Seanad debates

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2020: Second Stage


1:00 pm

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent) | Oireachtas source

We have seen the inaccuracy of the information on the website. The statutory instrument that has been in place since 10 July already allows jobseekers who wish to travel to any of the countries on the green list to do so and receive their payment. It is hard to see what new thing the Minister is doing in the regulations because the statutory instrument did not state that one could not have a holiday. It changed the definition of holiday to state that it is a holiday in accordance with the Covid-19 general travel advisory in operation by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It is very important that it refers to the general travel advisory.It does not allow for special new travel advisories just for people on unemployment payments. The general travel advisory says that one should not undertake non-essential travel except in respect of green list countries. Non-essential travel to green list countries was allowed. That has been the case since 10 July. Any actions taken by the Minister since then or in this period of the week are not accurate. All that was required was compliance with that general advisory. What the Minister seems to be suggesting she is going to bring in by regulation today is, in fact, the law as it stands.

I am also deeply concerned about some of the things the Minister says she might introduce in those regulations. On the idea that people would have to notify the Department of travel for essential purposes, there is a requirement in terms of data protection for such things to be necessary and proportionate. The requirement in terms of payments, including the supplementary welfare allowance which the Minister acknowledged is the basis on which this payment was brought in, is that one must be living in the State. Nobody is challenging the idea that those who are not living in the State should not be receiving the payment. That is absolutely fine. It is a red herring to an extent. However, it is not required that one be in the State at all times. It certainly does not require that one report to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection if one goes to a funeral or travels for healthcare. This is a huge new overreach if the Department is to require such information. I would also be concerned if such information was being shared with the Department. We know the Commissioner for Data Protection is already most concerned about how information was accessed from airports. How would this new information that everyone is to provide to the Department be shared?

I have many other concerns about the Bill. I will address them as it progresses. I am worried about the obligation to seek work and the implication for those in the pub and arts industries who are on furlough. I am concerned about the potential implications in respect of redundancy. I will address those concerns later. My colleague will speak to two of our amendments which have been ruled out of order.


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