overhaul the immigration system. Covid-19 has revealed the huge cracks in our current system. There was a report today about a Pakistani man returning from Poland who was questioned for more than an hour in Dublin Airport. He had to show messages between him and his wife to prove that he had a right to be here in Ireland. That is not the way we treat people coming here. That is not the land of a thousand welcomes that we put on postcards. It is not the way we should treat people.

  The establishment of a new Department with responsibility for equality and integration under the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, presents a great opportunity to reform the system of immigration and asylum and the inclusion of minorities. I hope we can have a discussion on that in September around what we can do because we, as a society, will be judged by the way we treat our most vulnerable, both during the Covid-19 pandemic and afterwards.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile I also want to raise the dire and serious situation in the Skellig Star direct provision centre. Direct provision is a stain on society. It is a great shame that this system prevails. The Government has made a commitment in its programme for Government to end that system. I fully endorse that. I want to see action on that and we need to see it now, not least for the people who are existing in some of these awful conditions. I have seen some of them, as I know other Members have also during our research in the previous Joint Committee on Justice and Equality. This is not far-gone suffering that is representative of an old Ireland, and that is not to diminish anyone who went through the mother and baby homes or institutions in this State. This is happening right now, as we sit here. There are people who have had to go on hunger strike because of the conditions in which they find themselves in direct provision. That is the political reality as we prepare to finish our business at the end of this week and go off for our summer break. That is what people in the Skellig Star direct provision centre are facing. Members of this House might sigh at that but that is the reality being faced by those people. It is an absolute disgrace and a shame that we would even consider going into a summer break before a Minister has come into this House to address what the Government intends to do. I do not care whether it is the Minister for Justice and Equality or the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman.  Before the end of business today, I would like to hear that a Minister will come before this House to outline the actions the Government will take to close that centre. I would also like an update on the measures the Government is taking to end the direct provision system.

  I do not seek to divide the House, but I want to put down a marker. If there is no change to the schedule to bring a Minister to the House to address this issue, I will propose an amendment to the Order of Business for tomorrow and for Friday if needs be, given that they are the only days available. I am sure Senator Hoey will consider seconding that amendment. We need to hear the Government's response to this very serious and dire situation which has arisen within weeks of the centre's opening. Things were bad enough before people had to go to the extreme of beginning a hunger strike. More than a quarter of residents in that centre tested positive for Covid-19 because of the lack of space available. The latter is endemic within the direct provision system. There is a duty on all of us not to sigh or roll our eyes when this serious matter is mentioned but to act and put pressure on the Government to do something to save the people in the Skellig Star.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I support Senator Fitzpatrick's comments on homelessness and those of Senators Hoey and Ó Donnghaile in respect of direct provision. The test of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable. Social solidarity is a principle of a healthy democracy. It is what we rely on. The original common sense is the recognition that we depend on each other. A very strong example of social solidarity, which rightly gathered worldwide recognition and praise, was the set of measures taken by the outgoing Government in March to protect those who became unemployed, were placed on furlough or found the sector in which they worked unable to operate during the pandemic. Decisions that affected businesses and workers were made for the sake of the common good in response to Covid-19. Similarly, the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment was a measure put in place in the interests of the common good. This was done out of social solidarity.

  A massive disservice has been done to the principle of social solidarity, any notion of common sense and, indeed, the law as a result of the litany of inaccuracies and contradictions we have heard from the Government this week. These have real impact. They create fear and distress among real people. Ministers who are no longer even in the relevant Departments have made declarations about the requirements on recipients of the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment, telling them they are obliged to seek work. That is not accurate. It is not the law. Perhaps it will be after this week, but that is not the case at present. Ministers declared that if someone left the country, his or her payments would be docked. The gov.ie website carried the same message and claimed that holidays had been suspended. It did not say whether that meant holidays at home or abroad, or whether it applied to essential travel abroad. These were massive inaccuracies. Now we are told the Government has made a U-turn. In fact, it realised that it had no legal basis for these actions. SI 242/2020 of 10 July simply states that people may holiday "in accordance with the Covid-19 General Travel Advisory".

  In light of all of these inaccuracies, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business: "That the Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2020 be taken on Thursday after other business." It is really important that there is an opportunity for the Government and for us, as Senators, to engage on this legislation and deal with the inaccuracies to which the Government admitted this morning.

Senator Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley I ask the Leader to convey a couple of points to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. Members will be aware that in advance of the lockdown, a significant number of families and individuals bought airline tickets to take their annual holidays.  Some have been unable to claim insurance because the flights went ahead. Many families and individuals have accepted the travel restrictions and stayed at home. They are not entitled to any refund. A fund should be established to give these people some reimbursement so they have some chance of having a holiday at home, which we want them to do. It could be relatively small, but it would at least indicate that we want to support people in having a holiday, considering the fact that they spent so much money in the first place.

  I am very conscious that air connectivity is a vital part of our economic activity. It is under enormous pressure because of Covid-19 but we will get beyond the pandemic. It would be really dreadful if our entire connectivity infrastructure was lost during this period. I am really concerned that Aer Lingus could go through such a difficult period that it may not survive the crisis. That would be shocking and dreadful, not only for the employees but for the economy which the airline supports. At this point it is appropriate for the Government to engage with Aer Lingus and very seriously consider taking on shares in the company to protect its long-term viability. We did that with our pillar banks, taking on shares in AIB and Bank of Ireland. We did this for the benefit of the State. It was not about the shareholders or the institutions themselves. This was done to ensure that when we got past that crisis we would have banks that would enable the economy to continue.

  I believe that air connectivity is equally important to the recovery of this State. We are a small and open economy. We depend so much on air travel for tourism, business travel and the transport of cargo. We produce a lot of goods here that are ultimately shipped out by air. We need an airline, and that will be especially true after Covid-19. I appeal to the Acting Leader to ask for a debate in the short term. Big decisions will have to be taken in a relatively short period of time. The Irish Air Line Pilots Association has expressed its considerable worry about the future viability of Aer Lingus. Other former flag carriers around Europe are now receiving support from their respective governments. It would not be in any way anti-competitive or against European law to provide state aid in this instance. It is essential that we address that matter before the summer break.

Senator Garret Ahearn: Information on Garret Ahearn Zoom on Garret Ahearn I welcome this morning's announcement of €200,000 in funding for the Suir blueway. This is part of €4.5 million worth of funding from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment for 26 blueway and greenway projects throughout the country. The blueway in Tipperary, as Members will be aware, goes from Carrick-on-Suir to Clonmel. This extra funding will add 1 km to bring it farther into the town of Clonmel, which is very important. It connects the blueway to a car park in the centre of the town and brings the people who use it closer to the town centre. It is very important and very welcome.

  The blueway opened last year and has been a real success, like many greenways throughout the country. It has been especially successful in recent months, when families have not been able to travel more than 5 km or 20 km from their homes due to Covid-19. We in south Tipperary have had the opportunity to use the greenways, both as individuals and as families. Does the Acting Leader agree that funding promised by the Government for projects like this in the coming years is vital for rural communities like Tipperary and the Acting Leader's own locality in Galway? As we encourage people to stay in Ireland during the summer months and take the opportunity to visit areas like Tipperary and Galway, greenways and blueways are vital for communities like ours.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan Last week, I spoke about the cervical cancer scandal. I requested that we look at it and asked that a Minister attend here. Since I spoke there was an article in the Sunday Independent by Vicky Phelan. For those who may not have read it, she wrote a compelling and moving appeal to what she described as those in power - the people in the Houses of the Oireachtas. Sadly we do not have Vicky Phelan as a voice on the benches of either of these Houses, which is a discussion and a conversation for another day. Vicky felt compelled to put pen to paper to share her thoughts after the death of Ruth Morrissey. I will quote some powerful lines which should go on the record of this House:

I'm also writing as a woman living with a terminal illness, who is under no illusion that, in a few short years, I will also be dead. And I know many of the very same people who spoke about Ruth, after her death, will be paying tribute to me - and promising the earth, moon and stars in my honour. I am here to tell you now, while I still can, that I don't want your apologies. I don't want your tributes. I don't want your aide de camp at my funeral. I don't want your accolades or your broken promises. I want action. I want change. I want accountability. And I want to see it happen while I am still alive, not after I am dead.

Vicky Phelan’s appeal to those in power is clear. She wants us to "Enact the legislation to provide for mandatory open disclosure"; to "Implement all the outstanding recommendations from the Scally Report; to establish a new CervicalCheck tribunal "that is non-adversarial and does not involve confrontation"; to "amend the Civil Liabilities Act, so the dependants of women affected by the CervicalCheck scandal [do] not have to go to court for a second time; and to establish "a National Laboratory for Cervical Testing".

  My plea to the Leader is to ask her to arrange for any Minister of the Government to come to this House before we adjourn on Friday to have a debate about these important issues and to give us a progress report. I am respectfully putting the Leader on notice that tomorrow I intend to propose an amendment to the Order of Business and will also do so on the following day so that the Government and the Leader can accede to this very reasonable request.

Senator Pat Casey: Information on Pat Casey Zoom on Pat Casey I thank the Cathaoirleach. My issue is directed towards the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment and relates to the Protecting Uplands and Rural Environments, PURE, project in County Wicklow. It is nice to see the Acting Leader here today because he would be aware of this project in Wicklow. The PURE project, which seeks to protect the uplands and the rural environment, is an environmental project that was set up to deal with illegal dumping in the Wicklow and Dublin mountains. It was established in 2006 and was a unique project at that time. It was based on a partnership incorporating statutory and non-statutory bodies including Wicklow Uplands Council, Wicklow County Council, South Dublin County Council, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Coillte and the ESB. The main principle of the scheme was to fund a lorry and a driver with some administration to go out and pick up the rubbish in the uplands. It has been hugely successful. It has answered over 10,000 calls and has picked up over 3,600 tonnes of rubbish in the one truck. The truck is 14 years old and is probably an environmental problem in its own right and needs replacing.

  The other initiative that came out of the PURE project was the "pure mile" project. We asked communities to adopt a mile of road and to try to keep it litter-free and get a better understanding of the biodiversity and the social, cultural and built heritage on that mile of road. The Acting Leader, in his then capacity as Minister of State, came to Aughrim one night to present awards to the communities involved. This project has gone from annual to biannual funding. Last year it made an application to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment for ten-year funding. It was a change of principle so it had to go through all of the processes. It was meant to be signed off in October, but this did not happen. The general election was followed by the formation of a new Government. I am asking the Acting Leader to address this issue because the organisations involved are concerned about the funding of this unique project, which even the Minister at the time said needed to be rolled out on a national basis, given its success.

Senator Micheál Carrigy: Information on Micheál Carrigy Zoom on Micheál Carrigy I thank the Cathaoirleach and the Acting Leader. I would like to raise an issue that has been debated in both Houses in previous times. I refer to the 1,700 independent, not-for-profit, section 39 organisations. In particular, I am speaking of St. Christopher's Services in Longford. These organisations provide vital services for thousands of people throughout Ireland with various disabilities. These services are not focused on making profits like the private sector but rather on improving and sustaining our communities and society in general by building relationships with the service users, their families and their friends. These workers took cuts when we bailed out the banks earlier this decade and have been waiting ever since to have their incomes restored to parity with their work colleagues in section 38 organisations and indeed in the HSE. At present, St. Christopher's Services are losing staff to the HSE and finding it very difficult to recruit staff for these positions due to the pay difference.

  I wish to quote from one of a number of emails I have received in the last number of weeks from staff members:

The vulnerable adults which we support are greatly affected by the changes in staff teams. Workload and responsibilities on the staff are increasing especially during Covid. Staff are at breaking point. We are deemed as frontline staff yet we are treated as second-class citizens. I am on half the pay of my counterparts in the HSE. It is simply not good enough.

I agree that it is simply not good enough. I ask the Acting Leader to ensure the Minister for Health addresses these issues after the recess and prior to the budget. The Minister should take the necessary steps to provide for full pay restoration to the St. Christopher’s staff and the other section 39 workers who care for those who are so dear to each and every one of us.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach. I wish to raise the issue of the pandemic unemployment payments and call for a debate on the Covid-19 payments. This has been such an unmitigated disaster for the Government. It must be very embarrassing. I support entirely what Senator Higgins has said. How can we possibly deal with this law today, now that we know there are so many holes in it? We know the Free Legal Advice Centres have already declared that the approach that has been taken is illegal. The whole issue of pandemic unemployment payment claimants having to be genuinely seeking work raises the question of how it works for the barman or tour operator, whose sectors of employment are shut down.

  I have to ask another question. I welcome the Minister's U-turn this morning, which is the latest one from this Government. How did this situation develop in the first place? We have seen junior members of the Government complaining that they were not consulted about this change. We had a Fianna Fáil Deputy declaring yesterday evening that it was a road to a police state. He then voted for the Bill. It looks to me like the decision was taken unilaterally by the Tánaiste. Is this what we can expect from this Government? Can we expect Ministers to make decisions which will affect the lives of some of our most vulnerable people in such an off-the-cuff manner? That is not to mention the obvious framing of this policy. I want to hear from Government representatives here why welfare recipients only are to be punished for foreign travel. If Ministers are genuinely concerned about public health, why not take action against the wealthy who have been coming and going from our airports as they please? Perhaps they could start with our tax exile friends. The Tánaiste's actions smack of class prejudice. That is what this is about.

  The other question that arises in this context relates to how the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is getting information about the travel plans of recipients. Stories have appeared in the press about families who have had their child benefit stopped after travelling. Another woman claimed that her payment was stopped after booking a ferry trip to France, a trip she did not go on. How did the Department know this? The Data Protection Commissioner has expressed dire concerns. How on earth can we pass a law this afternoon when all of these questions remain unanswered?

Senator Malcolm Byrne: Information on Malcolm Byrne Zoom on Malcolm Byrne Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach. I agree with Senators Hoey and Ó Donnghaile that we should get clarity as soon as possible concerning the direct provision centre in Cahersiveen. I suggest to the Acting Leader that a statement might be provided on the matter to this House, preferably on the Order of Business tomorrow.

  Last week, when we discussed the very successful European stimulus package agreed by the European Council of Ministers, I pointed out that although this was a great example of European solidarity, the principles of the European Union are based on solidarity but also on the rule of law and human rights.  I expressed concern that funding should only be granted to those countries that follow through on the expression of those values. I raised in particular my concern about Poland and Hungary. Since I raised that issue last week we have seen a further deterioration in respect for these values in those countries. Poland has decided to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, a treaty aimed at preventing violence against women. Its justice minister said that the document was harmful as it required schools to teach children about gender. In Hungary, we saw the closure of the last independent news site, the Index news site, where the editor was effectively fired and 70 journalists had to quit. A country without a free press is not a democracy. I do not believe the European Governments went far enough in insisting that the funding to be made available under the €1.8 trillion deal should be linked to these values. I hope the European Parliament is a lot stronger on it. I ask the Acting Leader to ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to raise concerns about these issues and the continuing deterioration of respect for human rights in Poland and Hungary. We in this House cannot start to talk about the importance of human rights and how they are dealt with in oppressive regimes like China, Venezuela or the Philippines while failing to ensure those rights are respected within the European Union.

Senator John McGahon: Information on John McGahon  Zoom on John McGahon  We had a very detailed debate yesterday about tourism but it would be good to split that debate into various sections. When we come back in the autumn, it would be a good idea to have a debate about greenways. I refer particularly to the strategic implementation of greenways. Given that so much funding will come into them in the next couple of years, thanks to the programme for Government, what exactly is the Department doing to liaise with local authorities and make sure greenway projects are on time, feasible and can get through any unforeseen hazards or mishaps? This morning we saw €200,000 allocated to the greenway in north Louth, to start the process to take it from Carlingford south towards Dundalk. At the same time, Newry, Mourne and Down District Council is building a greenway from Newry through Victoria Lock to meet the north Louth greenway on the Northern Irish Border. The long-term goal is to have a greenway going right along the coast of County Louth, across the Border, up through Newry and hopefully even past Newry further up into the peninsula. It would be wonderful to have a debate on that in September and to liaise with our counterparts in local authorities and Departments in Northern Ireland to see if they are on the same page. We might even have more connecting greenways across the Border into the future.

Senator Rebecca Moynihan: Information on Rebecca Moynihan Zoom on Rebecca Moynihan I want to raise something the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, suggested in the Dáil last week in response to a question from Deputy Ó Broin. He said that a report carried out by the Economic and Social Research Institute did not find significant rent arrears during the first three months of Covid-19. At that stage the report had not been published but it was published yesterday. The Minister's spin on it was slightly different from what the authors said. They found that before Covid, about 70,000 households did not have sufficient income remaining after housing costs to cover a minimum standard of living expenditure. They also suggested that about one in ten non-supported rental households, meaning people who were not receiving rent allowance or the housing assistance payment, missed payments due to financial difficulties prior to the pandemic. They said that despite the "very short-term effects [which are] unique to the time in which households have been advised to stay at home and restrict movements", many non-supported private renters face longer-term structural affordability pressures that are likely to worsen quickly. The authors conclude that while their "analysis focuses solely on the immediate, short-run time frame, it is likely that the scale of the COVID-19 shock is such that, the longer the duration of the downturn, the higher the missed payments, and consequently, arrears rate will climb." That is very different from what the Minister said when he did not find any significant rent arrears.

  We then cut to the launch of the stimulus plan, when we see absolutely no support for renters. The buy to let scheme is going to be extended by €10,000 yet we know from other research that 40% of those availing of it already have deposits.  The anecdotal evidence is that the cost of new housing has gone up as a result of this. This week we will have the Minister in the House for the flawed, narrow Residential Tenancies and Valuation Bill 2020. It does not protect renters but criminalises them. It applies the eviction ban only until January for a very narrow cohort of renters who self-declare. It does not provide for retrospective self-declaration and it is not clear what it is. We could have used the stimulus plan to support renters and alleviate arrears rather than spinning it that there was not significant arrears and portions being brought up. Renters are the people in this economy who are most vulnerable. Most renters going into homelessness are coming from the private rented sector. I look forward to discussing the Bill at the end of the week, but without the spin by the Minister that there are no significant rent arrears gathered.

Senator Eugene Murphy: Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I want to raise the closing of the fire station in County Roscommon's second largest town, Castlerea. It has a population of about 2,000 people and is a very vibrant town with a strong local community. To say they are aghast at this announcement made by the CEO of Roscommon County Council last Monday is an understatement. The CEO said there was an adequate fire service to cover the area. In my view, taking fire services from a town the size of Castlerea is alarming. I have made my position known on this. I ask the Acting Leader to take this matter to the relevant Minister - I think it is the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan - to express my worry and disappointment. The station has been closed for the last three and a half years. There were obviously issues. However, the area served by the fire station has a population of 5,400 people. It is quite alarming to close down the station. I would like to see the issue addressed by the Minister.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I second Senator Higgins's proposed amendment to the Order of Business in respect of the Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2020. I would also like to join Senator Fitzpatrick in her condolences to several people living in homelessness who lost their lives in the last week. Unfortunately, in the past few months a lot more people have lost their lives. It is not making it into the news that many of those who took their own lives were moved out of treatment so that the beds in the treatment centres could be used as isolation spaces for Covid. There were no measures to put any other supports in place. Two men took their own lives the second they left that treatment centre. It takes a lot for someone to decide he or she is ready and wants to go into treatment. They make that decision, go into treatment and then the Government says "No, out" and nothing else is put in place. It is State negligence, in my view, that people who went to those efforts to get help were moved from their beds so the beds could be used for Covid-19 isolation spaces. I wanted to add that to the contribution Senator Fitzpatrick made.

  I would also like to acknowledge that yesterday was World Hepatitis Day. We did not have an Order of Business debate yesterday or I would have mentioned it then. Hepatitis C is curable and can be eliminated. Many years ago when I worked in the addiction sector, people were made believe that they had to be alcohol-free to be able to go on interferon, the drug treating hepatitis C at the time. That was untrue. It was a cost-saving measure. They wanted to use only the smallest amount of the drug on the smallest number of people so they made sure only those who were alcohol-free could access the drug. Thankfully that has changed. The drug is free. It is accessible. The only problem is that there are a lot of people we have not been able to reach to test. We also need to change the culture for them to understand that they can now access treatment even if they are not alcohol-free or drug-free.  Getting into the prison system, which we have not been able to do so far, is a big part of that puzzle. If the Departments of Health and Justice and Equality made efforts to get into the prison system, they would be able to test for and stop the spread of blood-borne viruses within it.

  I wish to acknowledge World Hepatitis Day. I encourage Members to look into the advances we have made in that area and spread the word that people can be tested for and cured of hepatitis C.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Zoom on  Leas-Chathaoirleach I join Senator Dooley in seeking a debate on the aviation sector. We have all received emails from Aer Lingus pilots. The airline is in a precarious position and this must be addressed by us, as Members of the Upper House, and by the Government. Yesterday, Mr. Ray Gray, the chief financial officer of the Dublin Airport Authority, was before the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response. He spoke about the impact of Covid-19 on regional airports, especially Cork Airport, which is the second-busiest airport in the country. Some €72 million has been allocated to Kerry Airport, Galway Airport and Ireland West Airport Knock under the national development plan. However, there was no funding for Cork. The airport now has no income apart from its passenger revenue and revenue accrued by its shops, which are all closed. It does not receive financial aid from the State but I believe that it and our other airports should. Passenger numbers at Cork Airport will fall below 1 million this year from 2.6 million in 2019. Members will realise the importance of the airport sector, especially in the south. Cork Airport is pivotal to the economic development of the southern region in the context of tourism and jobs. It is important that we have a very strong aviation sector. Our aviation sector is dependent upon airlines. Cognisance must be taken of what Senator Dooley said about Aer Lingus. In the short time before the House goes into recess, I ask the Acting Leader to ensure that the Minister with responsibility for aviation comes before us for a debate on the future of Aer Lingus, our airline sector and our airports. Let us forget about the green list and the red list. We will need airports when we emerge from the Covid-19 crisis. I was in Cork Airport two weeks ago. One could hear the wind whistling outside the terminal building. I ask for the Minister to come to the House as a matter of urgency.

Senator Fiona O'Loughlin: Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin I want to speak for a moment or two about the disability protests outside the Convention Centre this morning. I joined the carers, parents and families assembled there. It was not just frustration and anger that were palpable, but also huge despair. People really feel they are at the end of their tether. A group called Enough is Enough organised this particular protest. This story is not new to people with disabilities. In late January, I met representatives from the Muiriosa Foundation and the KARE organisation, which looks after people with disabilities in Kildare and west Wicklow. I met the CEOs of those organisations, as well as staff members and the families for whom they cater. This is really about young people with disabilities and their families. There was also a huge sense of despair at that point because a 1% cut in disability funding had just been announced. This would really cut down on the services' residential spaces and respite services. Given that the majority of adults with disabilities are now living with parents who are over 70 and many are living with those over 80, the situation for these people is very difficult.

  I am really glad that the Taoiseach announced this morning that the cut will be reversed and that €20 million will not be taken out of the disability budget. There is some sense of relief. However, there is major frustration regarding what has happened during the Covid-19 crisis. Young and old users of day services have not had access to them since March.  The roadmap for reopening disability services was published two weeks ago but we need more clarity, particularly around transport. We have a situation at the moment where services can open part-time but the people who need them have absolutely no means of transportation to them. That is completely wrong. We need a full opening of day services. I look forward to engagement with the Minister on this.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell Yesterday, we had a debate on education. I received an email this morning from a very frustrated principal. I have been contacted by several principals. The principal asked if schools will be responsible for taking children's temperatures at the point of entry to the school. Children from more affluent areas will be returning from continental holidays even though their families were advised not to go on them. Who will police this? Will we ask principals or teachers to police who can and who cannot enter the classroom? I have been asked about parental access to the school. Parents are currently only allowed into schools by appointment. Will they be banned from entering the school altogether? After-school services provided in some schools, particularly national schools, involve children moving from the classroom they have been in all day to another one. Who will sanitise the classroom they move to and how will this be done? Parents will deem some children weak or prone to illness and decide not to send them to school. Who will be responsible for delivering education to those children and how will it be done? I refer also to after-school sports and other services. How will school areas be sanitised when one class finishes and another wishes to start? Many questions are arising on the reopening of schools, and it behoves all of us in this House to ensure clarity for the principals who will be running them.

  I note the issue of Aer Lingus, raised by Senator Buttimer. A senior moment almost stopped me from remembering Senator Dooley. In 2015, Senator Sean Barrett and I warned that we were selling off the family jewels and we would rue the day we flogged Aer Lingus.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Zoom on  Leas-Chathaoirleach The Senator cannot be in Government and Opposition at the same time.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell Senator Buttimer has had his chance. Finally, I support the amendment to the Order of Business regarding the Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2020 proposed by Senator Higgins. I do not know how we can get that Bill through the House today.

Senator Tim Lombard: Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard I wish to discuss our plans for the reform of local government. During the pandemic we have seen the really practical response of local government in some areas. I refer in particular to the town activation committees set up to get towns moving. When we eroded local government by abolishing town councils under the Local Government Reform Act 2014, the resulting lack of local governance had a major impact on society. We are only seeing that now. In recent weeks, I have visited many towns in west Cork that used to have town councils, for example, Bantry, Skibbereen, Clonakilty, Bandon and Kinsale. We took local power and democracy away. We now have a major void when it comes to raising issues and getting things done. This is not about councillors' pay or prestige. It is about how society works at a basic level. We must have an appropriate local government structure.

  To reform local government we must go back to the core idea of bringing power to local populations. We need to re-examine what we did and reconsider the decision to dismantle town councils. We must restore a structure that brings real democracy to people on the ground. There is no logic to the fact that in my own county, the head of Cork County Council sits in County Hall, six or seven miles inside the separate jurisdiction of Cork city. That makes no sense. If we are really serious about reforming local government and making a real impact on the lives of citizens, we need to bring power back to the people through a network of town councils.   I ask the Acting Leader that we have a comprehensive debate with the Minister in the next session about putting a vision in place to ensure people have the local representation they need. We are all politicians and we hear every day of the week that big government does not work. We need to bring government back to the people. There is universal agreement that town councils must be reinstated.

Senator Robbie Gallagher: Information on Robbie Gallagher Zoom on Robbie Gallagher I thank the Leader and the Seanad Office for putting down the motion for the restoration to the Order Paper of three Bills I introduced in the previous Seanad. They all passed Second Stage in the House and I was extremely grateful to colleagues for the unanimous support I received in each case. The first Bill is the Criminal Justice (Public Order) (Amendment) Bill 2019, the purpose of which is to provide for the introduction of a mandatory prison sentence of 12 months in respect of an assault on a member of the emergency services in the course of his or her duty. We need to send out a strong message that we will not tolerate assaults on emergency workers. We must protect those who are protecting us.

  The second Bill is the First Aid and Mental Health in Schools (Initial Teacher Training) Bill 2018 and the third, related, Bill is the First Aid and Mental Health in Schools (Existing Teachers) Bill 2018. The purpose of these Bills is to provide for a requirement that all teachers in training and all existing teachers, respectively, receive proper training in occupational first aid response and mental health first aid. We cannot have a situation where teachers are presented with an emergency, where a child becomes ill, for example, and they are not properly equipped to deal with that emergency. In regard to mental health first aid, we need to ensure our teachers receive proper training so that they can identify the tell-tale signs of a child who is distant or feeling low and act accordingly. I look forward to all three of my Bills passing through the House as soon as possible.

Senator Lynn Boylan: Information on Lynn Boylan Zoom on Lynn Boylan As a person new to the House, I would like to know whether it is normal practice that amendment deadlines fall prior to our receiving the substantiated text of a Bill, as is the case with the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Bill 2020 that is coming before the House on Friday. If it is, it seems a very bizarre way to do business.

  I want to raise the issue of the mid-Shannon wilderness park in County Longford. In 2013, the senior planner in Longford County Council brought forward a detailed proposal for a wilderness park to provide for a just transition for Bord na Móna workers and create much-needed jobs in the tourism industry providing trails and amenities linking up the counties of Longford, Roscommon, Westmeath and right through to Dublin via the Royal Canal. The proposal was an important step in addressing the biodiversity crisis we have in this country. Whooper swans, lapwings, curlews and golden plovers are already present at the site. In addition, a wilderness park would stabilise the emissions on the degraded peatlands and contribute to flood relief.

  However, Bord na Móna has instead decided to push ahead with a wind farm on the site. Given that the proposed wilderness park is referenced in the national peatlands strategy and only last week we had the Minister with responsibility for climate action, Deputy Eamon Ryan, announcing funding to rehabilitate 33,000 ha of Bord na Móna peatlands, it beggars belief that this wind farm is going ahead. I have written to both the Minister, Deputy Ryan, and his colleague, the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin - it is a shame the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, is not here today - to ask how the decision to build a wind farm on the site is in keeping with the national peatlands strategy, particularly actions Nos. A9 and A12 of that strategy which refer specifically to harnessing the potential of peatlands to contribute to both our environmental and ecological wealth, with a particular emphasis on mitigating carbon losses, and the potential to develop peatlands to bring tourism and recreation attractions to the midlands and west. I hope that when the Minister, Deputy Ryan, comes before the House again, he will address the contradictions in policy of using public money to rehabilitate Bord na Móna peatlands while the organisation itself appears to be dead set on undoing the existing rehabilitation projects.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly For the benefit of Members, in regard to the scheduling of Government business and other business in the House, that business is ordered on the Order of Business of the day. If all Stages of a Bill are taken together, it is not practical or possible for additional amendments to be introduced on Committee Stage. For the further benefit of Members, it is in the Standing Orders of the House that Senators are not allowed to refer to Members who are not present.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell I echo the comments by Senators Dooley, Buttimer and Craughwell in regard to Aer Lingus. It is hugely important that we do not end up reading in the newspapers that it is all over suddenly for the company as a result of a decision made somewhere else. In case people feel that state aid rules are an issue, I would point out that Ryanair has already got £600 million from the UK Government. In that context, I do not know that we would expect the usual noises from that quarter if there was any help given to Aer Lingus.

  I want to say how outraged I feel at the decision of the management of the Shelbourne Hotel to remove four statues that form an integral part of the front treatment of the hotel, which is a protected structure. Apparently, the statues have been removed on the basis that two or more of them represent Nubian slave women holding candelabra-type lights. This is nonsense. There are two possibilities in terms of what happened here. The first is that somebody actually made a complaint about the statues, in which case management's action is a response to idiocy or, alternatively, it was the result of a corporate search for anything that could offend, which is another form of idiocy. One of the great classical sculptures of the 19th century, by a classical sculptor called Antonio Rossetti, is of a Nubian slave. It is a priceless piece of Italian classical sculpture and it gives no offence to anybody reasonable. The Shelbourne Hotel building is a protected structure and it is unlawful and criminal to change it without planning permission. For a large multinational corporation to breach the law in this idiotic way is wholly unacceptable. I ask that the Minister with responsibility for culture, Deputy Catherine Martin, come to this House and use it as a forum to explain that our heritage is not to be torn down or removed simply because of foolish notions of causing offence where no offence could possibly be reasonably taken.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly I invite the Acting Leader to respond.

Senator Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne I thank Senators for the issues they have raised. Senators Higgins, Fitzpatrick and Ruane referred to the deaths of five people in homeless services in Dublin over the past week. Our sympathies go to those individuals and their families and the people who loved them. I understand two individuals died in a facility in the north of the city last week, one individual who had been accessing homeless services died in hospice care, one individual died in a facility on the south of the city on Friday, and one man died in the city who had not been in emergency accommodation. I understand a number of investigations are ongoing and, as such, it would not be appropriate to comment further. I am sure the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, will be happy to come to the House in the autumn to discuss this very important matter.

  Senator Norris raised two issues. In regard to the theft of dogs, I agree that it seems to be absolutely rife throughout the countryside and in cities. It is a horrific practice. Many families, including my own, have dogs, often rescue dogs, as pets and companions and they are hugely important to them. Every necessary power needs to be enacted to ensure such activity is stopped. In regard to the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, I understand that Parts 2 and 3 of the Act, which empower the courts to make declarations of parentage for children born through donor-assisted human reproduction, have been enacted. This is a major step forward in recognising diversity of families in our country. The law in regard to assisted reproduction urgently needs reform and the programme for Government contains a commitment to enact an assisted human reproduction Bill. It is a very complex issue and one that requires time and a lot of input to get the legislation right.  Senator Hoey, as well as Senators Ó Donnghaile, Higgins and Byrne, raised the issue of Cahersiveen direct provision centre, systemic racism and related issues and asked that the Minister be called in for a debate. As somebody who lost much support in the last election, as some people know, in respect of asserting our international responsibilities to asylum seekers and refugees in my constituency and for supporting 49 social houses in my village, I understand the difficulties associated with issues such as this.

Reading the reports concerning the Skellig Star direct provision centre in Cahersiveen, it sounds very bad. It sounds horrific, to be honest. Representatives from the Department visited it yesterday and there is a commitment in the programme for Government to ensure that direct provision is ended. That is hugely important but very difficult, because the majority of political parties, including mine, Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party, the Green Party and many Independents, have been in government since 1999 and direct provision has been part of the solution since then. That has not been intentional and not something any of us are happy about, but there were limited choices. The Minister will be invited into the House to address the issue of the Skellig Star direct provision centre and direct provision.

Senators Higgins and Gavan discussed the pandemic unemployment payment legislation and the Bill we will be dealing with today, and they have proposed amendments to the Order of Business. According to the Taoiseach, who was speaking in the Dáil today, more than 90% of claimants who had their pandemic unemployment payments stopped on foot of an intervention at airports by inspectors from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection were leaving the State permanently. There has been much media reporting on this issue, but more than 90% of the people involved were leaving the State permanently.

The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, has stated that she has directed her Department to review all cases to date where people who went on holiday had their payments stopped and that she would sign a regulation allowing people receiving pandemic unemployment payment and jobseeker's allowance to travel to green list countries without having their payments stopped. We must remember that this is an emergency payment brought in at the start of the pandemic and from which many people have benefited. We are now putting it on a statutory footing, we are in our last week of this session and we need to get this legislation passed. It will be in the House today.

Senators Dooley, McDowell, Buttimer and Craughwell discussed the issue of aviation and I will ask the Minister of State with responsibility for that area, Deputy Naughton, to come into this House at the earliest opportunity to discuss these important issues concerning Aer Lingus and the aviation sector. As was stated, I think we have all received correspondence from Aer Lingus pilots.

Senators Ahearn, McGahon and Buttimer also raised the issue of blueways and greenways and the funding announced today, some €4.5 million. Those are excellent initiatives and good for people's physical and mental health. Senator McGahon mentioned Louth and cross-Border tourism and we hope to see that continue. I agree that there needs to be a debate on this important topic in the autumn because some routes have issues regarding gaining consent and the code of practice. Those need to be teased out and I recommend a debate on this topic as well.

Senator Boyhan spoke about the article in theSunday Independentby Vicky Phelan. I read the article and I have texted the office to request that the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, come into the House again this week, if possible, to debate this issue. I think it is fair that the Minister himself would come in rather than any other Minister, as the Senator requested. Ms Phelan mentioned many important and outstanding issues that need to be dealt with.

Senator Casey mentioned the protecting uplands and rural environments, PURE, project in Wicklow, which I had the pleasure of visiting in my former role as Minister of State. Good work is being done in Wicklow regarding funding and I know we have put it on a multi-annual basis. We must ensure that continues and that important groups and volunteers have certainty regarding such projects in the years ahead. In Galway, we have the Golden Mile and Galway County Council produces a wonderful calendar every year regarding the work being done on that project. I will ask the Minister to look at this matter.

Senator Carrigy spoke about section 39 organisations. It is important that at the earliest opportunity we get back to having Commencement matter debates and Private Member's business so we can have an opportunity to tease out these issues and get the Ministers with responsibility into the House to debate these matters. The area of section 39 organisations is certainly one we need to look at.

Senator Byrne raised the issue of solidarity and the rule of law, and that funding should be linked to those who uphold the law. We have seen the situations in two members of the European Union, Poland and Hungary, and what is happening in those countries. It is worrying, and we must continue to encourage the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, and his Department to continue to raise these important issues. When there is an opportunity, we will invite the Minister into the House to discuss these issues as well. Freedom of the press is hugely important. We might not always like the press at times and what it does and says, but it is important that there is freedom of the press. For example, we can look at Poland where there have been issues regarding LGBT-free zones, which have been overruled or declared illegal by the EU. It is important that such issues are addressed in any democracy and particularly in a member of the European Union.

Senator Moynihan raised issues that I think will be addressed when the Minister is in the House on Friday in respect of the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Bill 2020. I am sure he will be happy to engage then with the Senator regarding her concerns.

Senator Murphy spoke about the fire station in Castlerea. I can imagine that would be worrying for any community and would cause much upset. I understand that responsibility for the fire service is still with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the relevant Minister, therefore, is Deputy Darragh O'Brien.  We can raise this issue with him.

  Senator Ruane mentioned that it was World Hepatitis Day yesterday, and I commend the Prison Service on keeping the prisons Covid-19-free in recent months. We acknowledge the Senator's comments in that regard.

  Senator O'Loughlin spoke about the disability services and the despair of parents. Indeed I spoke here last week, I think it was, on the same subject. I hope there can be a full resumption of disability services at the earliest opportunity, and I acknowledge the work of the Enough is Enough group. I hope to see a full reopening of services, and perhaps the relevant Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, will be able to come into the House at the earliest opportunity to discuss these matters.

  Senator Craughwell raised several points from teachers. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Foley, was in the House yesterday and gave a comprehensive presentation regarding the existing plan. There are some remaining issues and I am sure they will be teased out in the days to come as there is continued engagement between the Department and the unions etc.

  Senator Lombard spoke about local government reforms. I do not have personal experience regarding town councils in my area, but I know many people who felt they were working well and that there has been a democratic deficit since they were removed. I am sure this issue will be examined in the autumn and we can request that it is done.

  Senator Gallagher spoke about resubmission of Bills. He can advise us about the procedures in that regard, but I presume there are some official channels to be gone through. I have no problem, however, supporting the outline of the Bills he mentioned.

  Senator Boylan mentioned the Mid Shannon Wilderness Park in Leitrim and regarding the Grand Canal, and her description makes it sound like a wonderful initiative. We will ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to investigate that issue. We cannot get involved in planning decisions, but if there is an aspect that he can look at, we will certainly ask him to do that.

  Senator McDowell spoke about the decision taken by the Shelbourne Hotel. The statues concerned seemed rather innocuous any time one passed the hotel, but beautiful. However, they have a history and someone has complained. According to social media last night, the complaint may have come from the United States. I do not know, but I saw that on Twitter. I also know that the Irish Georgian Society has expressed concern on social media. We will ask the relevant Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, to come into the House, and that is another ideal issue would be suitable for Commencement debates, once we get them back up and running. It is the ideal forum for an issue like this, which happens late at night and should be raised as quickly as possible.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Senator Higgins has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That the Report and Final Stages of the Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2020 not be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins The amendment is being pressed.

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 31.

Níl
Information on Victor Boyhan   Zoom on Victor Boyhan   Boyhan, Victor. Information on Garret Ahearn   Zoom on Garret Ahearn   Ahearn, Garret.
Information on Lynn Boylan   Zoom on Lynn Boylan   Boylan, Lynn. Information on Catherine Ardagh   Zoom on Catherine Ardagh   Ardagh, Catherine.
Information on Gerard P. Craughwell   Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell   Craughwell, Gerard P. Information on Niall Blaney   Zoom on Niall Blaney   Blaney, Niall.
Information on Eileen Flynn   Zoom on Eileen Flynn   Flynn, Eileen. Information on Paddy Burke   Zoom on Paddy Burke   Burke, Paddy.
Information on Paul Gavan   Zoom on Paul Gavan   Gavan, Paul. Information on  Leas-Chathaoirleach   Zoom on  Leas-Chathaoirleach   Buttimer, Jerry.
Information on Alice-Mary Higgins   Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins   Higgins, Alice-Mary. Information on Malcolm Byrne   Zoom on Malcolm Byrne   Byrne, Malcolm.
Information on Annie Hoey   Zoom on Annie Hoey   Hoey, Annie. Information on Micheál Carrigy   Zoom on Micheál Carrigy   Carrigy, Micheál.
Information on Sharon Keogan   Zoom on Sharon Keogan   Keogan, Sharon. Information on Pat Casey   Zoom on Pat Casey   Casey, Pat.
Information on Elisha McCallion   Zoom on Elisha McCallion   McCallion, Elisha. Information on Shane Cassells   Zoom on Shane Cassells   Cassells, Shane.
Information on Michael McDowell   Zoom on Michael McDowell   McDowell, Michael. Information on Martin Conway   Zoom on Martin Conway   Conway, Martin.
Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile   Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile   Ó Donnghaile, Niall. Information on Ollie Crowe   Zoom on Ollie Crowe   Crowe, Ollie.
Information on Lynn Ruane   Zoom on Lynn Ruane   Ruane, Lynn. Information on John Cummins   Zoom on John Cummins   Cummins, John.
Information on Marie Sherlock   Zoom on Marie Sherlock   Sherlock, Marie. Information on Emer Currie   Zoom on Emer Currie   Currie, Emer.
Information on Mark Wall   Zoom on Mark Wall   Wall, Mark. Information on Michael  D'Arcy   Zoom on Michael  D'Arcy   D'Arcy, Michael.
  Information on Paul Daly   Zoom on Paul Daly   Daly, Paul.
  Information on Aidan Davitt   Zoom on Aidan Davitt   Davitt, Aidan.
  Information on Aisling Dolan   Zoom on Aisling Dolan   Dolan, Aisling.
  Information on Timmy Dooley   Zoom on Timmy Dooley   Dooley, Timmy.
  Information on Mary Fitzpatrick   Zoom on Mary Fitzpatrick   Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  Information on Robbie Gallagher   Zoom on Robbie Gallagher   Gallagher, Robbie.
  Information on Róisín Garvey   Zoom on Róisín Garvey   Garvey, Róisín.
  Information on Seán Kyne   Zoom on Seán Kyne   Kyne, Seán.
  Information on Tim Lombard   Zoom on Tim Lombard   Lombard, Tim.
  Information on John McGahon   Zoom on John McGahon   McGahon, John.
  Information on Eugene Murphy   Zoom on Eugene Murphy   Murphy, Eugene.
  Information on Fiona O'Loughlin   Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin   O'Loughlin, Fiona.
  Information on Joe O'Reilly   Zoom on Joe O'Reilly   O'Reilly, Joe.
  Information on Pauline O'Reilly   Zoom on Pauline O'Reilly   O'Reilly, Pauline.
  Information on Ned O'Sullivan   Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan   O'Sullivan, Ned.
  Information on Mary Seery Kearney   Zoom on Mary Seery Kearney   Seery Kearney, Mary.
  Information on Barry Ward   Zoom on Barry Ward   Ward, Barry.


Tellers: Tá, Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and Michael McDowell; Níl, Senators Paul Daly and Seán Kyne.

Amendment declared lost.

  Order of Business agreed to.

Planning and Development Act 2000 Regulations: Motion

Senator Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne I move:

That Seanad Éireann approves the following Regulations in draft:
Planning and Development Act 2000 (Exempted Development) (No. 3) Regulations 2020,
a copy of which has been laid in draft form before Seanad Éireann on 22nd July 2020.

  Question put and agreed to.

Restoration of Bills to the Order Paper: Motion

Senator Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne I move:

That, in pursuance of Standing Order No. 169 of the Standing Orders relative to Public Business, the Bills which lapsed by reason of the Seanad General Election, March 2020, and are set out in the Schedule to this motion, shall be restored to the Order Paper at the stage specified in the Schedule below:

SCHEDULE

Bill Title: To be restored at:
Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018. Report Stage
Regulated Professions (Health and Social Care) (Amendment) Bill 2019 [Dáil]. Report Stage
Farm Safety Agency Bill 2018. Committee Stage
Criminal Justice (Public Order) (Amendment) Bill 2019. Committee Stage
First Aid and Mental Health in Schools (Existing Teachers) Bill 2018. Committee Stage
First Aid and Mental Health in Schools (Initial Teacher Training) Bill 2018. Committee Stage
Community Participation (Disability) (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2019. Committee Stage
Public Authorities and Utility Undertakings (Contract Preparation and Award Criteria) Bill 2019. Committee Stage
Electoral (Civil Society Freedom) (Amendment) Bill 2019. Second Stage
Controlled Drugs and Harm Reduction Bill 2017. Second Stage
Credit Union Restructuring Board (Dissolution) Bill 2019 [Dáil]. Second Stage
Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2020. Order for Second Stage

  Question put and agreed to.

Houses of the Oireachtas Commission: Motion

Senator Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne I move:

That Seanad Éireann, in accordance with section 8(3)(b) of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Acts 2003 to 2018, appoints the ordinary members of the Commission as follows:
Senators Paddy Burke, Ned O’Sullivan and Mark Wall.

  Question put and agreed to.

  Sitting suspended at 2.32 p.m. and resumed at 3 p.m.

  3 o’clock

Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2020: Second Stage

  Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I am pleased to be in the Seanad to discuss this important legislation. The Government is absolutely committed to supporting people who have lost their jobs due to Covid-19, which is why we have extended the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, to next April. As the payment will now be continued for a much longer period than the 12-week period that had originally been envisaged, it is important that it be put on a statutory footing, which is what the Bill will do.

  I would like to take this opportunity to address some of the concerns that have been raised in recent days. The pandemic unemployment payment was introduced to support people who had lost their jobs overnight as a result of Covid-19. It was a solidarity payment to protect people's incomes at a time of national crisis. I strongly believe that anyone who breached that solidarity by claiming a payment he or she was not entitled to because he or she was no longer living in this country should have that payment stopped. Of the 2,500 PUP claims that have been stopped since March, the vast majority - well over 90% - relate to people who were permanently leaving the country. I have listened to the concerns expressed in recent days about people whose payments were stopped because they were travelling abroad on holiday. There are a small number of cases where people may have travelled abroad and were genuinely not aware of the travel guidance or the criteria that applied to the PUP. I accept that my Department could have communicated more effectively on this issue and, therefore, I have directed my Department to review all cases to date where people went on holiday and had their payments stopped.

  Since the regulations relating to jobseekers were signed on 10 July, the Government's travel advice has changed, with the publication of the green list last week. On that basis and in line with the Government's travel advice, I have asked my officials to amend the regulations so that jobseekers who wish to travel to any of the countries on the green list can do so and continue to receive their payment. Once the legislation before us is enacted, I also intend to make similar regulations in respect of those receiving the PUP. For countries that are not on the green list, persons can travel for essential reasons only.  So, for example, if someone is going to a non-green list country, it must be for essential reasons such as a bereavement or health issues. If the person's Intreo office is informed in advance, the payment will not be impacted and approval will be given.

The pandemic unemployment payment was established on an emergency, ad hocbasis and is currently paid out as an exceptional needs payment under the same provisions that apply to the supplementary welfare allowance. As matters stand, under section 249 of the Social Welfare Act, people cannot be absent from the State and receive a supplementary welfare allowance payment. As I have just explained, however, the legislation before the House will, if passed, enable me, as Minister, to introduce regulations to allow people on the PUP to travel to green list countries. This will mean persons on the PUP can travel to green list countries and their payment will not be impacted. As is the case with jobseekers, persons travelling to countries outside the green list can do so only for essential reasons. The Government is committed to supporting people who have lost their jobs due to Covid-19, which is why we have extended the pandemic unemployment payment to next April. We will continue to keep all regulations relating to the payment under review in line with the Government's travel and public health advice.

The Bill is, in many ways, fairly straightforward legislation that has two interrelated key purposes. As I have said, it will place the pandemic unemployment payment on a solid, statutory basis within the framework of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 and provide that employees who have been directly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic will have their social insurance records protected.

The House will recall that when the economy had to be largely shut in mid-March, my Department responded to this unprecedented emergency by introducing the pandemic unemployment payment. To enable this payment to be made quickly and regularly to a huge number of people and households, my Department relied on section 202 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act as the legal basis for this emergency payment. Essentially, the pandemic unemployment payment was made as an urgent payment under the legislation governing the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. While this was appropriate at the time because it was an urgent response, the extension of the period for which the pandemic unemployment payment will be made means it is now appropriate to place it on a discrete statutory footing. Doing so will mean we can make arrangements to attribute full social insurance contributions to recipients of the payment.

I want to take this opportunity to express my thanks to the staff of the Department for the extraordinary efforts they put in, most especially in those earliest weeks, to ensure that 1.2 million weekly income support payments were processed. In total, about 800,000 individuals have received at least one payment under the pandemic unemployment scheme, with the total number in payment at any one time peaking at just over 600,000. While a great deal of work continues to be done, it is right that we acknowledge the outstanding public service delivered at that particularly difficult time.

The House will know that, with the announcement of the July stimulus package last Thursday, we will be introducing some further changes to the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment with effect from 17 September. These changes will be introduced by way of regulation under the Bill and I will refer to them when I am going through its various sections. A primary purpose of the Bill is to ensure we have the necessary legislative backing for a measure that offers support to those employees who would, were it not for Covid- 19, in the ordinary course, have expected to continue in employment and to sustain and enhance their social insurance contribution records. The Bill will allow my Department to attribute these employees with paid PRSI contributions. This will ensure they will maintain their entitlements to short-term payments, as well as enhancing their PRSI records for long-term entitlements such as at the contributory State pension.   I would like to take the House through the various provisions of the Bill now. Sections 1 to 3, inclusive, provide for the standard provisions as to the Short Title and construction of the Bill, and the commencement provisions and definitions used in the Bill. While the establishment of the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, will take effect on enactment, section 2 provides that PRSI contributions may be attributed back to 13 March when the economy was paused.

  Section 4 provides for the insertion of new definitions into the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 arising from this Bill.

  Section 5 is another standard provision which extends the list of regulatory powers which require the formal consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Any regulations made under this Bill will require the consent and signature of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

  Section 6 amends section 7 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act, which identifies that expenditure should be charged to the Social Insurance Fund. This section simply provides that my Department will work with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to determine how much of the PUP expenditure incurred to date should now be properly charged to the Social Insurance Fund, given that many people in receipt of PUP had an underlying entitlement to jobseeker's benefit.

  Any expenditure on the Covid-19 PUP benefit will, following enactment of this legislation, automatically be charged to the Social Insurance Fund. This is an accounting mechanism and does not have any impact on the entitlements of claimants.

  Section 7 is another technical amendment which is required to confirm that a self-employed contributor is entitled to claim the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment.

  Section 8 inserts a new Chapter 6A into the Social Welfare Consolidation Act specifically to address a key objective of the Bill - the attribution of paid social insurance contributions. This new chapter defines the cohorts to whom contributions may be attributed. These will be predominantly those in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment, jobseeker's benefit, jobseeker's allowance as well as those on the temporary wage subsidy scheme, TWSS, who have lost their employment since 13 March 2020 as a result of the public health crisis arising from Covid-19.

  The new chapter also formally provides that employers and employees who have availed of the TWSS are exempted from the requirement to make the social insurance contributions which apply generally to all employed contributors and their employers. It also formalises the arrangements whereby employers availing of the TWSS are required to pay a notional 0.5% rate of PRSI in respect of any top-up payments to the employee. The amount of the subsidy paid to the employee is exempted from PRSI. The new chapter also clarifies that the contribution will be attributed at the same rate as that previously paid. Put simply, if the employee was paying Class A social insurance contributions before losing that employment as a result of Covid-19, then the attributed contribution will also be a Class A contribution. For the avoidance of doubt, a provision is included to confirm that information may be exchanged between this Department and the Revenue Commissioners to ensure that employees benefiting from the TWSS can be identified and have paid contributions attributed to them.

  Section 9 is a technical amendment which formally identifies the new Covid-19 PUP as a social insurance benefit within the social welfare code.

  Section 10 is a technical amendment to reflect the fact that section 2 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 will now include a definition of "Covid-19" and it avoids repetition of that definition elsewhere in the Act.

  Section 11 inserts a new chapter 12B into the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 to provide for the establishment of the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment scheme in its own right. Within this new chapter, the new section 68L confirms the existing general conditions of eligibility for Covid-19 PUP while the new section 68M confirms the PRSI contribution conditions. The new section 68N provides for the duration of the payment to be set by regulation. Following the launch of the stimulus package last week, I will be introducing regulations in September to specify that new applications for the payment will be accepted until 17 September.

  The new section 680 provides that the weekly rates of Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment are set out in Part 6 of Schedule 2 to the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005.  Again, in line with the stimulus package, I will be providing for revised rates by way of regulations in September.

  The new section 68P sets out the arrangements which apply when regulations are being introduced in respect of the Covid-19 PUP.

  Section 12 is a technical amendment to allow for regulations on late claims to be introduced.

  Section 13 amends Schedule 2 to the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 by introducing a new Part 6 to that Schedule, specifying the rates of Covid-19 PUP. These are the rates which apply currently, and as I said, I will be introducing regulations to provide the revised rates in September.

  In summary, and against a background where so much of our legislation has necessarily been concerned with the more negative aspects of the pandemic, the Bill before us today is here for positive reasons. We are putting the pandemic unemployment payment on a statutory footing which will allow for the Minister or an Accounting Officer to be properly accountable to the Oireachtas and its committees in respect of the scheme. We are protecting the position of employees who have lost their employment because of the Covid-19 measures in terms of their entitlement to social insurance benefits. I would also like to put on the record that this legislation does not interfere with an employee's right to seek redundancy.

  I commend the Bill to the House.

Senator Paddy Burke: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I welcome the Minister to the House. I congratulate her on her new portfolio and wish her the best of luck in the coming years. I have no doubt that she will do a magnificent job. She did that in the past in another portfolio and this one will be no problem to her.

  The previous Government deserves great credit in pulling everything together in a very short space of time during which the world was hit with this virus. Thousands of people lost their jobs and it was great work on the part of the Government, with great assistance from Opposition parties. Everybody is to be credited for what has taken place.

  The staff of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection deserve great credit and a special mention. They received an unprecedented number of calls and had to deal with an unprecedented workload in terms of putting all the schemes and payments in place to make sure that people who lost their jobs as a result of the Government closing down the country received those payments. They may have made mistakes, but when we analyse the sudden action that had to be taken, we can see that they deserve great credit because everything was heaped upon them in a very short space of time. I am sure they worked long hours into the night and at weekends to put all those schemes in place and determine how best to give a payment to people to allow them survive, whether they were self-employed, business people or employees of various companies. They are to be congratulated on that. The State owes them a debt of gratitude for the work they have done. The State was supporting a considerable number of people, with 1.1 million on the State support scheme, and they deserve great credit for putting those schemes in place.

  I thank the Minister for clarifying the issue regarding the people on PUP who travelled out of the country. She has clarified that if they travel to a country on the green list, they will receive their PUP. That decision by the Government is to be welcomed, and I congratulate the Minister on doing that, but I refer to people who have to travel to another country not on the green list.  They must give notice but do they give notice to the Department or how do they communicate to say they must go for essential work or to relay the travel reason? Do they give the reason to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection or would they go to a local Garda station? How should they communicate the reason so the pandemic unemployment payment is not cut? Will the Minister clarify what they should do, where they should go and what notice they should give prior to travelling to a country not on the green list, whether it is essential travel such as in the event of a death, as has been mentioned, or whatever else? That would be welcome.

The first few lines in the Bill indicate what it is about. It states:

An Act to amend and extend the Social Welfare Acts; to provide for a new benefit to mitigate the adverse economic effects of the spread of the disease known as Covid-19; to provide for the attribution of paid social insurance contributions in respect of payments arising directly from the economic impacts of that disease; and to provide for related matters

This Bill will cover payments, as decided by the Government, to the end of March 2021. Does the Bill have a sunset clause or what will happen to those payments after 31 March 2021? Will the Minister clarify that?

  There is one other matter related to the self-employed. A number of self-employed people have contacted me, including carpenters, electricians, etc., who work as sole traders. If these people go back to work, they must give up the payment. In some cases they do not know if they will get work full time or if they will get work the following week or in subsequent weeks. They may have work for a couple of weeks but after that they might run out of work. Self-employed people and particularly sole traders like carpenters and people in such trades, and perhaps even owners of small pubs and shops, may not know whether they will do any business or be able to stay open. Their turnover would certainly be well down on the comparable period from July to December 2019.

  As their turnover could well be down, those people are in a precarious position. If they go back to work they would lose their payment but they may not be able to continue as self-employed persons. Could such people go back on the payment again? That is the real question. If they go back to employment but it does not work out for them, will the Minister clarify if they could go back on the payment?

  I welcome the Bill as it is a great and valuable piece of legislation. It is very badly needed. It puts these payment measures on a statutory footing, as has been mentioned, which is to be welcomed. I wish the Minister well with this legislation and her new portfolio. I look forward to working with her over the years.

Senator Catherine Ardagh: Information on Catherine Ardagh Zoom on Catherine Ardagh I propose to share time with Senator Fiona O'Loughlin

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Zoom on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Is that agreed? Agreed.

Senator Catherine Ardagh: Information on Catherine Ardagh Zoom on Catherine Ardagh I welcome the Minister to the Seanad and congratulate her on her new role. I have no doubt she will do an excellent job.

  We all know that on 12 March the country started on the path of being locked down and life as we know it has changed significantly since. The Government of the time acted very quickly, and from what I understand, the Covid-19 payment was initially a type of public health measure to encourage people to stay at home and try to curb the spread of the virus. It was an extra encouragement for a person not to leave the house. However, it was not mandatory to stay in one's house and no particular restrictions were placed on the payment with regard to travel. I welcome the Minister's indication today that people in receipt of the payment are allowed to go to countries on the green list.   I read in some newspapers today about people who had booked holidays but were not in airports so could not have come within the scope of inspectors operating there. They had payments stopped and are trying to figure out how their information was obtained by the Minister's Department. If the Minister has not heard of this happening, it would be interesting to hear her views on the story. If it is the case that the Department is receiving information from third parties, I am interested to know which parties are supplying the information, when such a process began and if it is ongoing. There are still many questions about the receipt of information in the Department and how exactly it receives information about people going on holidays or not taking such trips.

  I welcome the Bill and in particular the regularisation of the pay-related social insurance, PRSI, contributions. It provides clarity to employees and employers on the paying of PRSI, even at a low rate as the Minister stated. It would have to be filed and people's employment records will show a continuous PRSI contribution. It is a welcome provision.

  I am unclear on some of the elements of the Bill. When the payment was introduced, it was unclear whether it would be taxed. It has come to light that this will come under income tax provisions but many people have been surviving hand to mouth on this Covid-19 payment, so it will be very difficult for them to pay any income tax. Will the Minister's Department liaise with the Department of Finance or the Revenue Commissioners in order to come to an arrangement with people who are on the Covid-19 payment but who may have trouble paying their income tax in November? They might have to save their Covid-19 payment from now to pay that income tax and some people are concerned about this.

  At the end of her contribution the Minister mentioned that redundancies will not be affected. Many people have been put on the Covid-19 payment but some people who spoke to me have said their companies are using the pandemic as a way of getting rid of some employees. I hate saying that. We should have clear guidance that redundancy provisions are not affected and people would still be entitled to redundancy payments if required. I would like some more clarity for individuals in that regard. We support the Bill and I thank the Minister for coming to the House.

Senator Fiona O'Loughlin: Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin I welcome the Minister and wish her well in the task she has ahead of her. I commend her on the work she has done over the past four weeks. I am happy to support this Bill, which puts the pandemic unemployment payment on a formal statutory basis, which is very important. It allows for paid social insurance contributions for employees directly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, which is correct.

  I share the concerns outlined by Senator Ardagh about transfer of information and we must absolutely know how that came about. We also need to have clarity on tax implications so people can be made aware of them.

  We cannot help but mention the Debenhams workers around the country who were laid off at the start of the Covid-19 emergency without any redundancy package being agreed. It is very important that everything be done to ensure they are paid what they are owed by Debenhams.

  I have some comments on the events and entertainment industry and Senator Frances Black has raised the matter quite a bit in this House. Even before the Covid-19 crisis, 72% of artists earned less than the national minimum wage.  The vast majority in the events industry work in annual cycles and the sector has lost at least an entire year's turnover, not just that of a few months. Representatives of the Event Industry Association of Ireland appeared before the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response. David Mongey spoke about the 45,000 workers the association represents, in an industry that normally generates in excess of €3.5 billion for the economy. Most certainly, that industry has suffered disproportionately in comparison with all other sectors.

  Many of the specialist roles that are required in the events industry are highly skilled and industry specific. They were in high demand and short supply coming into this crisis and people will have put significant investment into high-class and high-performing equipment. A large portion of the workforce was not specifically employed in January and February because of the work's seasonal nature and, as such, did not qualify for the temporary wage subsidy scheme. Section 7 may address the following but I am not sure and I would like the Minister to clarify. Post September, the PUP will not cover applicants who are directors of their own companies. Most people involved in the events industry operate through a company. They may be companies working in light or sound or they may be artists or musicians, for example. They should be included.

  I also raise the issue of those over the age of 66. In rural Ireland in particular, many of those in the hospitality industry who own small rural pubs, guesthouses or bed and breakfast accommodation are over the age of 66 and they need this money to survive. It is a real shame that they have not been included because they absolutely should be.

  Small business owners are finding it hard to get part-time staff back to work because they are better off on the pandemic unemployment payment. I have often heard that from small business owners in Kildare. It is very important to mention that because the owners of many such businesses have to work much longer hours or to close during the working day to do their additional administrative business.

Senator Sharon Keogan: Information on Sharon Keogan Zoom on Sharon Keogan I congratulate the Minister on her appointment and wish her well in her portfolio. I also commend the Leader of the House, Senator Doherty, on her role within the Minister's Department during the early days of the pandemic, when there was not yet a new Government. Her leadership was very welcome at that time.

  The pandemic unemployment payment is given to people who have lost their sources of income due to the economic shutdown caused by the public health measures put in place by the previous Government due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Through no fault of their own, thousands of people have had to rely on quickly instituted PUP payments, which were administered at a flat rate. I welcome the attempt to put the PUP on a statutory footing. Any effort to reduce the constant state of uncertainty caused by the pandemic through clarifying matters for recipients of the payment is to be lauded.

  That said, I have a number of significant concerns about the Bill. On the face of it, it appears the Government has reverted to the same old inequality by targeting those most in need. Significantly, section 11 of the Bill will provide that recipients of the payment must be seeking employment. This is nothing more than window dressing. These people had jobs that were put in hold during the Government-instituted lockdown. How can the Government ask them to go out and find other jobs? Their jobs and their normal sources of income are on hold as the country grapples with the daily reality of living through a public health crisis. Unless the Government knows something I do not, this crisis has not ended. We may not still be in total lockdown, but that does not mean we are back to business as usual. Surely, then, it cannot be reasonable to insist that PUP recipients be seeking employment.

  Another troubling aspect of the wording was that it could be and was used to deny the pandemic unemployment payment to those in receipt of it if they travelled abroad. The Government has rectified that today but over the weekend, news broke of more than 100 people having lost their PUP as a result of travelling abroad over the past two weeks.  While I was greatly relieved to hear the Minister confirm in the Dáil yesterday that these actions had been taken on foot of information gathered by employees of the Department, who were operating with the appropriate legal standing, in spite of reports of data potentially having been breached, I found this aspect of the Bill deeply perturbing. I question the constitutionality of any restrictions on the right to personal liberty and freedom to travel, even to outside those green-listed countries. If vital payments were to be withheld from those who wished to travel despite the Government's recommendations, let us be reminded that is what they are - recommendations. The Government was effectively banning more than 300,000 people from leaving this country on pain of loss of income. Previously, those on the jobseeker's allowance were allowed to leave the country for up to two weeks each year. That those on the PUP were not extended a similar allowance was morally dubious at best, or a violation of rights at worst. The Minister has done the right thing today. Fear is not the stick with which to beat the most vulnerable.

  I admire the Minister's tenacity in dealing with fraud within the system, but it might fit the Department and An Garda Síochána better to focus on real crime such as drug criminals and their lavish lifestyle at airports, and not focus on our working class who currently cannot work due to Government regulations and businesses remain closed. Perhaps inspectors would be better off sitting outside welfare offices to see these drug-dealing mules rock up in their latest BMWs, or spending some time at the Canada Goose department of Brown Thomas where, it is evident, one will not see too many people on the PUP.

  Section 7 will confirm that a self-employed contributor is entitled to claim the PUP. This is a heartening aspect of the Bill and is a vital provision for those who work in creative sectors especially, which are normally characterised by self-employment or freelancing. This, however, raises another issue. Currently, if someone takes on work, he or she will be automatically disqualified from receiving further payments. This means those who are self-employed, and who might get a day or two of work occasionally, will find themselves blocked from the PUP. Of course, a day or two of work is not likely to be sufficient to meet the person's needs. The Department seems to be wilfully ignoring the fact that our economy is restarting after a massive upheaval and there will not be a full return to employment for some time. This means a large number of people on the PUP will have a choice either to lose opportunities to work for pay, or to lose out on the PUP. Surely the Minister can find some way to work in a provision to mitigate such cases.

  I agree with Senator O'Loughlin on the issue of those over the age of 66. There is a failure in the Bill to address their needs. They are completely absent. If the payment could be made even to those people, it would be greatly appreciated.

  The circumstances in which we find ourselves require flexibility and understanding. I am pleased that attempts have been made to move forward and to establish a level of cohesion and certainty that were lacking worldwide in recent months. We can, however, do better than the Bill in its current form. I urge the Minister to consider carefully the amendments put forward so that the best possible outcome can be achieved for the citizens who rely on it.

Senator Elisha McCallion: Information on Elisha McCallion  Zoom on Elisha McCallion  I extend my welcome to the Minister to the Chamber and wish her well in her job in the time ahead. The Bill is designed to legally regularise assistance for the many people who have lost their jobs or whose jobs have been put on hold due to the pandemic. Of course, we want the payment to be put on a strong, statutory footing, and with that in mind, we will support the Bill.  The Government is presenting this as an opportunity outside of the hothouse environment of a few months ago when the virus was out of control and many people were dying or in hospital to respond calmly to the people's needs arising from the impact of the virus on their working lives. The Bill is supposed to reflect a calm and considered response to an obvious life-threatening emergency that also has serious economic consequences.

There are many positive aspects to the Bill, such as ensuring that many of those employees who are relying on the pandemic unemployment payment - whoever named that should note that it has caused many a tongue twister - will continue receiving it. However, a Bill aiming to protect workers fails at the first hurdle, that is, where someone works in this State but lives in the North. It does not assist such workers even though they have paid their contributions to this State and make a valuable contribution to this economy. Many of them have been working and paying their dues in this State for decades. The Bill discriminates against them once again, given that the Government overlooked them when the pandemic unemployment payment was introduced in March. Instead of admitting that it had forgotten about them, though, it blamed its decision on EU regulations. We now have information that shows that that was nothing more than a pathetic excuse from a Government that had yet again exposed its partitionist nature. My party colleague, Mr. Chris MacManus, MEP, raised this issue with Europe and has received clarification from the European Commission informing him that the Government can make these payments legally. There is no barrier to this payment being made other than this Government's lack of political will. I urge the Government to include these workers as a matter of urgency. It is within its gift to make the payment if it wishes. So far, it has chosen not to do so. The Government must act to include this group of workers, who number in their thousands. Once again, the partition of this island has negatively impacted on the lives of people who live in Border constituencies. Unfortunately, the Government has left them behind.

There are further issues. Government announcements, which are changing on an hourly basis, are seeking to punish those who, for many reasons, might find themselves in an airport lounge. Even with the latest U-turn, it looks like the Government is labelling, pointing at or bordering on discriminating against people who have lost their jobs and been unable to return to work through no fault of their own and who may have already paid thousands of euro for holidays on which they now cannot get a refund all thanks to the Government's chaotic advice on travel.

My main concern has to do with how data is being used at airports to discriminate against those who have travelled before. This question needs to be answered today. Other than the Tánaiste, who clearly stated on national television last weekend that there was information being gathered at airports, I have not heard any member of the Cabinet tell us how that was done and whether it was legal. Regardless of whether it is legal, it is certainly immoral. It is immoral that a Government could allow this to happen at any time, but it is disgraceful that the Government is using such data at a time like this. In yesterday's The Irish Times, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, ICCL, raised concerns about the legal basis of the Government's actions.

The Government seems to be chaotic and making up the rules as it goes along. The farce at the airports is only one example of many. It turns out that, while the Minister's Department was last week planning to cut PUP for many, the Government was oiling its gravy chain, awarding large increases in salaries for Ministers of State. In the face of anger and major opposition, the Government this week seemingly performed a U-turn on that. The Government is the only organisation that I am aware of that claims to give itself a pay cut that in fact results in a pay rise. What is going on within the Cabinet of chaos? There have been more flip-flops in its position over the past few weeks than there have been flip-flops sold in Penneys this summer.   Due to the fact that we must ensure that some workers continue to receive much-needed support at this time, we will lend our support to the Bill. However, it is deeply disappointing that the Government's antics have excluded many thousands of workers and, let us not forget, pensioners in this scheme. It has caused problems for women on maternity leave and for people who have chosen to travel.

  The one aspect that has been clear over the past few weeks is that the Government has been forced, not only by the strong and effective opposition by Sinn Féin and others on the left, but by people across the island to turn on outrageous decisions. As to the so-called clarity that we got from the Minister in the Chamber today, and with all due respect, the only clarity is that if someone has a private jet and is fortunate enough to travel to Monaco, he or she is fine to travel. Otherwise, anyone's guess is as good as mine.

  I will make a final point if I may. I am a new Senator, but I have found it very frustrating and confusing watching many parties that almost claim to be in opposition challenging one another. The three parties in the coalition need to accept responsibility for being the Government. They wear the jersey, so they need to own it. It has been infuriating watching people challenging the Government when they are the Government. People need to accept the reality that it is a three-party coalition and they must accept responsibility when Ministers make decisions on their behalf.

Senator Mark Wall: Information on Mark Wall Zoom on Mark Wall I join others in welcoming the Minister to the House. I wish her well in her new role and look forward to working with her.

  Notwithstanding the changes that the Minister announced in her U-turn today, the Bill leaves us with more questions than answers. I hope that she will be in a position to reply to them, which I am sure other Senators will also have. It would seem that, with no public notice she introduced SI 242 of 2020 on 12 July. The Minister might confirm whether that was actually the case. It changed the rules for the Covid-19 PUP and other unemployment payments, meaning that recipients could not take holidays abroad. As the Minister is well aware, people were previously allowed two weeks for a holiday in any calendar year without losing their entitlements to jobseeker's benefit. I appreciate that the Minister has changed her mind on this matter and is allowing people on these payments to travel to destinations on the green list, but she might confirm whether those on PUP and jobseeker's benefit will lose their entitlements if they travel to countries not on the green list. I am aware, as I am sure she is, of people travelling on, for example, compassionate grounds to non-green list countries. How will they be treated? Will she confirm the changes and explain the list of essential reasons that she mentioned? Has she a list of such reasons?

  It has been confirmed to us that some 2,000 individuals have had their payments stopped in recent months, with 104 individuals having their PUP payments stopped in the past two weeks following checks at airports. I listened to the Minister for Education and Skills on "Morning Ireland" yesterday confirming after questioning that this statutory instrument was not discussed at Cabinet. I am informed that that is not unusual in the main, but will the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, confirm whether the advice of the Attorney General was sought? This is a particularly important question, given that the Free Legal Advice Centres, FLAC, and a number of non-governmental organisations have questioned the legality of the measure. Ms Eilis Barry, the chief executive of FLAC, has asked for clarity concerning how a person who, through no fault of his or her own, must self-isolate will be treated in terms of genuinely seeking employment. The Minister might give us an answer to that.

  Like many Members, I have been contacted by citizens who are worried about what is happening in the country. Many booked holidays last year when they were in employment and many have never before been in receipt of a social welfare payment in their lives.  Now, through no fault of their own and because of a worldwide pandemic, their payment could, and probably will, be affected by this Bill if the destination country for their much-needed holiday is not on a green list. The Minister will be aware that the Data Protection Commissioner has asked the Department how it is getting the data to block benefit payments.

  Notwithstanding what the Minister said in her opening address, some key questions are outstanding. I wish to put some of the questions asked by my colleague, Deputy Sherlock, in the Dáil last night to the Minister again today. As this is a statutory instrument based on advice from another Department, is the travel ban legal? Did the Attorney General sign off on it? Is there a change in the conditions that apply to the pandemic unemployment payment? Must people be actively seeking work since Monday when the website was changed? Was this decided in the Cabinet? Is this a new regulation? Where is the data that is being used to stop people coming from? What are the reasonable grounds that apply and why are the people who are being stopped in airports not being told that it is for social welfare purposes?

  This latest mess was compounded by the Tánaiste on "The Week in Politics" programme when he said people on the PUP must be actively seeking work. This appears to have followed a change on the Government website which the Taoiseach has said will be investigated. According to stories we are hearing from around the country, there appears to be a general screening of people leaving the country. The Minister might confirm if this is the case. I refer to the case of a family who had their child benefit stopped, as outlined on the "Liveline" programme yesterday. Surely this is an excessive intervention by the State at a difficult time for everybody in the country.

  Can the Minister explain how a bar worker who has worked in the trade for over 30 years since leaving school is now expected to be genuinely seeking work? That person is out of employment through no fault of their own. The PUP was, in fact, a supplementary welfare payment under the 2005 Act. If this Bill is passed by the House, it will have a statutory basis. The Bill requires that a recipient must be genuinely seeking employment. The bar worker I mentioned knows no other trade. That person, like many others, cannot work at this time. Again like many others, this person has never been in receipt of social welfare previously. We are still in the middle of the pandemic. How can the Government introduce a Bill that contains such a heavy demand on workers, who have never known unemployment in their lives, that they should now be genuinely seeking work? It does not make sense that in the middle of a worldwide pandemic the Bill contains such a demand.

  I will speak to certain sections of the Bill. Section 6 provides that some of the expenditure incurred to date on the PUP which has been paid as supplementary allowance or an urgent needs payment may be charged to the Social Insurance Fund. What is the monetary implication of this measure for the Social Insurance Fund? There has been much talk in the Houses, and rightly so, about reducing the pension age. What are the implications for doing this of the Government using the Social Insurance Fund for this payment? Is this a raid on cash to avoid raising taxes or borrowing? Does it risk destabilising the already weakened fund? Is this a retrospective measure through the supplementary welfare allowance? If so, is this type of retrospective legislation constitutional? I seek clarity from the Minister on this point. There was due to be a hefty surplus in the Social Insurance Fund and that had been identified as a source of funding to allow for the delay in raising the pension entitlement age. Will this window of opportunity be closed now?

  Section 6 provides that some of the expenditure incurred to date on the PUP that has been paid as a supplementary welfare allowance or urgent needs payment may be charged to the Social Insurance Fund, but there is no link between social insurance contributions and eligibility for the PUP. For example, students would not have sufficient PRSI contributions recorded. Depleting the Social Insurance Fund surplus, especially when it is likely to come under pressure to pay insolvency and redundancy payments, does not appear to be sound public policy.

  Section 9 is a technical amendment which formally identifies the new Covid-19 PUP as a social insurance benefit within the social welfare code. If the PUP becomes a social welfare entitlement based on payment of social insurance, will that change the situation for people travelling abroad? The Minister addressed that in a way today, but will she clarify if people travelling abroad to seek work or to visit family for sound medical reasons within the common travel area can be denied a social insurance related entitlement?  As time passes an increased number of people who are on the PUP might go abroad to seek work. Their entitlement to a stable income must be secured.

  I will conclude on two further matters. Is an appeal mechanism for the PUP included in the Bill? What mechanisms are available for people who genuinely need to appeal the non-payment of the PUP? I also wish to record my support for the Debenhams workers and their rightful demand.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I am sharing time with Senator Ruane.

  I welcome the Minister. When the pandemic unemployment payment was introduced, it was, as the Minister said, a solidarity payment to protect people's incomes. It was a very positive measure by the outgoing Minister who is now the Leader of the House, Senator Doherty, and was praised internationally. It was recognised as the State seeing how important it was to keep an economy functioning normally. It was a gesture of social solidarity, but not necessarily simply with those accessing the payment. It was also a recognition of the solidarity shown by all the sectors that ceased their trading and the self-employed who stopped working, all of whom contributed to the need to stop activity in many sectors of society in order to contain the virus. There was social solidarity all around in that regard and the payment was related to that.

  Unfortunately, over the last week or two there has been a litany of inaccuracies, contradictions and misinformation that have caused great distress to people and their families. We should remember that a person on one of these payments is not simply a person but a person in a family, and whatever affects the person affects the person's family - the person's children, partner and so forth. There are still a couple of inaccuracies even in the Minister's speech today. She spoke about members of the public being genuinely unaware of the criteria that apply to the PUP. The criteria which we have been told apply to the PUP, for example, the criterion of genuinely seeking work, did not exist. That criterion was only put on the record by the former Minister with responsibility for social welfare in his comments on the television at the weekend and then it magically appeared on the gov.ie website the next day. It was not a criterion that was attached to the PUP. It may become a criterion after this legislation is passed but it did not exist then. Again, that is inaccurate. Incidentally, it is very worrying if gov.ie is giving inaccurate information to citizens.

  The gov.ie website also gave inaccurate information in respect of jobseeker's payments. It said, confusingly: "At present, holiday periods permitted for Jobseeker's payments have been suspended". They had not. Regarding holiday periods, is that holidays abroad or at home? It is unclear. It also said: "Jobseeker's payments will not be made to anyone who travels abroad". It did not specify if that is essential or non-essential travel. These are serious inaccuracies in the information the Government is giving to people. Today, it is being framed as a U-turn but what the Minister is talking about today is just getting back in line with the laws that already exist. She said: "I have asked my officials to amend the regulations so that jobseekers who wish to travel to any of the countries on the green list can do so and continue to receive their payment". First, it would be very useful if the Minister provided a copy of the regulations she is amending to both Houses of the Oireachtas. I have not seen those regulations.

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys They are on the website.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins We have seen the inaccuracy of the information on the website. The statutory instrument that has been in place since 10 July already allows jobseekers who wish to travel to any of the countries on the green list to do so and receive their payment. It is hard to see what new thing the Minister is doing in the regulations because the statutory instrument did not state that one could not have a holiday. It changed the definition of holiday to state that it is a holiday in accordance with the Covid-19 general travel advisory in operation by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It is very important that it refers to the general travel advisory.  It does not allow for special new travel advisories just for people on unemployment payments. The general travel advisory says that one should not undertake non-essential travel except in respect of green list countries. Non-essential travel to green list countries was allowed. That has been the case since 10 July. Any actions taken by the Minister since then or in this period of the week are not accurate. All that was required was compliance with that general advisory. What the Minister seems to be suggesting she is going to bring in by regulation today is, in fact, the law as it stands.

  I am also deeply concerned about some of the things the Minister says she might introduce in those regulations. On the idea that people would have to notify the Department of travel for essential purposes, there is a requirement in terms of data protection for such things to be necessary and proportionate. The requirement in terms of payments, including the supplementary welfare allowance which the Minister acknowledged is the basis on which this payment was brought in, is that one must be living in the State. Nobody is challenging the idea that those who are not living in the State should not be receiving the payment. That is absolutely fine. It is a red herring to an extent. However, it is not required that one be in the State at all times. It certainly does not require that one report to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection if one goes to a funeral or travels for healthcare. This is a huge new overreach if the Department is to require such information. I would also be concerned if such information was being shared with the Department. We know the Commissioner for Data Protection is already most concerned about how information was accessed from airports. How would this new information that everyone is to provide to the Department be shared?

  I have many other concerns about the Bill. I will address them as it progresses. I am worried about the obligation to seek work and the implication for those in the pub and arts industries who are on furlough. I am concerned about the potential implications in respect of redundancy. I will address those concerns later. My colleague will speak to two of our amendments which have been ruled out of order.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I welcome the Minister. I have three more questions that I hope will be answered. On people who need to undertake essential travel to countries that are not on the green list, such as the UK, I have had a number of representations in the past couple of days from very concerned women who need to travel to countries that are not on the green list for a termination of pregnancy that is not allowed in this country. They are worried about how they have to report this, how they can protect their privacy and what they need to do to prove that they are leaving the country for essential travel. Have women like this been taken into account in respect of the fact that they will have to travel to the UK or the Netherlands? I am not sure if the Netherlands is on the green list but the UK certainly is not. I want clarification on how we can address this sensitively for women who are looking to travel and are quite concerned about how it will happen and if their payments are going to be affected.

  One of the amendments that was ruled out of order relates, again, to women. It concerns the working family payment. Currently women are returning to work whether that be in restaurants, pubs or other low-pay employment with low hours. I received a representation from a woman working in a pub where the pub is picking names out of a hat as to who will get shifts. One woman could have five hours in one week, 20 in the next and none in the next. It is being done very unfairly. She is living in fear that her working family payment is going to be massively impacted because she is not going to be able to reach the 39 hours. How are we going to address those women who are returning to work but are not receiving the hours they would have before Covid? Will any sort of allowance be made for a special Covid approach to the working family payment?

  On artists, many actors and actresses have not been able to access any sort of payment during the lockdown and Covid. I have three letters of refusal in my office because the people were not working at the time the Covid payment became available. However, the only reason they were not working at the time was that they could receive between five and nine P45s in one year due to changing their contracts and working for different production companies at different times. It means all their work for the year has been cancelled but because they might not have been on set at a particular time, they have been completely refused payment and have been living without any sort of social welfare supports for the past three to four months. Maybe I can deal with the Minister directly in respect of sending on some of that information.

Senator Eugene Murphy: Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I welcome the Minister and wish her well. I commend her on the work she did in her last Ministry. If we are to be fair here, with what has happened in this country, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is a baptism of fire for the Minister as well. It is not simple or easy. I am constantly reminded that while we need to be fair and make sure people are treated as equal, we are in the middle of the greatest pandemic that any of us have ever seen and we do not know where it is going. We have to allow for that to some extent in terms of how the Government reacts and acts on things.

  The Government has approved a new Bill to ensure PRSI contributions are attributed to people in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment or whose salaries are being supported by the temporary wage subsidy scheme. When enacted, this primary legislation will ensure that people who lost their jobs or were temporarily laid off during the Covid-19 pandemic will be credited with full paid PRSI contributions on their insurance record equivalent to those that they would have made if they remained in work. This means that people who lost their jobs on foot of the public health crisis will not lose out in accessing social insurance benefits. It is also welcome that the social insurance record of workers who lost their jobs arising from the health crisis is maintained. Due to the exceptional circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic the legislation will provide for the award of paid contributions for employees at the same PRSI contribution class as was the case for them immediately before being laid off. This will be important in order to protect the person's entitlement to future payment including long-term payments such as pensions but particularly shorter term payments such as illness, maternity and paternity benefit. That needs to be clearly stated here. It has been sort of pushed away but it is very much part of the Bill. When people are at work and paying social insurance contributions, they are recorded as having made paid social insurance contributions. All social insurance benefits require a minimum number of paid social insurance contributions. In some cases, for example jobseeker's, illness, maternity and paternity benefit, the contribution must be paid within a specific period prior to accessing the benefit.

  On the controversy over the pandemic unemployment payment, having talked to the public, there is a concern that some people were treated unfairly. I welcome the fact that the Minister has now said all will be reviewed. I want to put it on the record of the House that a number of small employers have told me they are having difficulty getting part-time workers back. If 90% of these people were not coming back into this country, we also have a difficulty. We must discuss all of the issues. Senator McCallion is shaking her head. She is the one person who said she would like to see Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party supporting one another and supporting the Government. We have freedom of speech here. We are not herded into one corner. I am telling the Senator straight out that we are proud to get up and be able to tell whatever Minister from whatever party what we think. We will not do it in secret or privately. I hope the Ministers will understand this. Clearly I am saying that there is one side of this argument being told. Nobody in this House wants to see anybody unfairly treated. Is it right or wrong that 90% of 2,400 people seemed to be drawing down those payments and were leaving the country? Let us get it answered. I am glad the Minister is doing a review of the situation. From that review, we will get the facts and figures. Whatever way they come out, I hope they will be accepted as an honest assessment of the situation.

  I welcome the number of people who can now go onto the Tús and rural social schemes and so on.  There is a problem in that, under the current rules, many people on JobPath cannot access Tús and other schemes. I ask the Minister to examine that issue and the potential to fill the positions that are becoming available. I will give her more details later.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I listened to some of the contributions outside the Chamber and it has been a good debate.

  I warmly welcome the Minister to the House and wish her well in her Ministry. These are difficult times for anyone in government. Issues have to be addressed head-on, hard decisions have to be taken and the ramifications of those decisions have to be taken on board. Ministers are expected to come to the Dáil. I am always reminding people that it is not the Seanad that holds the Government to account but the Dáil.

  I thank the Minister for establishing a review, which will be important. Anyone who has been listening to the radio and reading the newspapers in the past few days and hours will have noted the genuine concern about this issue. I heard a piece on the radio the other day about tax dodgers, people with offshore accounts, and all sorts of carry-on by people who can move money around the world and get away with it, yet somehow people in receipt of welfare payments are suddenly being seen as a target. Nobody chooses not to have a job or an income to put bread on the table. That is the perspective we must take. We must respect that people are legitimately entitled to claim welfare payments. We should not target any particular group unfairly. Many people do not have a job because of Covid-19. I thank the Minister for at least accepting the need to review this matter and committing herself to such a review. That is important.

Senator Micheál Carrigy: Information on Micheál Carrigy Zoom on Micheál Carrigy I welcome the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and congratulate her on her appointment. I am more than confident that she will serve her new Department with distinction, as she did her previous Department.

  I also compliment the Government on the swift action it took in March in getting payments out to hundreds of thousands of people who lost their jobs. I concur with the Minister with regard to the huge work done by staff members who worked through weekends to ensure those payments were made. I also compliment the Leader and former Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Senator Regina Doherty.

  I support the Bill. As the Minister stated, it is important to protect the position of employees in terms of their entitlements for social insurance benefits. However, I have a couple of issues. The decision to reduce the payment of some self-employed people from €350 to €200 based on the fact that they were using their 2018 accounts as their 2019 accounts were not ready seems to be an issue. Is there a proper appeals mechanism available for such persons to have the higher payment restored?

  I concur with previous speakers that some businesses are struggling to get staff back to work because their wages are lower than the pandemic unemployment payment. Will the Revenue Commissioners contact employers to certify that these workers have been offered work and are not returning to work? What will happen to the payment in such cases? I also concur with the points made on payments to people working in the arts. I support action being taken on that.

  I understand that for health reasons many of these payments were paid directly into bank accounts. This left us open to a large amount of fraud, with people making multiple applications and going abroad for a number of months while in receipt of the payment. The An Post network has the contract for social welfare payments. The pandemic unemployment payments were not made through An Post. The number of payments made through An Post is decreasing weekly. Some Department staff are contacting customers and urging them to switch their payments from the post office to the banks. An Post was deemed an essential service in March and stepped up to the mark by keeping its entire network open throughout the Covid pandemic, unlike a number of other institutions.  At this time, there was agreement to move all payments to being biweekly. However, this is having a detrimental effect on the company and its contractors of whom I am one, with a loss of revenue through bill payments and savings bank transactions. Up to 70% of the retail income is affected within the company. If this continues, we are looking at hundreds of closures throughout the country in the near future.

  With the closure of the banks, the post office is the only financial institution in many towns around the country. It is the heart of the community. The loss of the post office will affect numerous other businesses within those towns and villages due to the reduction in footfall. This is something we do not want as we try to restart and rebuild our economy.

  The biweekly payment has led to increased numbers accessing the services of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and other organisations where people were unable to budget on a biweekly basis.

  In short, I ask that the Department would indicate when payments, particularly pensions, - some jobseekers have gone back to a weekly basis - will return to a weekly basis. I totally understand that the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, has concerns in that regard but I would like to get confirmation that this will happen in the future.

  I ask also that Department officials and staff desist from using this as an opportunity to pressurise pensioners and sending out forms asking them to move their payments into the banks. What will happen in the next six to 12 months is probably the closure of half the entire An Post network. As I say, that will have a detrimental effect in every single town and village in this country.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly As I got the order wrong, I call Senator Kyne. Apologies, I skipped Senator Kyne on the order.

Senator Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne I thank the Cathaoirleach. I welcome the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, to the Chamber.

  For me, like others, one of the most important aspects of the Bill, that has been somewhat lost - although it has been highlighted here in recent contributions - is the provision to award credited PRSI contributions to people in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment. That is hugely important. Each of us, as public representatives, has tried to help people over the years navigate the myriad of the social welfare system and it can be at times quite complex. Each of us has encountered situations where people are not qualified for a support payment because of inadequate or a lack of contributions. In some cases, it can be only a matter of a handful of contributions. We have seen this, whether it be in people applying for the State pension, for illness benefit, carer's benefit and other supports, and it is important that is rectified. The contribution system works away in the background and everyone at work receives a contribution on foot of his or her paid contributions, and almost everyone who is receiving a support payment receives a credited contribution. A person's PRSI contribution, as Senators will be aware, is of vital importance. It ensures that a person receives correct social welfare support when needed. This is why section 8 of the Bill is so important. By amending the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 2005, this Bill will protect the PRSI contribution record for everyone in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment. In addition, this section will help protect jobs by significantly reducing the employer PRSI contribution to a rate of 0.5% for employers who have availed of the temporary wage subsidy scheme. This scheme continues to provide vital financial assistance to businesses across the country and helps employers to keep the vital link with their staff.

  The pandemic unemployment payment was introduced as an emergency measure to section 202 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 2005. It was the correct decision, given the unprecedented nature of the Covid-19 crisis and it continues to support individuals, families and households across the country. Most legislation permits emergency measures to be introduced but it is not ideal in the longer term. That is why it is important that this legislation is before the House today and that the PUP is put on a permanent footing. It is, I think, everybody's hope that the need for the PUP will diminish over the coming months and I hope that new applications will diminish because people will be getting back to work. That is what we all would hope.

  The myriad of other supports and benefits which have been introduced will kick in thereafter. The existing supports, such as the temporary wage subsidy, the restart grants and the rate waivers, are all having a positive impact now on getting people back to work. New supports that will be introduced include the employment wage support scheme, the expansion of the restart grant where payments will increase to €25,000 - I welcome that as part of the July stimulus - the expansion of the commercial rates waiver, the launch of the stay and spend incentive for taxpayers spending on accommodation and dining out between October 2020 and April 2021, and the launch of the €10 million restart fund for the tourism sector.  All of these are very important in getting people back to work and, therefore, in getting them off the PUP. We cannot, however, lose sight of the cost of all of these supports, including the PUP. The July jobs stimulus represents a €7.4 billion investment in our economy, which is possible because the previous Government managed the economy well and was able to balance our books. We are therefore seen as worthy of support by lenders.

  The stimulus and other programmes and supports introduced since March come to a total of more than €14 billion. As borrowed money will have to be repaid, it is only right that supports and programmes, whether direct grants, payments, supports or loans, are administered carefully and with the consideration that the expenditure of public moneys requires. Part of this includes control measures and reviews to ensure that supports get to the right people or businesses at the right time. It would be reckless to not have such control measures and oversight in place.

  We should be thankful that the number of persons in need of the pandemic unemployment payment continues to fall. As the other support measures I have outlined come into operation, I expect that number will continue to fall. With a bit of luck and the continued hard work of the people and medical researchers, it is to be hoped we will soon reach a stage at which the pandemic unemployment payment will not be needed at all.

  I acknowledge the work of the Minister and congratulate her on her position. It is difficult and she is now managing two Departments. I wish her well over the coming years.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan The Minister is very welcome. I wish her well in her role. She has a tough job ahead. I will just add a couple of points to what has already been said. I was watching the debate but, to be honest, I was not intending to speak. I was genuinely hoping that my colleague, Senator McCallion, would not be the only person to speak up for the people in the North of this country. I really hoped that somebody else here would speak about the unfairness of hard-working people who pay their taxes in the South being entitled to nothing under this Covid payment because of the worst kind of partitionism. Unfortunately, nobody mentioned it, not even Senator Murphy of Fianna Fáil. I guess it is only the republican party as far as the Border at Cavan.

  It is grossly unfair. This was an opportunity to reach out to people of all persuasions and all traditions and to do the right thing. The Minister's predecessor used Europe as an excuse but we know that it is not an excuse. Europe has told the Government that it can make these payments if it so chooses. It has chosen not to. It has chosen a partitionist route that is grossly unfair to those workers. Perhaps the next time somebody from another party might speak up for the people in the North. It should not always be just Sinn Féin.

  Then of course there are the optics. It has been a tough few days for the Minister. Even as she has tried to double down with regard to welfare recipients before having to do this embarrassing U-turn, we have seen her Government try to push through a €16,000 pay rise for certain Ministers of State before also having to do a U-turn. We have seen one of the Minister's Cabinet colleagues determined to keep his €200,000 per year State car, at a cost of €1 million over the potential term of the Government. It is clear that when one is in with the lads at the top, there is no problem with demanding more money. The people at the bottom, however, will have the welfare inspectors sent after them to see if the money can be taken back off them.

  It is funny; I was speaking about workers in meat factories the other day. They waited for weeks to get a health inspector to visit because of the huge dangers of Covid-19, the clusters of cases and the appalling behaviour of employers who really did not give a damn about their workers. They could not get a health inspector out and they could not get any support. There is no problem sending inspectors to the airport to tackle people on welfare, however. It is an extension of the appalling welfare cheats line the Minister's predecessor, the former Taoiseach, came out with. It is the worst kind of class prejudice and should not be let go in this Chamber. That is why I raise it.

  My colleague, Senator Wall, mentioned the Free Legal Advice Centres, FLAC. This group has played a blinder in this regard. It was instrumental in forcing the U-turn the Minister had to make earlier today. I will quote Sinead Lucey, speaking on other concerns she has. She spoke on "the introduction of the requirement to be genuinely seeking work for those on the Covid PUP", on which I also spoke on the Order of Business. She stated:

This is inconsistent with the idea that the payment was intended for people who had been temporarily laid off. It may also disproportionately affect those with no child care during the pandemic and small business owners.

It certainly will.  Will the Minister comment on that?

  My final point is a little bit awkward but I must make it. I agree with my colleague, Senator McCallion, that members of Government parties need to be here to explain their position on this Bill. I believe the point Senator McCallion was making was that, at times, some people, particularly in Fianna Fáil, tend to act as though they are not actually in government when talking to the Minister. It certainly frustrates me. Where is the third party in this Government today? Where are its Senators? Have they made a choice not to be in government this afternoon? We all have tough speeches to make.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly I remind the Senator that, under Standing Orders, he should not refer to Members who are not present.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I take the Cathaoirleach's point. I am not singling out any individual. I am just saying that I would expect the Green Party to make a statement on this Bill.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly I understand the point the Senator is making but the way he is making it is in breach of Standing Orders.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan In that case, I apologise. We intend to hold this Government and its three constituent parties to account at every stage. I wish the Minister well and I look forward to hearing her responses.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Zoom on  Leas-Chathaoirleach I welcome the Minister and congratulate her. I thank the former Minister, Senator Doherty, and welcome the extension of the pandemic unemployment payment to April. It is a matter of social solidarity. The employment wage subsidy scheme allows for businesses to open or to remain open, but it is also about keeping jobs through the winter. Everything we do should be to protect people and to create, sustain and protect employment. That is what Government is about. The Government and local authorities should look after businesses and workers. I make the point again that we must work with our banks and that our banks must be held to account.

  I hear Senator Gavan, for whom I have great respect, making political speeches. His party hawked itself around the country-----

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan This is a political forum.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Zoom on  Leas-Chathaoirleach His political party hawked itself around the country recruiting members rather than showing social solidarity with the people.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan We beat the Senator's party in the election.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Zoom on  Leas-Chathaoirleach It is important that we work together collaboratively. Your party took a very Punch and Judy approach to going into government. The truth is that you really do not want to be in government at all because you cannot make decisions.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly I remind Members that, under Standing Orders, they must speak through the Chair.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Zoom on  Leas-Chathaoirleach I understand that.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly If Members want to intervene, they can do so if another Member gives way, but Standing Orders must be observed. I ask Senator Buttimer, please, to give out to Senator Gavan through the Chair.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Zoom on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Sure.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan That is fair enough.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Zoom on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Let us get real in here. The Sinn Féin Party-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly That is okay with Senator Gavan.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Zoom on  Leas-Chathaoirleach -----speaks in here but does not want to be in government. It prefers to give out on social media and throughout the country. That is its modus operandi. This Government is working to protect people in social solidarity with employers and employees. That is what this Bill is about.

  I welcome the measure regarding the cycle to work scheme. We in Government must reimagine how people travel to work. I refer in particular to the e-bike scheme. As a tax incentive, it is about encouraging people.

  I have written to the Minister with regard to community employment schemes. I ask her to allow people up to the age of 60 to continue on CLÁR programmes in areas where there are no jobs available and in which it can be difficult to fill vacancies on community employment schemes. I ask her to maintain an open policy with regard to supporting these people and local communities.

  As Senator Burke said, the previous Government, in conjunction with other parties, reacted very positively by developing a co-ordinated response to the pandemic to offer people work and security. I welcome the Minister's clarification with regard to travelling abroad and the fact that there is now certainty. I have a question for people. Is it okay to keep paying money to people who are leaving the country without intending to return? I am only posing the question.

  I stand in solidarity with the Debenhams workers, as other Members have. They have been treated appallingly by the company. These workers have been sacrificed at the altar of Covid-19. It is wrong, unfair and unjust. The workers in Debenhams deserve to be treated fairly and to have their status recognised by Government.   Senator Ruane referred to the arts sector. I will not dwell on that other than to say I support her comments.

  I am the Seanad spokesperson on aviation. I have met a number of travel agents, who are asking that Government consider giving assistance to people who in good faith have paid for holidays. Due to Covid-19, there was rightly a restriction on travel to certain areas. If a flight departs, however, the people booked on it will not gain compensation. Flights are departing but airlines are filling the planes with cargo so they can make their money either way. We have created a green list but I ask that Government take a clear stance to give a sense of security to people who have paid for their holidays in good faith and who want to abide by the green list. It is important we encourage people not to travel but that we ensure they receive compensation and that the airlines and the hotels in other countries do not benefit from this misfortune.

  I commend the Minister on her work and thank her for what she is doing. I look forward to the remainder of the debate.

Senator Marie Sherlock: Information on Marie Sherlock Zoom on Marie Sherlock I thank the Minister for coming before the House and wish her well in her new role. A number of major challenges face the Department: pensions, the sustainability of the Social Insurance Fund, and how we will get people into work who want to work but cannot for a whole variety of reasons, including childcare, other caring responsibilities or disability. Disability is a very significant challenge facing the country. We faced it before Covid and will face it all the more post Covid.

  I have a specific question about the Bill before the House. It relates to Chapter 12B and the definition of "genuinely seeking work". We need clarity from the Minister as to whether genuinely seeking work means that persons need to be actively seeking work and, if so, whether they face the prospect of having their entitlements cut off by a social welfare inspector if they are not making sufficient effort. Does genuinely seeking work mean that people can rely on the social safety net of the State until such time as their sector, their type of work, is fully back up and running? The events of recent days seem to suggest no tolerance other than for those who can prove they are seeking work and ready to take that work up immediately. We know there are sectors, such as hospitality and the arts, that simply cannot reopen at present. It feels like the Government is speaking out of both sides of its mouth. On the one hand, I think many of us have been led to believe by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection that anybody out of work should be seeking work at the moment, yet on the other hand, we know from the Department with responsibility for the arts - the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, has spoken about this - about the challenges facing the arts sector and that it will take time for the sector to reopen fully. We therefore need clarity as to what genuinely seeking work means.

  What is most egregious about the push to be genuinely seeking work or actively seeking work is that it misses the point that there are people who want to work, especially women, but who cannot because they cannot access childcare places. They have had to leave their employment because they have small babies. They are ready to go back to work, yet few crèches are taking on children under the age of one at the moment. This is for understandable reasons. They are coping with the children they are already caring for. There is, however, no provision put in place for these mothers. It is egregious and misses the point of what the arts sector is about, that these people's life ambition is to work in the arts, whether to perform, to make performance happen, to create or to showcase creation. Many do it not for the money but for the love of it. Yes, they need to make a decent living from it, but they do not expect to make a fortune. The key issue is that they do not want to retrain or to avail of all the training and reskilling opportunities announced by the Government.  Those opportunities are to be very much welcomed, but they are not for those in this sector. They need their sector to reopen, and it cannot do so until such time as the pandemic passes. It seems from the various comments that have been made over recent days by the Minister, the Department and others in government that those working in the arts and those who are unable to work or who are dependent on the pandemic payment should go out and get a job, whatever job that may be. As a country, we have to be better than that. The Government has to be better than that and we need assurances that those whose sectors have not reopened will not be forced into taking any job. They already face the truly terrible prospect of seeing their pandemic unemployment payment cut in stages over the coming months. This policy has been introduced by the Department in the full knowledge that some sectors will not reopen in the coming months. These workers are already facing a penalty. I ask the Minister not to add to that penalty by forcing them into any job.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Go n-éirí go geal léi ina dualgas nua. During the interregnum I saw the Minister on a number of occasions. She has had a busy time and I wish her well in her brief.

  I will start by quoting a letter I received from a supporter of mine which expresses the confusion and fear caused to people where there are governance and administrative complications such as the one that has arisen in respect of the pandemic unemployment payment and the impact on people of travelling abroad, in respect of which issues and controversies have arisen.

  I am writing to you regarding the legislation passed tonight by the Dáil regarding the PUP entitlement. My husband was "temporarily laid off work" last March due to the pandemic. He works for a distribution company depending on restaurants, hotels and bars, which are either closed or partially open due to the Covid restrictions. Hotels are at reduced capacity due to the need for deep cleaning, social distancing rules, no [tourists from abroad] etc (enforced by the government). He wants to go back to his own employment but the company is not at full capacity yet through no fault of their own.

  We both are shocked, distressed and worried about the new threat from the government to withhold payments of PUP unless "genuinely seeking work". I am wondering where is this "work" going to miraculously come from in a pandemic?

  My husband was forced to leave work due to a lockdown. He has lost months of his full salary and contributions to his private pension have ceased and he will face a tax bill at the end of the year for the PUP. He is "genuinely seeking" to return to his employment as he is 54 years old and not qualified for another job. Besides this, his employer has not let him go permanently. My husband doesn't know where he stands.

I have no doubt but that in response to a concern such as this, the Minister would say these people are not being targeted and that these are the people the Government seeks to protect in this situation. One of the lessons we all have to learn is that when we talk about restrictions on people, welfare payments and so on, there has to be good and clear governance. It has to be clear what the law is and where the powers that are exercised come from. There is a validity, therefore, to the interventions in recent days by the likes of the Free Legal Advice Centres, FLAC, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and so on.

  That said, I wonder sometimes about the narrative that takes hold. I have a lot of sympathy for what Senator Buttimer said. People such as the person I have just quoted will need the support of the State. We are only at the beginning of this crisis, and the financial hit that will come from the pandemic will ask hard questions of us all. The discontent in recent days about ministerial salaries and so on is only beginning. All of us as a society, particularly those of us who are fortunate enough to be in permanent, pensionable employment, will, before this is all over, be asked for sacrifices, which we will have to be ready to make. It is important, therefore, that as we seek to cater for people who have lost their jobs and are in situations of uncertainty, we recognise that welfare fraud is not a matter of class prejudice.  The Government has a duty to try to investigate and prevent fraud so that it will have the resources to help people like my correspondent and her family. There must be good governance and accountability, but it is a bad idea to politicise these issues because one ends up creating fears for people. A back bench Deputy stated that the actions taken showed that Ireland was just steps away from being a police state. That language is not acceptable. If people like the Deputy use such language, it shows that they have never been in a police state and will not have the language they need to discuss genuine human rights abuses and what is really a police state. There are complex issues that may have to be addressed. In another example from recent days, I believe Mr. Brian Killoran of the Immigrant Council of Ireland described a situation where a gentleman from Pakistan had had his phone records examined to see whether his relationship with his Polish wife was bona fide before he could get back into the country. I had a great deal of sympathy for that man - his document should have been enough - but I have to acknowledge in the same breath that, although some people have documents, there is more going on behind the scenes involving fraud, arrangements being made to cheat the system and so on.

  I have a great deal of sympathy for the people who try to run our system, but there must be good governance and a clear legal basis. On the other side, NGOs and politicians must mind their language so as not to overstate the problem when problems and mistakes occur.

Senator Emer Currie: Information on Emer Currie Zoom on Emer Currie I welcome the Minister to what is usually the Dáil Chamber. It must feel strange.

  I welcome the Bill and how the PUP is being placed on a statutory footing. I also welcome the clarity that the Minister has given people in recent days, especially concerning those sectors that have not yet opened.

  I enjoyed Senator McCallion's humorous references to tongue twisters and flip-flops. However, I laughed out loud at her advice on how to work in a coalition and put public health rather than party politics first and her comments about how those who made the rules should be accountable for them. Perhaps she should communicate that to her own party and call for similar levels of support in the North for a PUP like the one we have.

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his new position and wish him well. This is the first time I have been in the Seanad since he was elevated.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Thank you.

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I thank the Senators for their good wishes and contributions. I will first clarify a matter. Sometimes, we forget that we are still in the middle of a pandemic and it is important that we follow public health advice. Today, I announced that I would be changing the regulations to allow people on unemployment payments to travel to countries on the green list for two weeks and still retain their benefits. Everything else remains the same. People can travel abroad for essential reasons such as a family bereavement, essential healthcare or other medical reasons. So that their payments are not impacted, though, they must explain to their local Intreo offices that they must travel abroad so that the offices know. Other than that, the public health advice is to stay in this country. That is it; it is very simple. Senators heard NPHET say that - they hear it every evening. Unfortunately, the Covid virus has not gone away. We must be careful, and the safest place to do that is at home. However, people can travel to the countries on the green list because the infection rates there are the same as or lower than in this country. As such, I have included them on the list in the regulations.   A number of queries were raised by Senators and I will try to address as many as I can in the short time I have.

  Senator Burke spoke about travelling. If someone has to travel, he or she should tell the local Intreo office.

  Sole traders are now on the payment. I accept they are worried that, if they get a bit of work and go off the payment, they might not have any income, but many of them will be entitled to an enterprise support grant if they do not have premises that they work from, that is, if they do not pay rates and, consequently, qualify for the restart grant. If they find that they have no work, they are entitled to return to the jobseeker's payment.

  I wish to be clear about the sharing of information because there is a great deal of misinformation going around about this matter. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection does not collect or share information with other agencies in the way alluded to in the House. The Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, does not pass travel information to the Department. The Department does not have access to travel data, nor does it have access to travel locator forms from any airport or port. Nor does the Department receive travel information from the Department of Justice and Equality. As part of its normal work, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection carries out compliance inspections at ports and airports throughout the course of the year. Since 2012, social welfare inspectors have had legal powers to carry out these checks as part of the ongoing control and compliance work in which they are engaged. The legal basis for the control and compliance checks is section 250(16) of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005, as amended by section 17 of the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2012. These checks are carried out because certain social welfare payments are only paid to people residing in the State. These compliance checks involve inspectors speaking directly with passengers and any information gathered is only used for the purpose for which it is gathered. A social welfare inspector has legal powers under the social welfare legislation to ask for PPS numbers.

  Social welfare inspectors have to be approved by the DAA to work in the airport and have all the DAA clearances necessary to work there. They all have Dublin Airport identity cards, with a part of the process to get such a card being the need to be Garda vetted and to undergo security awareness training.

  It is clear from all of this that inspectors have those powers and have done so for many years. Anyone whose payment is stopped and who believes it should not have been should contact his or her local Intreo office. Senator Ardagh raised that matter. We are not receiving any information from any third party.

  The Covid payment is €350, which will reduce on 15 September. As such, there will not be a large tax liability on the payment unless someone earns a significant amount of money. Obviously, someone's income is liable for tax regardless of where it comes from once it goes over a certain limit.

  Regarding being available for work, I will go back a little bit. In March and April when the whole of the economy was shut down due to Covid-19, we were obviously not going to ask people to look for a job. We are not in that space any more, though. The economy is reopening, businesses are returning and we hope that, on 10 August, pubs and so on will reopen. The Department will take a practical approach. If someone is in a sector that will reopen soon, that is okay, but we must realise that many people will unfortunately not be returning to their pre-Covid jobs. We want them to start looking for work, and they want to get back working as well. That is why we have invested up to €200 million in employment and labour activation supports, which were announced last week. We have extended the PUP to next April. Is any Senator present suggesting that people should not be looking for work between now and next April? They want to return to work and we want to help them in that.  That is the message I want to send. We are here to help people. We want to help them to relocate to other sectors. The Department will take a practical approach to those sectors that have not opened up.

  The temporary Covid-19 wage subsidy scheme has been amended so that employers can get a €203 subsidy in respect of new staff they take on. We have done that to encourage and help employers to take on people who have lost their jobs due to Covid-19. Everything this Government is doing is about helping people to get back to work. I take on board Senator Buttimer's points about community employment schemes.

  There are a few more things I wish to raise. In response to Senator Murphy, I note that since 13 March the Department has stopped payment of the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment in 2,500 cases, of which 2,000 relate to Dublin Airport and 500 to other ports and airports. Had those claims not been stopped, the Department would have incurred an additional charge of €20.5 million. It would have cost the taxpayer €20.5 million to make payments to people who were not entitled to receive them because they lived outside this country.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen The Government would get a fair few Garda drivers for that.

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The vast majority of these people were not going on holidays. They were leaving the country. Once someone lives outside this country, he or she is not entitled to the payments. There are a small number of people who may have travelled abroad while genuinely unaware of the criteria. We will review those cases.

  Self-employed people eligible for the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment, including those in the arts and entertainment sector, have been assessed based on the returns they made to the Revenue Commissioners for their 2018 earnings. If they believe an assessment of their 2019 earnings would produce a better outcome, they can submit the evidence of those earnings to the Department. They should also file their 2019 accounts with Revenue.

  People aged 66 years and older are already receiving a social protection income through the State pension framework. People embrace that fact. Such persons receive either the contributory State pension based on pay-related social insurance, PRSI contributions, or the non-contributory means-tested pension. The maximum weekly payment to someone in receipt of the contributory State pension in a two-person household with an adult dependent who is over 66 is €470. The maximum rate of payment to a recipient of the non-contributory pension living in a two-person household is €393.60. People over 66 are also entitled to other benefits such as the free travel pass.

  Regarding workers in Northern Ireland, the position for frontier workers is no different with respect to the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment than with any other unemployment benefit. Members will know that EU regulations govern our treatment of frontier workers. We have correctly followed the same approach here. Under the current EU rules, the member state of residence is the member state responsible for the payment of unemployment benefit. I have listened to the Sinn Féin Members during this debate and I have to say there is a certain hypocrisy here. Their party is in government in Northern Ireland, where people who lost their job due to Covid-19 receive €100 as opposed to €350 here. A person under 25 who lost his or her job in Northern Ireland receives less than €60 a week. Sinn Féin criticises this Government when it is providing payment that is many times what Sinn Féin provides to people in Northern Ireland.

  Senator Carrigy referred to payments made via post offices. We have changed some of the payments. They are now made on a weekly basis. The restored payments are the schemes classified as short term. They include the one-parent family payment, the working family payment, illness benefit, maternity benefit, paternity benefit, jobseeker's allowance and jobseeker's benefit.  They will all be weekly payments from 17 August. Some recipients will get their payments on 10 August. The only ones that have not been changed yet are pensions, disability allowance, carer's allowance and carer's benefit. Based on public health advice, it was felt that recipients of these payments should not be going out often as they are at more risk. We will review this in light of public health advice.

  I think I have covered most of the issues that were raised here. I am happy to answer any further questions as we proceed.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I might recommend that if someone has missed-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Once the Minister has given her reply, Members are not allowed to speak again. The Senator can make her point on Committee Stage. I thank the Minister for coming before the House and congratulate her on her new portfolio. I was delighted to serve with her on the all-party consultation group on commemorations, which was a huge success under her chairmanship. Commemorations were a very difficult subject. A lot of things could have gone wrong, but thankfully it was a huge success because she was the chair. It was a huge challenge but Deputy Humphreys rose to it, as she is doing in her current portfolio.

  Question put and agreed to.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Senator Paddy Burke: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Now.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Is that agreed? Agreed.

Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages

  Sections 1 to 7, inclusive, agreed to.

SECTION 8

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in the name of Senator McCallion have been ruled out of order as a potential charge on the revenue.

  Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, not moved.

  Question proposed: "That section 8 stand part of the Bill."

Senator Elisha McCallion: Information on Elisha McCallion  Zoom on Elisha McCallion  I thank the Cathaoirleach for the opportunity to speak on the proposed amendments. The ignorance across the board as to how the North is actually governed is somewhat shocking. I am really shocked that the Minister does not even know the currency we use in the North. We use sterling.

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I referred to our payments in euro.

Senator Elisha McCallion: Information on Elisha McCallion  Zoom on Elisha McCallion  She referred to euro amounts on several occasions. She should also know that, unfortunately, the British Government sets the rates, much to my pain. If we continue the conversation about the need for the long-overdue reunification of this country, that will be sorted in the future. The ignorance in this Chamber is startling. It scares me but it does not surprise me.

  It does not surprise me that these frontier workers were forgotten about when the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment came into existence. One could cut the Minister in place at the time some slack because we were trying to move at a fast pace. However, it was noted at a very early stage that these workers were being mistreated under the terms of the supplementary welfare payment. There has been plenty of time and scope for the Government here to consider these workers who have been making contributions.

  There are 30,000 cross-Border workers throughout this island. Tens of thousands of them have been paying into this State's Exchequer for many years. There were conversations between the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, and Conor Murphy, MLA. We were told that all of these things were under active consideration. They have not been considered, or if they have been considered they have been denied again. I will say it again. It was within the gift of this Government to make payments to these workers who have been paying into this State's coffers. They have not been paying into the North.  These people are actually being discriminated against twice. There is double taxation because they pay into this State and then have to pay again in the North. They then have to try to claim from the British Exchequer for the British model, particularly self-employed people who have to show their books and their profits based on what they actually achieve in the North when, in fact, most of their payments are made down here. The British Government then looks at those workers, particularly the self-employed and sole traders, who seemingly have a small margin of profit. When they are asked to present into the British Government scheme they look as though they are earning a lot less and, therefore, the British Government gives them less again.

  These workers are falling between stools all over the place and this has been well documented. We said this to the Leader of the House beforehand and we asked her to look at this. We were given assurances they were going to be considered. Now we are back to the same rhetoric that Sinn Féin is in government in the North and why do we not sort it out. I put it to the Minister that there is a North-South Ministerial Council meeting tomorrow. Is it on the agenda for discussion? If it is not, can it be put on the agenda for discussion? I make the point again that it is not the Department in the North, unfortunately, but the British Government that collects taxes from the people of the North and it is the British Government that shamefully put forward propositions on what is acceptable or not for residents in the North.

  I put this back onto the Irish Government. It has a responsibility. It has been taking taxes off these people every week for decades and there is a responsibility on it to try to look at it. At one stage, I would have accepted a bespoke model or a bespoke arrangement for these workers but there would have been no need for a bespoke arrangement had the Government decided on this occasion to look at these workers in the way they should have been looked at. I am hugely and deeply disappointed that the Government has chosen not to do so.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I regret that the amendments tabled by Senator McCallion were not allowed. It would have been a constructive and important debate, especially when we think of those employers based here who have employees based in Northern Ireland and some of those who are self-employed and have their centre of operations here but are resident in Northern Ireland. They are effectively excluded. These are valid concerns and we need to have a more detailed debate on this issue even if it is not possible on this section.

  I want to highlight several other issues regarding section 8 that I hope the Minister in her response might be able to address. There is much to welcome in the Bill and I recognise this but there are concerns that we need to address. One of the aspects I very much welcome is the attribution of contributions. It is very important so we do not have a knock-on effect down the line in terms of pension entitlements and other entitlements. It is a very positive measure. I have a little bit of concern about the new section 38E(3), which suggests the Minister might prescribe the maximum number of contribution weeks in respect of which employment contributions might have been deemed. Will the Minister give clarity or reassurance that the maximum is not anticipated to be set at too low a level? I want to make sure people do not get a contribution record that is much less than the number of weeks deemed. I know this is not the intent, and that is clear, but perhaps the Minister will confirm this for us.

  Section 38F, which will be introduced by section 8 of the Bill, is about the exchange of information. Again, it is important that we get this right. It states there will be an exchange of information between the Minister and the Revenue Commissioners.  Strictly speaking, there is a third party with which information will be exchanged, as it will be between the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Revenue Commissioners. That question of the exchange of information has a wider issue, which is something the Minister has inherited and it was not created by her. There is an ongoing issue with a set of concerns the Data Protection Commissioner has had about the single customer view data set. This is a set of data accessible by a large number of bodies and not simply by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection officials themselves. This is the question I had about information that might get shared with the Department. We will have a chance to debate this further later, but it is an extension beyond appropriateness and any precedent to ask that people inform the Department every time they legitimately leave the State in a way that is compliant with the law. Will the information being sought under this section or other information also go into the single customer view data set or the exchange of information? There is a lack of clarity on this.

  I want to add an important reminder to try to avoid the types of unforeseen consequences not simply of this week but that we saw in the previous term. Notwithstanding section 38F, which will allow for the transfer of information, the requirements of necessity and proportionality still apply and it will be important that they will be used with regard to the information, that this will not be a blanket permission and that it will cover only such information as is necessary and proportionate. It would have been good if this had been stated in the section. It would be useful but perhaps the Minister will confirm this.

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys It will only be information that is necessary and proportionate that we will look for. That is for sure. People will get their paid contributions for the full duration of the time they are on the pandemic unemployment payment. There is no doubt about that. The legislation does allow us to share information with Revenue. We have to do this. What I meant was that we will not share information with anybody else. My officials assure me we do not share information with any other agency, such as the Dublin Airport Authority, or anybody else. I listed them earlier and I want to be clear on this.

  To go back to the payment and cross-Border workers, I am very familiar with the cross-Border workers because I know many of them who have contacted my office. I did look at this to see whether there was anything we could do to give them a payment because they were working in Monaghan and living in Armagh. I spoke to them. There is no way under the rules we have, which are set there for frontier workers, that they are eligible to get the payment. However, they are eligible to get the wage subsidy scheme. For example, the employer of people working in a factory in Monaghan and living in Armagh was able to claim the wage subsidy scheme for them and make sure they stayed on the books of that particular business during the lockdown. People who work in Northern Ireland and live south of the Border in Monaghan are entitled to the full pandemic unemployment payment. What is gained on one side is lost on the other and vice versa. This has always been the case when people live on the Border. Those are the rules as they are. Anybody living in Monaghan, Cavan or Donegal and working in the North gets the full unemployment payment.

Senator Elisha McCallion: Information on Elisha McCallion  Zoom on Elisha McCallion  Will the Minister check this information? The information we obtained from the European Commission two weeks ago states very clearly it is within the gift of the member state to make the payment. I ask the officials to look at this again. Certainly as far as Europe is concerned, if there were a willingness from the Government to make a payment, it would have no issue with it. What seems to be obvious to me at this stage, unless the Minister is getting the wrong advice, is that the Government is choosing not to make the payment.

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys If there is anyone who could make it happen I would be happy to do so. I will have my officials look at it again. I have been told that it could not happen and I have been up and down the road with this. Believe you me I would like to see some people I know who are working in Monaghan and living in Northern Ireland getting the payment too. The fact is that it could not be done, which is the information that I have, but I will certainly look at it again.

Senator Elisha McCallion: Information on Elisha McCallion  Zoom on Elisha McCallion  In order that the matter is not closed off, if it is the case that what I am saying is correct, can we then look at some sort of regulation that can be brought in after the legislation is passed to ensure that these people actually get a payment?

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I will have to wait to see what the advice is on this.

Senator Elisha McCallion: Information on Elisha McCallion  Zoom on Elisha McCallion  If they-----

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I am not going to make any commitments because it would be wrong of me to make a promise that I could not fulfil.

Senator Elisha McCallion: Information on Elisha McCallion  Zoom on Elisha McCallion  The Minister is telling me that if it could be done she would have done it. If I can prove to the Minister that it can be done can we then do it?

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I am saying to the Senator that I am going to look at it again.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Zoom on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Is section 8 agreed to?

Senator Elisha McCallion: Information on Elisha McCallion  Zoom on Elisha McCallion  It is, reluctantly.

  Question put and agreed to.

  Sections 9 and 10 agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Zoom on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Amendment No. 4 in the name of Senator Higgins is deemed out of order as to its relevance to the subject matter of the Bill.

  Amendment No. 4 not moved.

SECTION 11

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I move amendment No. 5.

In page 9, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:
“(6) The Minister shall, within three months of the passing of this Act, prepare a report to be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas considering steps which might be taken to—
(a) ensure persons in receipt of the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment on or before April 2021 have voluntary access to a range

     of education, training and employment opportunities, and

(b) ensure that, for no period in the 24 months following initial receipt of that payment, are the educational, training and employment opportunities available to an    

     individual limited to those provided by Jobpath.”.

I also want to raise some issues on this section. We have heard much discussion on unforeseen consequences and having to roll back and change things. There is the potential to avoid a number of unforeseen consequences, and consequences that are being foreseen because people are raising concerns about them now and raised them in the Dáil yesterday, if section 11 of the Bill was not commenced until 10 August. This is something that is at the Minister’s discretion as she can choose the commencement date in respect of different sections of the Bill. If she were to choose to wait until after 10 August in respect of the commencement of section 11 she could avoid a number of unnecessary ambiguities and anxieties for many people in many sectors.

  To clarify, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, can we have a separate opportunity to speak to this section after having discussed the amendments?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Zoom on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Yes, we can.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I will deal with this point somewhat further when speaking to the section.

  On amendment No. 5, I regret the fact that amendment No. 4 which related to persons on maternity leave was ruled out of order and I call for further action on this. I hope that we can discuss and engage with that in the other social welfare Bill that is coming in September or October. This will be a chance to increase the amount of paid and unpaid parental leave that is available to people. We know that many people whose maternity leave has expired had to proceed immediately to use up what would normally be a few years supply of parental leave, something that might have been spread over many years and is something that is happening now all at once. We are going to have a situation where many families have used up both maternity and parental leave by September or October. I am hoping that we may be able to discuss that in the next social welfare Bill even though it was not deemed acceptable to be debated in this Bill.

  Amendment No.5 engages with the questions of what supports are offered to persons on the pandemic unemployment payment. We know there is an issue that many of those on this payment effectively consider themselves as having a relevant employment and employer. They regard themselves as having been furloughed from the work that they already do, for example, in respect of pubs but also the arts sector, coaches, and many areas and sectors where activity has ceased as part of our collective Covid-19 solidarity. Many people do not regard themselves as searching but are in a sector, in a relevant area and have work that they want to do in that area; they have a very specific employer that they intend to return to. That is why if we delay commencement until 10 August, when many more of these sectors open up, we can keep that continuity of relationship in a clearer way for somebody who, for example, was either the owner of the pub - as some self-employed persons are affected and impacted by this and employing others - or indeed employees of a business that has gone into suspension.  If we delay commencement until 10 August, there will be clear continuity and no sense of an ambiguous week in which is a person is seeking but unable to obtain employment, as stated in subsection (1)(g), which refers to a person who is "genuinely seeking, but is unable to obtain, employment". That is the crucial link and it must be borne in mind that the entire logic behind the wage subsidy scheme and this scheme was the idea that we want to keep these threads that hold the fabric of society together and maintain a clear relationship, where one exists, between an employment and an employee. We want to have that sustained. A delayed commencement would allow those who started receiving this payment in March to walk into the pub they may have worked in for ten or 20 years when it reopens on 10 August. They would not have this strange five or six days on their record where the State has recorded them as being genuinely seeking but unable to obtain work. This is a very simple fix for the Minister. She does not even have to accept my amendments today but she can address this issue.

  The reason this is relevant is that for some people, despite the best intentions, the job they previously left may be gone. These people may be looking for work in the same sector and that is what this amendment deals with. I recognise that not everybody will return to the same job. In such circumstances, it is very important that everybody is given the full range of educational, training and employment supports and that these are relevant to them. If they are working in the arts, they need training, education and supports that are relevant to their work in the arts sector. It needs to be the proper kind of casework and it needs to be tailored to give that individual the best opportunities. That means having all of those options available.

  Looking a few months ahead, I am a little concerned about the danger that persons who have been unemployed since March will, come next March, find themselves technically long-term unemployed when, in fact, the sector they were in has only been operating again for a few months. I am concerned that these people could be routed into JobPath and, as a result, other options could be closed off to them. That is an issue that arose again and again on the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection of which I was a member in the previous term. We hear about people who knew of a training programme, back-to-education scheme or college course that was relevant to their skill set and would carry them forward, but they were unable to take it up because of an accident of timing. People who may have had their eye on a scheme or college course starting in September 2021 may have been placed on JobPath in June 2021 and told they would have to take a job, almost any job. That is a concern.

  I am trying to ensure that we give that 24 months of the full range of options to everybody affected by this payment and we just do not route or relocate them to other sectors. It is better, where possible, that people are routed to employment, retraining or new educational opportunities in the sector that is relevant to them. That has to be the first call and first stop. I am hoping the Minister can give us a sense of that. Perhaps she might be able to address this amendment in the social welfare Bill in the autumn, even if she cannot accept it today.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I will not add a great deal because Senator Higgins has touched on many of the points I had intended raising, notably the back-to-education issue. It is very welcome that the Department has indicated the pandemic unemployment payment can be part of a social welfare payment that can lead back to education. However, the fear is that we are moving into a space where many of the deadlines have already passed for people who may have decided to review their lives.  These people may be rethinking how they work, as they may no longer wish to work in a pub or hairdressers or anywhere they feel their skills cannot be transferred. Due to the pandemic they may be looking to upskill, retrain and move into different sectors or get a primary or master's degree. Unfortunately, for many such people, some deadlines have passed and they will have to put off returning to education until next year.

  Is there a category for those people who have been in long-term employment but who ended up on the PUP in order that they are not framed as long-term unemployed, and therefore, pointed to the likes of JobPath, which may prevent them from accessing back-to-education supports next year? Is there a new way we can categorise people who are now unemployed because of the pandemic but who are not naturally in the cohort of long-term unemployed? I wonder how we can capture them so that when the CAO process begins next February, they can be seen as a different category of people.

Senator Sharon Keogan: Information on Sharon Keogan Zoom on Sharon Keogan I support this section as well but I highlight the matter of people under 18 in apprenticeships. They could not access any payment during the pandemic. I do not know if this is something the Minister can examine. Some of these kids leave school at 16, perhaps with a junior certificate, and they get an apprenticeship. I know a number of young people in my area who were successful in getting apprenticeships with my help. They are in their second year of that but they could not get anything because they are under 18. Perhaps the Minister could examine that.

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I am sorry but I forgot to answer one of Senator Ruane's previous questions. The working family payment continues to be paid in conjunction with the Covid-19 provisions. A date and time had to be picked if a person was in employment on or after 13 March, whether employed or self-employed, and the Covid-19 payment was then made.

  I note the Senator's comments on getting people back to education. I do not know how that can be sorted. I will speak to my officials about it and I take the point she makes. People do not want to be categorised as the long-term unemployed. The Minister with responsibility for higher education, research, innovation and science, Deputy Simon Harris, and I announced a €200 million package as part of the Government's July stimulus package, and that is all about getting people back to work. I take the Senator's point that this is not about having any old job but rather having a job that somebody wants to do. Many people want to stay in the arts sector, for example, and they might not want to move to other areas. It is understandable.

  We will expand the use of local employment services, including job clubs and JobPath. We will increase the number of employment service staff within the Department and expand the youth employment support scheme to increase the number of places and widen the eligibility criteria so more people can avail of work placement. We will expand JobsPlus so there will be a subsidy for employers of either €7,500 or €10,000 to take somebody from the live register. We will increase the age from 25 to 30, as per the EU definition of youth age, which is now 29.

  We are also providing training grant schemes, back-to-enterprise allowances and a back-to-education allowance. We will increase the number of places on community employment schemes. I know the Leas-Chathaoirleach mentioned those earlier. They play a very important role. We will increase the number of places for Tús and we discussed the employment support grant earlier. On top of that, there will be 80,000 places for the likes of apprenticeships and courses in institutes of further education split between my Department and the Department with responsibility for higher education, research, innovation and science. There will be 45,000 places offered by one Department, with 35,000 places offered by the other Department.

  I know the amendment seeks a report but the measure of our success will be how many people we get back to work.  It is about getting them the right skills and jobs. It is also about getting them jobs they want and enjoy as well. I take on board the Senators' points.

Senator Sharon Keogan: Information on Sharon Keogan Zoom on Sharon Keogan What about the people under 18 who are apprentices? They could not access any money. They were not seeking the full pandemic unemployment payment but is there anything to encourage these young people to keep working and engaged with working society?

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The scope of the pandemic unemployment payment is clear as it is a working age payment, which covers people between 18 and 66.

Senator Sharon Keogan: Information on Sharon Keogan Zoom on Sharon Keogan I know that.

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I do not know if there is anything I can do for them. We can look at it.

Senator Sharon Keogan: Information on Sharon Keogan Zoom on Sharon Keogan I thank the Minister. I appreciate that.

Senator Micheál Carrigy: Information on Micheál Carrigy Zoom on Micheál Carrigy I have a query about the community employment schemes, which the Minister mentioned. I know my local scheme is struggling to get people to fill positions when others leave. Only recently, two people who turned 60 on a scheme received a letter and have seen their participation discontinued. I thought there was to be an extension so somebody over a certain age could serve up to five years on the scheme. These people were sent a letter indicating they cannot stay on the scheme. There are three positions now on the scheme that we cannot fill. Will the Minister look at the issue?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Zoom on  Leas-Chathaoirleach I concur in respect of community employment schemes, which are an important element.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I have a couple of matters to raise. The problem is not so much whether people are long-term unemployed but rather how we have been treating the long-term unemployed with the JobPath scheme. I am sure as the Minister enters her brief she will look back and see the litany of testimony from the social protection committee around the concerns arising from a narrowing of options associated with JobPath. The concern is not so much the categorisation but rather the limitation of options associated with the operation of JobPath to date.

  With respect, I suggest a measure of success will not simply be how many people are back in employment but rather how many people are back in employment, in education and in training. We know a simple "work first" approach often leads people to a cycle where they come back to the system again and again, whereas sometimes an educational intervention is what can give a person a long-term route. I really encourage the Minister to have this as an ambition for the Department. In fairness, the former Minister, Senator Regina Doherty, moved some of the thinking in the Department towards the idea that sometimes, "education first" is right. It is important to maintain it.

  Before becoming a Senator I worked with young unemployed people in rural Ireland. Something we pushed for many years at the time was the idea of a rural youth guarantee, so we should examine how the youth guarantee scheme works for young unemployed people in rural Ireland. There is an extra set of issues in this regard. The Minister mentioned some of the measures associated with the Youth Guarantee and it would be very good to have some of those measures addressing the rural context as well.

  There is potential for us to constructively engage on the amendment, although I will not press it. I will press an amendment later. I hope we will have an opportunity to engage around the full range of opportunities. Perhaps it is something we can look at in advance of the social welfare Bill in the autumn. I will speak to the section after the Minister's reply.

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The greatest number of requests I have had since becoming Minister relate to community employment schemes. There are always cases where people want to stay on community employment schemes and I understand the reasons. If everybody stayed on them, however, there would be no space for new people. The scheme is meant to allow people to get back to the workforce and into full employment. Having said that, I know some people are doing absolutely wonderful and valuable work through the scheme in communities right across the country. We changed the scheme so there are now certain exceptions applying to people over 55 and 62. It is possible the people referred to by the Senator are not in the right category.  I will look at the matter and we will be looking at the community employment schemes. I take the Senator's point that it is hard to get people to go on community employment schemes but unfortunately, as we come out of Covid, that may no longer be the case. It is about getting the balance right on the schemes. I will continue to work on this matter.

Senator Emer Currie: Information on Emer Currie Zoom on Emer Currie People have also been in contact with me regarding community employment schemes. It is hard to believe that only a few months ago we were talking about full employment and labour activation schemes for women who may have chosen to rear their children and for whom it is difficult to get back into the workplace. The former Minister, Senator Regina Doherty, was working on returnships. Community employment schemes are for people on the live register. They are not for women who may have chosen to be at home for a period of time and are not on jobseeker's allowance. However, such women, who would have reared their children in the area, are perfect for a community centre. The community centres I deal with have stated that they would love to have mothers work for them, but they could not get them and could not get people when we were at full employment. I ask the Minister to look at that specifically and allow women returners to work not just in corporate returnships but in their communities where they might be comfortable for a year.

Senator Barry Ward: Information on Barry Ward Zoom on Barry Ward I welcome the Minister's acknowledgment of the great work community employment schemes do, but the rural social scheme plays an important part in rural Ireland as well. Does the Government have plans to extend that scheme? I had a meeting the other day with the County Kildare Leader Partnership, which had been asked about this matter. I think the Minister also said she was hoping to expand the Tús scheme and create additional places. I ask her to confirm that for us.

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I will certainly look at the rural social scheme. It does wonderful work in rural Ireland.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  Question proposed: "That section 11 stand part of the Bill."

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins The Minister is aware from the debate in the Dáil of the serious concerns people have about this section and specifically the provision which has been inserted as part of the new section 68L(1)(g). The subsection requires that someone be genuinely seeking but "unable to obtain employment suitable for him or her, having regard to his or her age, physique, education, normal occupation, place of residence and family circumstance". A number of problems and questions arise from that provision. Serious concerns are being widely expressed by persons who believed they had been on furlough. This Bill would effectively switch their payment to a jobseeker's payment, which it was not. It was previously an income support payment as part of a solidarity effort. They are very different things and this is a switch in purpose and requirements. It was unhelpful that the former Minister for Social Protection, the Tánaiste, Deputy Leo Varadkar, inaccurately stated at the weekend that people were required to be seeking work when they were not. That was not the law and that was not what the payment was for. That led to a huge amount of inaccuracy and it was unfortunate that the gov.ie website echoed that inaccurate information. This is a real concern and people are worried. Many people who are on this payment, some whom are on such a payment for the first time in their lives, are very concerned that the rules might just change at any time, whenever a Minister says anything.  This section would place that requirement into law, and there are a number of problems with that. What does it mean for those who are furloughed from a specific employer within a sector that has been asked to suspend activities? This does not apply only to pubs but to coaches and much of the arts and entertainment industry. Many aspects of the economy and society are either still in suspension or are not functioning at full capacity.

  When I spoke to my amendment earlier, I asked what this section will mean for the relationship between an existing employer and a former employee who is on the pandemic unemployment payment, and that question has not been answered. The workplace subsidy scheme has been used for businesses that have been proceeding in their work and the State has subsidised them. Many people on the pandemic unemployment payment have a very direct relationship with their employer. Some of them are the employer, because many people in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment are self-employed persons who run a business and who have a number of people depending on them. We have had messages about people running nightclubs and so on. Will they now be categorised as seeking work and unable to obtain it? What does that mean for their employees, who might also be on the same payment? There is so much ambiguity about this.

  Some people already have plans to walk back into their pubs on 10 August. It is not just young people and teenagers who work in pubs. Many people in rural Ireland work in a pub for 20 years or 30 years, and some of them are linchpins of society. People work in pubs in the long term. If this Bill goes through today and continues its journey into law, there will be a five-day period during which the State records such people as not having an active link with that employment, but as genuinely seeking and unable to obtain employment. They will not be considered to be in employment and will not have a link with that employer. Ambiguity has been created around this issue. While a delayed commencement to 10 August would not solve all these issues and there would still be huge problems with the Bill, it would mean a certain proportion of the relevant businesses and employers would be allowed to open, because many of them currently cannot. Many of them would like to start work tomorrow and tell their staff they do not have to go on this new Covid pandemic unemployment payment and can start work from 2 August, but they cannot. They are not allowed because their sector or business is not allowed to open until 10 August. A very messy situation has been created which will be difficult and distressing for thousands of individuals. The Minister could simply address this by delaying the commencement of this section until 10 August, which would delay some of the potential negative impact.

  The other thing that happens on 10 August is that redundancy rules come back into play. Redundancy has been suspended during the pandemic, as part of the philosophy put forward by the Government and supported by everybody. We talk about solidarity and working, and we in the Opposition have worked constructively with the Government. Those of us who were outgoing Senators were recalled and we came back and helped the Government pass necessary legislation. Everybody worked constructively in the national interest in that period. One of our key principles was keeping the connections between employers and employees and as part of that, redundancy was suspended. Under that principle, we did not want employers prematurely making people redundant, as we do not want to prematurely break the link between employers and employees. I simply ask that this Bill be in tune with such principles.  The redundancy issue raises some questions. I hope the Minister will be able to give some clarity on this. If somebody is moved on to this payment, is registered as not having employment officially and is seeking employment, what will that mean for that person's continuity of employment in respect of workplace entitlements? If somebody was doing a job before March, went on this payment and goes back into that job on 10 August, what does this payment mean for that person's continuity of service? What does it mean for his or her entitlements to redundancy? I accept that after 10 August such persons will have a right in respect of redundancy, but I need clarity. In the other House, the Minister noted that it would not affect an individual's rights in respect of redundancy. I want to know that it will not affect the level of payment, the level of entitlement and the level of redundancy persons would expect.

  There are requirements, including, for example, that people need to file within a month. The 2003 Act provides for certain breaks in employment, but we do not have in this legislation or through statutory instrument clarity as to whether five days or one week would be registered as a break in employment when it comes to lump sum redundancy payments or other redundancy entitlements. I would be delighted if the Minister could assure me that this will not have any impact, but I know that people have real concerns because some people will go back to work on 10 August, 20 August or some time in September. Some of them will be told on 10 August that their employer is halving the number of staff because of the reduced amount of work. Others will return to work and it might take three, four or five weeks to be told that half of the staff in their company are to be let go. Will these people be treated as new hires? Does it reflect the full continuity of service? Is this formally recognised as a break?

  The Minister can see the potential messiness. I hope she can assure me on those issues in general and perhaps also give an indication about a later commencement date. I have a principled concern about section 68L(1)(g) and how it is done in any event. I hope we can at least do some damage limitation here.

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Any employee who has been employed by the same employer for two years is entitled to redundancy payment. This legislation will not impact their rights in any way. I want to be clear on that.

  Regarding people who hope to go back to jobs, on 10 August, the remaining sectors of the economy will hopefully be able to reopen. Of course, we are always guided by public health advice. I said earlier that the Department will take a very practical approach regarding those people who are expecting to go back to their particular sector. For people in a sector that is waiting to reopen soon, that is okay. The point is that this payment was due to stop on 10 August. We are now extending it until 1 April 2021. Then we wash out and people will be entitled to the standard jobseeker's payment. I apologise to Senator Burke who asked me that question earlier and I forgot to answer it.

  From 17 September, the payments change and will be more aligned to what people earned before the start of the pandemic. They will stay in place until 1 February when they are reduced again. They will continue until 1 April when jobseeker's payment kicks in again. That is a long time for someone not to be seeking work and it is only right that people should be looking for work. We must call a spade a spade here because unfortunately in some cases people will not get their jobs back. We are investing all this money to help them to reskill and upskill and go back to education so that we can get them back to work. The quicker we can get them back to work, the better.  We have introduced this legislation so that we can do as much as we can to help people.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I have still not really had any answer on the issue of commencement.

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Sorry, yes.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins The Minister might have a chance to come back again. She has made the case very clearly. This is not an extension of a payment. This is a new payment that is being introduced. It is a new payment with a new requirement. It is going from being a supplementary welfare solidarity payment of income support into being a jobseeker's payment which requires the seeking of jobs. It is a new payment that people are being moved onto and not an extension. I am glad there is a payment that is continuing until April, but let us not call it the same payment.

  The previous payment, the solidarity income-support payment, ensured that people maintained their incomes, minimised disruption to society and the economy kept going. We need to bear in mind that this income supplement is what keeps people paying their rent and other bills and doing whatever they need to do such as buying things in the supermarket or in the local shops. This income support was rightly a measure to ensure the economy and society kept functioning. That payment was due to continue until 10 August. It was due to track the same date as the opening up of the economy. There is a reason that the pandemic unemployment payment, as was, went until 10 August, that the redundancy law changed on 10 August and that the sectors of society were all going to open up on 10 August because they went together. However, this new different thing that we are bringing into law today is a jobseeker's payment and its coming in prematurely damages that entire picture - the big solidarity picture, the idea that we are all going to be in it together and every layer will kick back into action on 10 August - and it creates messiness.

  The Minister talks about officials being practical, etc. It is not simply the opinion of an individual case worker that people are concerned about or whether a social worker or Intreo officer will be helpful or mean to them or will understand their situation, or if the individual will be in trouble. People care about their records and the records the State has about them. If the State will have a record that they were genuinely seeking but unable to obtain employment regardless of whether the Department or an individual social welfare or Intreo officer decides to apply some sanction on them in respect of it, that is where the practicality comes in. Practicality can deal with that sanction but this law deals with the description of the person. This law will describe that person as a person who is genuinely seeking but unable to obtain employment. They will be described as such potentially ad infinitum, but for a period of four to five days that takes them to 10 August when they may have been planning to get back into their job.

  The Minister has not addressed that commencement issue. This is how she can take one big step towards bringing this into compatibility and deal with some of the concerns. I ask the Minister to give me an indication on that.

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys There is no commencement order in the Bill.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins The Minister has discretion.

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Yes, I have discretion. Is that okay?

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I am asking the Minister about her intentions in using that discretion.

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Obviously, I am fairly new in this job and I will be guided by my officials. I take the Senator's point. For people who know that they are going to get their job back in two weeks or three weeks - that the pub is going to open or the hotel is going to scale up or whatever is going to happen - nobody will all of a sudden make them go and find another job in the meantime and they will not be taken off the payment. That is just being reasonable. We will take a practical approach here.  Let us face it, this payment was introduced to try to help people. We are not trying to penalise people or catch those who are genuine, who know that they will be back in their job in a pub on 10 August, which is not that long away now. This is to help people; it is not to try to entrap them.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I hope the Minister will arrange a meeting with officials, legal advice, civil society and so forth and consider the points I have made in respect of commencement. The concern is about the practicality. What the Minister outlined addresses the sanction, it does not address the core problem of description. In that context, regrettably, I must oppose the section as it is at the moment, but I hope the Minister will take on board some of the questions and comments I have made on the commencement date and that she will consider them, given that she has a few days in which to decide how she wants to approach that matter. I believe, especially after the distressed calls this week, we should stay clear of any avoidable ambiguity or unnecessary distress. Perhaps that is something that could be considered further.

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys It is not the intention to cause anybody distress.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I understand that.

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys As I stated, there is no commencement order in this Act, and we will certainly take on board the Senator's views.

Question put:

The Committee divided: Tá, 35; Níl, 7.

Níl
Information on Garret Ahearn   Zoom on Garret Ahearn   Ahearn, Garret. Information on Gerard P. Craughwell   Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell   Craughwell, Gerard P.
Information on Catherine Ardagh   Zoom on Catherine Ardagh   Ardagh, Catherine. Information on Alice-Mary Higgins   Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins   Higgins, Alice-Mary.
Information on Niall Blaney   Zoom on Niall Blaney   Blaney, Niall. Information on Annie Hoey   Zoom on Annie Hoey   Hoey, Annie.
Information on Victor Boyhan   Zoom on Victor Boyhan   Boyhan, Victor. Information on Rebecca Moynihan   Zoom on Rebecca Moynihan   Moynihan, Rebecca.
Information on Paddy Burke   Zoom on Paddy Burke   Burke, Paddy. Information on Lynn Ruane   Zoom on Lynn Ruane   Ruane, Lynn.
Information on  Leas-Chathaoirleach   Zoom on  Leas-Chathaoirleach   Buttimer, Jerry. Information on Marie Sherlock   Zoom on Marie Sherlock   Sherlock, Marie.
Information on Malcolm Byrne   Zoom on Malcolm Byrne   Byrne, Malcolm. Information on Mark Wall   Zoom on Mark Wall   Wall, Mark.
Information on Micheál Carrigy   Zoom on Micheál Carrigy   Carrigy, Micheál.  
Information on Pat Casey   Zoom on Pat Casey   Casey, Pat.  
Information on Shane Cassells   Zoom on Shane Cassells   Cassells, Shane.  
Information on Martin Conway   Zoom on Martin Conway   Conway, Martin.  
Information on Ollie Crowe   Zoom on Ollie Crowe   Crowe, Ollie.  
Information on John Cummins   Zoom on John Cummins   Cummins, John.  
Information on Emer Currie   Zoom on Emer Currie   Currie, Emer.  
Information on Michael  D'Arcy   Zoom on Michael  D'Arcy   D'Arcy, Michael.  
Information on Paul Daly   Zoom on Paul Daly   Daly, Paul.  
Information on Aidan Davitt   Zoom on Aidan Davitt   Davitt, Aidan.  
Information on Aisling Dolan   Zoom on Aisling Dolan   Dolan, Aisling.  
Information on Timmy Dooley   Zoom on Timmy Dooley   Dooley, Timmy.  
Information on Mary Fitzpatrick   Zoom on Mary Fitzpatrick   Fitzpatrick, Mary.  
Information on Robbie Gallagher   Zoom on Robbie Gallagher   Gallagher, Robbie.  
Information on Róisín Garvey   Zoom on Róisín Garvey   Garvey, Róisín.  
Information on Sharon Keogan   Zoom on Sharon Keogan   Keogan, Sharon.  
Information on Seán Kyne   Zoom on Seán Kyne   Kyne, Seán.  
Information on Tim Lombard   Zoom on Tim Lombard   Lombard, Tim.  
Information on John McGahon   Zoom on John McGahon   McGahon, John.  
Information on Erin McGreehan   Zoom on Erin McGreehan   McGreehan, Erin.  
Information on Rónán Mullen   Zoom on Rónán Mullen   Mullen, Rónán.  
Information on Fiona O'Loughlin   Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin   O'Loughlin, Fiona.  
Information on Joe O'Reilly   Zoom on Joe O'Reilly   O'Reilly, Joe.  
Information on Pauline O'Reilly   Zoom on Pauline O'Reilly   O'Reilly, Pauline.  
Information on Ned O'Sullivan   Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan   O'Sullivan, Ned.  
Information on Mary Seery Kearney   Zoom on Mary Seery Kearney   Seery Kearney, Mary.  
Information on Barry Ward   Zoom on Barry Ward   Ward, Barry.  
Information on Diarmuid Wilson   Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson   Wilson, Diarmuid.  


Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Daly and Seán Kyne; Níl, Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and Lynn Ruane.

Question declared carried.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Zoom on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Amendment No. 6 in the name of Senator Higgins has been ruled out of order.

  Amendment No. 6 not moved.

SECTION 12

  Question proposed: "That section 12 stand part of the Bill."

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins There is an issue which I hope we can address. My colleague spoke about the fact that currently the requirement for the working family payment, which is a vital subsidy for many people, is that they would be working 38 hours in a fortnight, that is, 19 hours in a week. That has long been a problem in respect of one sector, namely, childcare, whereby most people are on 15 hour contracts. The fact that childcare is only for 15 hours means that those who are reliant on that childcare, in many cases, can only work for 15 hours, but it also means that many people who work in the childcare sector only have 15-hour contracts. We have had a long-standing anomaly whereby a lot of people caring for children, who themselves are on very low wages, are effectively banned from the working family supplement that they might very much need.

  We know there has been an issue with people leaving the childcare sector, with a loss of people working in the sector. That issue, which I have been raising for many years, is now exacerbated by Covid and the fact, as was eloquently described by my colleague earlier, that a lot of people are coming back and they do not know the hours. The hours will be a little bit unpredictable. People who may have had a very long-established schedule, that totally placed them over the 19 hours, as normal, may have aberrations or weeks and months in which their schedule becomes more unpredictable. The amendment was to ask the Minister to give them an assurance that their working family payment would not be in jeopardy, and perhaps to lower the threshold. However, it has been ruled out of order so the Minister does not need to address it for now, but I hope we can address it in advance of the social welfare Bill. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs could be part of the conversation in terms of trying to ensure the sustainability of the childcare sector in Ireland.

  Question put and agreed to.

NEW SECTION

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I move amendment No. 7:

In page 11, after line 38, to insert the following:“Report on Social Welfare (Consolidated Claims, Payments and Control) (Amendment)(No. 9) (Absence from the State) Regulations 2020 (S.I. No. 242 of 2020)

13. In respect of the amendment made to section 249 of the Principal Act by the Social Welfare (Consolidated Claims, Payments and Control) (Amendment) (No. 9) (Absence from the State) Regulations 2020 (S.I. No. 242 of 2020), the Minister shall—
(a)within six weeks of the passing of this Act, prepare a report to be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas containing the rationale behind S.I. No. 242 of 2020 and information on the manner of its implementation, including detail on any data sharing arrangements and the action of social welfare inspectors in airports, and

(b) ensure that any persons to whom S.I. No. 242 of 2020 might apply are provided with such explanatory and supporting documents from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection as may be required when seeking refunds in respect of cancelled foreign travel.”.

This is a new section I am proposing in light of the high levels of confusion in terms of the different messages we have had and the ambiguity that has been created. Today, I see the Minister has referred again to making new regulations. I note that the statutory instrument that was there, SI 242, actually said that people could holiday but they had to be compliant with the general Government travel advisory on Covid. It was not one particular instance of the general travel advisory, as the travel advisory was a moving entity.  A new statutory instrument is not needed, therefore, because the existing instrument provides for people taking a holiday in compliance with the travel advisory.

There is a separate equity and justice issue arising here and it is what I am seeking to address in the amendment. There is an inequity in that, for most persons in the State, the travel advisory is merely advisory, but for those who are on a jobseeker's payment, it seems very much to be a requirement and it has penalty and consequence if they are out of line with it. At the time the gov.iewebsite was telling people they could not travel for a holiday, they were, in fact, entitled to do so under SI 242 of 10 July 2020. The instrument simply said that - I will use the exact words because this is the nub of everything - people could take a holiday "in accordance with the general Covid-19 travel advice" from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The most important point here is that in the application of the statutory instrument, there was an understanding that the Department would make itself constantly apprised of changes but the provision was already in place. When people were told this week that they could not go on holiday, that was not accurate. It is not the case that it will become possible for them to do so today by way of changes in regulations; it was already legally possible for them to do so.

There are questions to be asked about the travel advisory from the Government and whether there should be a green list of countries to which non-essential travel is open. We should perhaps have a much narrower remit regarding who can travel and what non-essential travel is allowed. I am aware that the guidance is, in part, a measure to protect the airlines by allowing flights to continue. However, there are other ways in which the Government could protect and support Aer Lingus and the case has been made very strongly in both Houses for the need for State intervention and support in that regard. If it is keeping non-essential flights moving and non-essential travel in play, which is what the Government decided to do in its advisory, and if the travel advisory is general and applies to everybody, then it was, since 10 July, also the general travel advisory for people on the PUP. It is important that we be really clear on that. I am asking in this amendment for a report in respect of SI 242, which was brought in on 10 July 2020. I want to know a little bit about the rationale behind the instrument. What is the rationale for making it a requirement for certain cohorts of the population, including those who are on jobseeker's payments, to comply with the travel advisory, whereas for everybody else, it is simply just advice? That is a concern and an inconsistency and it creates ambiguity.

Another question I have relates to the manner of implementation of the statutory instrument, and this is where there are significant outstanding concerns. The Data Protection Commissioner has indicated she has concerns and wants answers in respect of how information was accessed. The Minister told us in the House that no information is shared and no information is accessed. I do not doubt her bona fides in believing this to be the case, but we need to know for certain that it is the case and a report would give certainty. We have had reports of people who had booked to travel on a ferry but never went to the port and never boarded that ferry but who nevertheless had their payment stopped. This was done, they were told, because they had left the country. There are questions as to how that information was accessed. There are also multiple reports of people being asked for their PPS number and being told there was an immigration concern. Having been asked by gardaí for their PPS number, they found that this information was then conveyed to their social welfare office in reference to the payment they were receiving. They were told-----

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Zoom on  Leas-Chathaoirleach I wish to clarify that we are discussing the proposed new section 13.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins Yes, I am discussing my amendment No. 7 in respect of SI 242, concerning travel, and its implementation. What I am saying is directly relevant to what I set out the amendment. I am speaking specifically to the provision that a report be produced containing details on any data-sharing arrangements arising out of inspection procedures and the actions of social welfare inspectors at ports and airports. I am pointing out to the Minister that there is an inconsistency between what we have heard from her today and from her Department, on the one hand, and what we have heard from individuals who are being asked questions by gardaí at ports and airports.

  I have seen a report suggesting that 114 staff were assigned to examine false claims, including a secondment of 20 gardaí. It is very notable, as another speaker observed, that the HSA has carried out only 67 inspectors during the Covid period. There are 114 people busily working to try to catch out individuals who may have been impacted by the Covid-19 crisis but only 67 inspectors inspecting workplaces to ensure they are safe, even though we know that unsafe workplaces are one of the greatest causes of an escalation in infections. That is why I want the Minister to address the work assignations and actions of social welfare inspectors. It might have been a better use of 20 gardaí to second them to the HSA to allow for an escalation of inspections, as Senator Gavan suggested earlier, in meat processing factories, construction sites and other places where we have seen clusters develop and where we know there are not enough health and safety inspectors going in. It is a question of prioritisation.

  I am seeking a report on who was carrying out inspections at ports and airports and why they were doing so. Regardless of whether gardaí are seconded to the social welfare service and whether they are seconded as social welfare inspectors, if such gardaí do not make clear the purposes for which they are seeking information from individuals at the time they are seeking it, then that is not a valid action and it is not in line with GDPR requirements. People need to be very clear about the purposes for which information is being sought from them. We know there are multiple reports of individuals being told that the information was sought in respect of immigration control measures or something else. They were not told that the information was being sought in respect of their qualification for social welfare payments.

  These issues need to be addressed and resolved. There is also concern, as I said, in respect of the sharing of data from passenger travel manifests. Again, the Data Protection Commissioner herself has expressed concerns in this regard. I hope the Minister will indicate that she intends to co-operate very fully and in a very timely way with the commissioner. There have been frustrations in that regard in the past, not from the Minister personally but in terms of the Department and its engagement with the commissioner. I hope the latter will have full and speedy co-operation in every respect on this matter. I have outlined the concerns regarding data-sharing arrangements. If a person has booked with a transit company to travel and does not travel, and that information is apparently known to their local social welfare office, then that office got it somehow and from somewhere. The question of how that is happening needs to be examined.

  Finally, subsection (b) of my amendment would introduce a requirement that all persons to whom SI 242 might apply, including all of those on PUP and who were required by the statutory instrument to travel only in accordance with the general Covid travel advisory, that is, to avoid all non-essential travel except to green-list countries, would be given explanatory and supporting documents from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to allow them to seek refunds in respect of the cancellation of foreign travel.  It would be a practical measure and, I suggest, a nice gesture. Regardless of whether the Minister accepts my amendment, she might indicate that she may do this for those who have been given mixed signals, inaccurate information, confusing suggestions and information on Government websites to the effect that they cannot travel. Some may have cancelled their plans to travel this week, even though they were allowed to travel under the statutory instrument. She might also consider doing so for those who, without having been told to do so, saw the travel advisory and were not at airports because, like the person we heard about who had a ferry journey booked but chose not to take it, made a responsible decision not to go to airports or ports and not to continue with their existing travel plans. That was not simply a choice they have made. As it is a requirement on them by the Department, I ask that they be given paperwork from the Department to communicate that to allow them to try to get their money back on holidays booked. In some cases, these will be holidays people booked before they became unemployed. In other cases, they will be holidays people booked even though they are unemployed. It is also important to remember that, in many cases, a person who is unemployed is part of a family. They may have a wife, husband or partner. They may have children. All of those travel plans for that entire family are impacted by the statutory instrument. Families who have a family holiday booked and have chosen to cancel it or discovered they had to cancel it this week should be entitled to seek compensation or some form of refund. I hope the Department will give these families the paperwork they need to do that as expeditiously and easily as possible.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I am sure nobody in Cabinet set out to set up some sort of a Stasi-type operation in Dublin Airport, Cork Airport or wherever but it is a little disconcerting-----

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys It does not exist.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell Regarding the case alluded to by Senator Higgins of an individual who booked a ferry trip but did not take it, somebody somewhere had to share that information. I am sure the Minister is as concerned about that as Members are. From that point of view, I fully support what Senator Higgins is trying to do. We need to know how this information was passed back and forth. Stopping people randomly at Dublin Airport, Cork Airport or wherever is one thing but it looks a little planned or orchestrated. On that basis, I will be supporting Senator Higgins's amendment. I am interested in hearing the Minister's answer. I am almost 100% sure she personally had nothing to do with this but I would be interested to hear the Minister's response.

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I was not out in the airport-----

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I am sure she was not out there.

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys -----and I have no intention of going there.

  We need to put this issue into perspective. Social welfare staff paid the pandemic unemployment payment to more than 600,000 people. They did it by way of a one-page online application. The normal checks did not apply. They did not have face-to-face meetings. They did not have those normal checks. The payment was introduced quickly, as the Senator knows. As we all said at the time, speed trumped perfection. The truth is that there was room for some to abuse it. Given the size of the budget of this Department, it has always had a control function. It is the biggest payment organisation in the State and there has to be checks and balances in place because, unfortunately, not everybody is transparent and honest in their dealings with the Department. The staff have to check. That is part of what they do. I gave this figure earlier. Since 13 March, the claims of 2,500 PUP recipients were stopped because the majority of them - well over 90% - were leaving the country permanently.  They were not entitled to receive that payment, nor should they be getting it. We cannot pay everybody who comes into this country and then decides to leave. We cannot keep giving them payments while not living here. Those are the rules. Those figures alone would have cost the Irish taxpayer €20.5 million. They are the people who will have to pay that bill at the end of the day. There is a responsibility on the staff of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. There have always been people working on the checks and controls, and they do a very good job. Somebody may have been asked a question they should not have been asked but the Senator has to realise the volume of what they are dealing with. I do not believe the staff go out to intentionally target any particular group. In fact, I know they do not, but they have to ask the questions.

  I want to make it very clear also that there is no data sharing. I will repeat that in case anybody thinks that is the case. There is no data sharing with my Department. My officials have assured me that it does not happen. The only people we share the data with is the Revenue Commissioners. That is in the legislation. We are allowed to do that, but there is no data sharing with officials in the Dublin Airport Authority or any place else.

  The public health advice remains that people should holiday in Ireland. I do not know why everybody is suddenly obsessed with going abroad because the public health advice is that we should stay here. I am staying here, and I am sure most of the people in this room are staying here. We are all holidaying in Ireland because we have been told clearly to do that. I saw on the news this evening that the pandemic is accelerating across Europe. At the time this was looked at it was felt that we wanted to encourage as many people as possible to stay at home, and we know that. Members should think back to a few months ago. Do they remember the outrage over the Cheltenham festival? There was outrage that people were allowed travel to Cheltenham. They returned and it was felt that they had brought back the virus with them. I very much hope that the virus does not increase in this country but if it did at some future stage, I would be in this House answering questions as to the reason my Department was paying out payments to people who went against public health advice by leaving this country. That is something we have to consider. The way the regulations are worded now means that people can travel to countries on the green list and their payment will not be affected. If someone is travelling to one of those countries he or she will not have to isolate when they come back here. The transmission rate in those countries is either the same or lower than here so they can do that. In terms of all the rest, the public health advice is that people should not travel to those countries. We cannot ignore that advice and must take account of it.

  I cannot accept this amendment. SI 242/2020 was laid before both Houses and the Senator did not seek to annul it. The statutory instrument has no relevance to the statutory powers of inspectors. These powers are under section 250(16) of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005, as amended.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins With due respect to the Minister, the issue of actions in respect of persons who are not living in Ireland - the 90% of cases, as she described it - are not relevant to the report I seek. It is not in respect of the right and function of the control of the Department in terms of ensuring that the persons who are getting payments are living in Ireland. I would underscore that I believe there will be future problems if that construction of living in Ireland becomes "in Ireland at all times". There are question marks around the requirement of people to notify the Department every time they are not in the country; that is a separate issue. My amendment, and the report I seek, does not relate to any of those 2,000 people. They specifically relate to persons who are penalised in respect of having been, or are suspected of having been, on holiday.  "Holiday" does not mean "not living in the country". My amendment and report relate to the provisions in SI 242, which changed the definition of "holiday". Bear in mind that jobseekers have always been entitled to two weeks' holiday. I am not seeking to annul SI 242. I am simply asking for clarity about how it has been implemented. It makes the definition of "holiday" mean "holiday, in accordance with the Covid-19 General Travel Advisory in operation by the Department of Foreign Affairs". Someone can holiday in accordance with that advisory.

  I agree with the Minister that people should not be holidaying abroad and should be holidaying at home. It is regrettable that the Government does not give more robust advice on that matter. It will not be the Minister on her own who will be answering before a committee or the Houses of the Oireachtas in future. This will not be on her, given that it was a Government decision - specifically, it was the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - to give a general Covid-19 travel advisory that advised against non-essential travel but explicitly excluded a number of countries known as the green list countries, those being, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Hungary, Greece, etc. I disagree with the Minister, in that I do not believe that the advice to avoid travel was clear. The Government's advice is that people can travel to these countries regardless of whether it is essential. That is not ideal advice, and we know that the virus is already entering its second wave in many countries. We should have much more restrictive general Covid-19 travel advisories. If we did, SI 242 would not even have to change because it simply refers to the ongoing travel advisory. New regulations would not need to be made because this statutory instrument would cover us. This is a key point.

  There is an ethical issue if there is a general travel advisory in respect of most persons but others are told it is a requirement. Many people gain money from the State or are supported by it in other ways, yet the State is not using an instrument or a threat of the withdrawal of payments to make them take what is advisory as a requirement. There is an inequality in treatment, which is a concern and something that I hope a report could address.

  The Minister might speak on my next point, which relates to those who have cancelled holidays and are on the PUP or other jobseeker's payments. Will the Department provide them with all of the necessary paperwork in a timely way that allows them to seek refunds in respect of those cancelled holidays? Due to the travel advisory, if I cancelled my holiday to Italy - I will not have a holiday in Italy, as I will be in Galway - I would not be entitled to much because it was only advisory. That is the case for most of us. Were I on the PUP, however, and I cancelled that holiday because I was concerned by what I had seen this week or had already decided sensibly and out of good conscience not to go to Italy, would the Department give me useful paperwork because I was required by SI 242 to abide by the advisory? Bear in mind, this might be the last big outlay a family spends on itself for one, two or three years of extremely tight times ahead. It would be a practical and generous gesture if the Minister indicated that she would do everything she could to ensure that those to whom SI 242 applied - everyone on jobseeker's payments - and who obeyed this instrument and cancelled a holiday were supported.

  The Minister is right. This would not apply to Italy because I would not need to cancel that holiday. Perhaps Spain or somewhere else would have been a better example.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Zoom on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Definitely not Galway or Cork.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins No. Galway is lovely and open to visit. So is Clare.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Zoom on  Leas-Chathaoirleach How stands the amendment? The Minister has said she-----

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins Will the Minister provide clarity on the issue of the paperwork for persons who have cancelled?

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys This regulation relates to the PUP. We are putting the PUP on the same footing as jobseeker's payments. That is the statutory instrument's purpose.

Amendment put:

The Committee divided: Tá, 16; Níl, 32.

Níl
Information on Victor Boyhan   Zoom on Victor Boyhan   Boyhan, Victor. Information on Garret Ahearn   Zoom on Garret Ahearn   Ahearn, Garret.
Information on Lynn Boylan   Zoom on Lynn Boylan   Boylan, Lynn. Information on Catherine Ardagh   Zoom on Catherine Ardagh   Ardagh, Catherine.
Information on Gerard P. Craughwell   Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell   Craughwell, Gerard P. Information on Niall Blaney   Zoom on Niall Blaney   Blaney, Niall.
Information on Eileen Flynn   Zoom on Eileen Flynn   Flynn, Eileen. Information on Paddy Burke   Zoom on Paddy Burke   Burke, Paddy.
Information on Paul Gavan   Zoom on Paul Gavan   Gavan, Paul. Information on Malcolm Byrne   Zoom on Malcolm Byrne   Byrne, Malcolm.
Information on Alice-Mary Higgins   Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins   Higgins, Alice-Mary. Information on Micheál Carrigy   Zoom on Micheál Carrigy   Carrigy, Micheál.
Information on Annie Hoey   Zoom on Annie Hoey   Hoey, Annie. Information on Pat Casey   Zoom on Pat Casey   Casey, Pat.
Information on Sharon Keogan   Zoom on Sharon Keogan   Keogan, Sharon. Information on Shane Cassells   Zoom on Shane Cassells   Cassells, Shane.
Information on Elisha McCallion   Zoom on Elisha McCallion   McCallion, Elisha. Information on Martin Conway   Zoom on Martin Conway   Conway, Martin.
Information on Rebecca Moynihan   Zoom on Rebecca Moynihan   Moynihan, Rebecca. Information on Ollie Crowe   Zoom on Ollie Crowe   Crowe, Ollie.
Information on Rónán Mullen   Zoom on Rónán Mullen   Mullen, Rónán. Information on John Cummins   Zoom on John Cummins   Cummins, John.
Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile   Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile   Ó Donnghaile, Niall. Information on Emer Currie   Zoom on Emer Currie   Currie, Emer.
Information on Lynn Ruane   Zoom on Lynn Ruane   Ruane, Lynn. Information on Michael  D'Arcy   Zoom on Michael  D'Arcy   D'Arcy, Michael.
Information on Marie Sherlock   Zoom on Marie Sherlock   Sherlock, Marie. Information on Paul Daly   Zoom on Paul Daly   Daly, Paul.
Information on Mark Wall   Zoom on Mark Wall   Wall, Mark. Information on Aisling Dolan   Zoom on Aisling Dolan   Dolan, Aisling.
Information on Fintan Warfield   Zoom on Fintan Warfield   Warfield, Fintan. Information on Timmy Dooley   Zoom on Timmy Dooley   Dooley, Timmy.
  Information on Mary Fitzpatrick   Zoom on Mary Fitzpatrick   Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  Information on Robbie Gallagher   Zoom on Robbie Gallagher   Gallagher, Robbie.
  Information on Róisín Garvey   Zoom on Róisín Garvey   Garvey, Róisín.
  Information on Pippa Hackett   Zoom on Pippa Hackett   Hackett, Pippa.
  Information on Seán Kyne   Zoom on Seán Kyne   Kyne, Seán.
  Information on Tim Lombard   Zoom on Tim Lombard   Lombard, Tim.
  Information on Vincent P. Martin   Zoom on Vincent P. Martin   Martin, Vincent P.
  Information on John McGahon   Zoom on John McGahon   McGahon, John.
  Information on Erin McGreehan   Zoom on Erin McGreehan   McGreehan, Erin.
  Information on Eugene Murphy   Zoom on Eugene Murphy   Murphy, Eugene.
  Information on Fiona O'Loughlin   Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin   O'Loughlin, Fiona.
  Information on Joe O'Reilly   Zoom on Joe O'Reilly   O'Reilly, Joe.
  Information on Pauline O'Reilly   Zoom on Pauline O'Reilly   O'Reilly, Pauline.
  Information on Mary Seery Kearney   Zoom on Mary Seery Kearney   Seery Kearney, Mary.
  Information on Barry Ward   Zoom on Barry Ward   Ward, Barry.
  Information on Diarmuid Wilson   Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson   Wilson, Diarmuid.


Tellers: Tá, Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and Lynn Ruane; Níl, Senators Paul Daly and Seán Kyne.

Amendment declared lost.

  Section 13 agreed to.

  Title agreed to.

  Bill reported without amendment.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Zoom on  Leas-Chathaoirleach When is it proposed to take Report Stage?

Senator Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne Now.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Zoom on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Bill received for final consideration.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Zoom on  Leas-Chathaoirleach When is it proposed to take Fifth Stage?

Senator Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne Now.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Zoom on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I thank Senators for their contributions and their co-operation in passing this Bill.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I hope that the Minister will bear in mind and consider the issue I mentioned in respect of the commencement date. It could be useful to her.

  Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Zoom on  Leas-Chathaoirleach When is it proposed to sit again?

Senator Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.

  The Seanad adjourned at 7 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 30 July 2020.


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