Wednesday, 29 July 2020
Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2020: Second Stage
The Minister is very welcome. I wish her well in her role. She has a tough job ahead. I will just add a couple of points to what has already been said. I was watching the debate but, to be honest, I was not intending to speak. I was genuinely hoping that my colleague, Senator McCallion, would not be the only person to speak up for the people in the North of this country. I really hoped that somebody else here would speak about the unfairness of hard-working people who pay their taxes in the South being entitled to nothing under this Covid payment because of the worst kind of partitionism. Unfortunately, nobody mentioned it, not even Senator Murphy of Fianna Fáil. I guess it is only the republican party as far as the Border at Cavan.
It is grossly unfair. This was an opportunity to reach out to people of all persuasions and all traditions and to do the right thing. The Minister's predecessor used Europe as an excuse but we know that it is not an excuse. Europe has told the Government that it can make these payments if it so chooses. It has chosen not to. It has chosen a partitionist route that is grossly unfair to those workers. Perhaps the next time somebody from another party might speak up for the people in the North. It should not always be just Sinn Féin.
Then of course there are the optics. It has been a tough few days for the Minister. Even as she has tried to double down with regard to welfare recipients before having to do this embarrassing U-turn, we have seen her Government try to push through a €16,000 pay rise for certain Ministers of State before also having to do a U-turn. We have seen one of the Minister's Cabinet colleagues determined to keep his €200,000 per year State car, at a cost of €1 million over the potential term of the Government. It is clear that when one is in with the lads at the top, there is no problem with demanding more money. The people at the bottom, however, will have the welfare inspectors sent after them to see if the money can be taken back off them.
It is funny; I was speaking about workers in meat factories the other day. They waited for weeks to get a health inspector to visit because of the huge dangers of Covid-19, the clusters of cases and the appalling behaviour of employers who really did not give a damn about their workers. They could not get a health inspector out and they could not get any support. There is no problem sending inspectors to the airport to tackle people on welfare, however. It is an extension of the appalling welfare cheats line the Minister's predecessor, the former Taoiseach, came out with. It is the worst kind of class prejudice and should not be let go in this Chamber. That is why I raise it.
My colleague, Senator Wall, mentioned the Free Legal Advice Centres, FLAC. This group has played a blinder in this regard. It was instrumental in forcing the U-turn the Minister had to make earlier today. I will quote Sinead Lucey, speaking on other concerns she has. She spoke on "the introduction of the requirement to be genuinely seeking work for those on the Covid PUP", on which I also spoke on the Order of Business. She stated:
This is inconsistent with the idea that the payment was intended for people who had been temporarily laid off. It may also disproportionately affect those with no child care during the pandemic and small business owners.
It certainly will.Will the Minister comment on that?
My final point is a little bit awkward but I must make it. I agree with my colleague, Senator McCallion, that members of Government parties need to be here to explain their position on this Bill. I believe the point Senator McCallion was making was that, at times, some people, particularly in Fianna Fáil, tend to act as though they are not actually in government when talking to the Minister. It certainly frustrates me. Where is the third party in this Government today? Where are its Senators? Have they made a choice not to be in government this afternoon? We all have tough speeches to make.