Friday, 27 March 2020
An Bille um Bearta Éigeandála ar mhaithe le Leas an Phobail (Covid-19) 2020: Céim an Choiste agus na Céimeanna a bheidh Fágtha - Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages
This section deals with employers and wage subsidies. I want to highlight an issue for the Minister. Is he aware of the crisis in respect of travel agents? Travel agents across the country are facing bankruptcy because they are having to pay refunds to people who have booked holidays but the airlines and cruise operators are refusing to offer any compensation. They are in breach of European law in this regard. Other members of my party and I have been inundated with queries and concerns about this issue. This wage subsidy is a crucial support to these people but it will be no good to them if this Government, through the Minister's Department, the Department of Finance, and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, does not insist that operators refund travel agents just as they have to refund their customers.
I will give the Minister a prime example. We have heard about all the good work the Government is doing with Aer Lingus and about the special flights it is running but it is refusing to compensate travel agents. I have a specific example regarding a passenger in Cork. By law, travel agents have to refund moneys to passengers who cancel plans because of Covid-19. So do the airlines and cruise operators but they are not paying back money. We need intervention in this area if we are to save these jobs. This was the most appropriate section of the Bill under which to raise this issue.
I wish to briefly make a second point. If it should come under the next section, I will raise it at that time. People who work in the South but live in the North qualify for the wage subsidy but they do not qualify for the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP. I cannot understand the justice in this. We asked the Minister about it yesterday but did not get a response. If people who are resident in the North are working and paying taxes in the South and then lose their jobs, why are they not entitled to that €350 PUP? It is completely wrong and it is partitionist in the worst possible way. Surely, after all the progress we have made, a person employed in the South losing his or her job in the South should satisfy the qualifying criteria for the PUP. The idea that this Government, or any Government, would discriminate against people for living in the Six Counties is absolutely disgraceful. I hope that the Minister will confirm that is not the case. We got no answers yesterday.