Seanad debates

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

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


1:00 pm

Elisha McCallion (Sinn Fein)

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.


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