The Taoiseach has defended the Government’s decision to cut the pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) from September.
It was announced on Tuesday that the PUP will be phased out from September under the Government’s National Economic Recovery Plan.
Micheál Martin told the Dáil that the Government has “fulfilled its commitment” in not having a cliff edge in cuts to pandemic payments.
The PUP will continue until early September, then will be cut by €50 a week over three phases.
Mr Martin said “more and and more people” will come off the PUP during the summer months.
“We’re expanding the pandemic unemployment payment out to September and then gradually easing out of that over to February 2022,” he added.
“But we’re not just doing that. That is parallel with an unprecedented work activation programme with very substantial funding being allocated to reskilling training programmes, upskilling programmes and education places, increased apprenticeships, increased internship programmes where there’ll be more placements available in the public service.”
Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said the decision to start cutting the PUP was “premature and deeply unfair”.
It is wrong, when those workers cannot return to work because of a public health emergency, to punish them, that is not fair
“I think you’re walking away from your responsibility to these workers and to their families,” Ms McDonald added.
She told the Dáil that not every person left unemployed because of the pandemic will be back working in September.
“Taoiseach, you will acknowledge that come September there are workers who will not be returned to work, who will not be in a position to get back to work, you know that,” Ms McDonald said.
“The economy will not be operating at full tilt by September, you know that.
“Yet you are choosing to cut the various supports that these workers and their families rely on.
“Everybody wants to get back to work, everybody wants to get back to work as quickly as possible, but the state and the Government have to make provision for that section of workers who will not return by September or even in the course of this year.
For Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael “we are all in this together” was clearly just a slogan.
Slashing support payments to workers who will still be prevented from returning to work is deeply unfair and so very wrong – @MaryLouMcDonald #Dáil pic.twitter.com/OT9uJCxEpFAdvertisement
— Sinn Féin (@sinnfeinireland) June 1, 2021
“Workers in aviation, in events, in hospitality. It is wrong, when those workers cannot return to work because of a public health emergency, to punish them, that is not fair.”
Mr Martin said the reopening of hotels, B&Bs and guesthouses on Wednesday will help people get back to work.
“No one expected emergency payments in the pandemic to be there forever,” he added.
Co-leader of the Social Democrats Roisin Shortall criticised the Government’s decision to scale back payments in the coming months.
She said the pandemic payments are a lifeline to hundreds of thousands of people.
“You have repeatedly promised that there will be no cliff edge when it came to the withdrawal of PUP, yet today you have announced that there will be a cliff edge,” Ms Shortall added.
“No matter what level of restrictions are in place across the country in September, payments will be reduced by €50.
“A further reduction of €50 will occur in November, and a final reduction in February.
“In total that amounts to a huge 40 per cent cut in an already meagre payment.
“Taoiseach, this is the very definition of a cliff edge. You’ve chosen an arbitrary date and determined to cut people’s payments no matter what the public health advice is at that time and no matter what jobs may or may not be available.”