Thursday, 29 April 2021
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
I agree with the Tánaiste that today is a day of hope across the entire country considering some of the announcements that are being made. In particular, it is a day of hope for the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and her husband, whom I congratulate. It is a day of hope in the mid-west but we cannot live on hope alone. There is a marked absence of announcements on when the hospitality industry will open. I refer in particular to hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation. There is an absence of a plan for the aviation sector. Shannon Airport still does not have a chair and is expected to resurrect itself miraculously without one. Shannon Heritage sites are being opened. We still do not know what their future will be. It is 15 months since I raised this issue in the Dáil.
It is also a day of hope in that it is hoped some of the draconian enabling legislation passed by this Dáil will not be rolled over in June. It has been abused by successive Ministers for Health, particularly Deputy Stephen Donnelly. The Tánaiste incorrectly said he has not seen an attempt to revoke any of it. The Rural Independent Group, supported by many in my group, put a motion before this House. Notwithstanding the bleatings of some Government backbenchers who opposed the statutory instrument, those backbenchers nevertheless went through the lobbies and voted to keep it in place. Therefore, the Tánaiste is incorrect in that regard.
I want to focus on one point in particular. I ask the Tánaiste to cast his mind back over a year to last March when the pandemic first began. Enhanced Covid illness benefit was introduced at €350 per week. The rationale for that was that people would not be disadvantaged, or would be disadvantaged as little as possible, as a result of having to self-isolate or having Covid. One could not but agree with that. It became the rationale for the rate at which the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, was set. As we congratulate the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and rightly so because there is nothing more hopeful than the birth of a baby, we should recall that thousands of mothers across this State, when they went on maternity leave to give birth and bring a life into the world, had their rate of pay reduced from the PUP rate to the maternity benefit rate, which is €245. Notwithstanding all the laws we rightly have in the private sector to prevent women from being discriminated against because they, uniquely, give birth, we are quite happy to penalise them for it by reducing their payment from €350 to €245. That begs the question of the rate at which the maternity benefit is set in this country, which cherishes life and must cherish birth. Consider what is required if our economy is to have a future, bearing in mind that the Tánaiste has stressed all this money will have to be paid back. We have a relatively high birth rate in this country and need to maintain it for the good of the economy and society.