Wednesday, 29 July 2020
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
Alice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
I support the Senator Fitzpatrick's comments on homelessness and those of Senators Hoey and Ó Donnghailein 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 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.