Seanad debates

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

 

1:00 pm

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)

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 we can 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?

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