Micheál Martin refuses to confirm pandemic support payments will continue past June
Martin wouldn't confirm the payments would remain beyond June, but said there would be no "cliff-edge" in terms of the withdrawal of supports.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has refused to confirm that pandemic support payments will continue past June of this year.
When challenged by Sinn Fein Leader Mary Lou McDonald on if the Government will be able to "offer clarity" that support payments such as the pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) won't be cut, the Taoiseach said that there will be "no cliff-edge".
McDonald said that the supports have been a "lifeline" for many families, adding that the removal or phasing out of the payments would be "grossly unfair" and "devastating" for many people.
"Now is not the time for you or your Government colleagues to be floating ideas of cuts or phasing out of supports, workers still have rent, they have mortgages, they have bills to pay and food to put on the table, and so many of them have children to provide for," McDonald said in the Dáil on Wednesday.
"Bearing in mind Taoiseach, that these are families that watched as you signed off on an obscene pay hike for the new Secretary General of The Department of Health, they watched on as you delivered pay hikes for Junior Ministers, for Judges. There cannot be one rule for those at the top and another for those struggling to get by."
McDonald asked the Taoiseach for "clarity" that supports "won't be phased out for so long as there is a public health emergency", however, Martin could not confirm that all supports will be retained past June.
"I have to say, that the virus, Covid-19, has reaped a lot of damage and created a lot of havoc with many sectors of the economy, and, has created a lot of unemployment as a result," Martin said.
"Not public health restrictions per se, but the virus, the public health restrictions are there to protect society from the virus and that is the context, and as a result of the virus, Covid-19, the Government has introduced unprecedented supports.
"The Government has been very clear, and the Government was proactive and ahead of the situation by saying some time back that we would retain all supports until the end of June and that there will be no cliff-edge in terms of the withdrawal of supports. Very, very clear about that."
Martin added that the Government has been looking at a number of plans, such as the National Economic Recovery Plan, to ensure the reopening of businesses which it is hoping will lead to a "natural reduction" in the need for support payments and wage subsidies.
"Obviously, we are dealing with a variant that is particularly transmissible, but that being said, what we said we would do at the end of March for the month of April, we have done," he continued.
"We have delivered what we said we would deliver on, and then we said we would examine a whole range of areas for the month of May. The important point economically is, as sectors reopen and as people return to work, there will be a natural reduction in those availing of the supports.
"These sectors have endured a lot, particularly retail has, particularly hospitality and the tourism sector, travel, aviation have all suffered globally, at a European level, and indeed in Ireland."
McDonald said that while everyone wants "the economy to reopen, reopen speedily, and reopen safely" her question wasn't about an inevitable "natural reduction", but rather a request for "a simple statement of assurance to those workers in sectors who have not reopened, and who may not reopen in such a speedy fashion, that they are not facing into cuts or reductions of any sort come July".
Martin replied by saying the government received the go-ahead "well in advance" to confirm supports will continue until the end of June, reiterating that there will be no "cliff-edge".
The Taoiseach said that progress is being made in relation to the reopening of Ireland's economy and that the government's goal is to "support people" and businesses who have remained out of work over the past year.
"We made it very clear there will be no cliff-edge of the supports, we got ahead well in advance to say supports will continue until the end of June and we're making progress in terms of reopening the economy, and that's important, to get things moving again, and also then to look at sectors who have suffered more than others and how we can help them," he said.