'Coalition of chaos' is much too generous a name for this mess of a government
Ireland's coalition government has been in situ for exactly a month.
And that month has been, quite frankly, an almost unmitigated disaster. In-fighting, drink-driving, crossed-wires, Eamon Ryan's snoozy-time... Let's just say they are yet to make us proud.
Some people already have nicknamed this government the 'coalition of chaos,' and maybe that's appropriate.
For one, it's got the requisite alliteration. On a more substantive note, every week the omnishambles seem to begin anew, leaving the public with very little time to even be sure what it is they're most angry about.
But it's more careless than chaotic. Indeed, more cruel than chaotic. And look! Alliteration intact. Thanks, I'm a writer.
Today, the talk is about stripping the Pandemic Unemployment Payment from people who have left the country, something that the government is happy to allow for anyone who isn't on the payment. Green List or not, you can fly anywhere that will let you in right now and the government will wave you off and snap you with your 'Be rude not to' pint.
Unless, of course, you're poor and out of work.
In an RTÉ interview on Sunday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar revealed that the Department of Social Protection was receiving information on passengers flying out of Ireland, stopping people at their airport to ask them for their PPS Numbers, and stripping them of welfare if it turned out they were indeed leaving the country for non-emergency reasons. It's worth bearing in mind that over 300,000 people are still relying on the PUP, and that Varadkar has been fighting a long and hard campaign to reduce it - something that he achieved in last week's stimulus package.
If you're thinking that stimulus packages are usually about giving money rather than taking it away, well, welcome to the close-fisted coalition. Hey! I did it again.
After last week's decision to give their colleagues a large pay increase, it's becoming increasingly evident not that it's one rule for some and another for others, but rather that there are no rules. That the government will do as it pleases as long as it has the votes, and where it doesn't need the votes, it will do as it pleases without even telling us.
Because, and here's the kicker: it seems the government didn't even know that the government was doing this.
Patrick Costello of the Green Party confirmed this on Twitter, writing: "Re policing travel of those on covid payments, apart from discrimination, is a huge concern from a GDPR/Privacy point of view. But Dublin Airport are claiming they're not the ones handing over info so who is & on what basis? I will be writing to voice my concerns in government." His party-mate Nease Hourigan tweeted much the same.
I have asked the Minister for Social Protection to detail any arrangements involving the transfer of passenger data between airports and ports and her department, including the legislative basis of any such programme. https://t.co/9LodsMo0Iq
— Cormac Devlin TD (@CormacDevlin) July 27, 2020
Fianna Fáil's Cormac Devlin said: "I have asked the Minister for Social Protection to detail any arrangements involving the transfer of passenger data between airports and ports and her department, including the legislative basis of any such programme."
The message being communicated by Fianna Fáil and the Greens is essentially that Heather Humphreys and Fine Gael went rogue to strip people of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment based on their employment status.
Even Dublin Airport sought to defend its own honour, tweeting: "For the avoidance of doubt, we can confirm that we are not sharing passenger data with any third party agencies. In fact, we have no access to such passenger data. We cannot comment on the actions of any third party agencies."
Don't blame us, we're just an airport.
We surely don't want to be a society where we enshrine the idea that simple freedoms are off-limits due to your income. What about all those people receiving the PUP because the government has decided their place of employment should close?
The PUP is there for anyone temporarily laid off... Should these people be looking for new jobs that they would have to quit once their old job is ready to rehire them?
What about all the publicans who have had to stay shut for an additional, unexpected three weeks because the government changed their minds (for a second time) about Phase 4? Should they be "looking for work"?
In a recession, nobody's job is safe. Do we really want to be taking rights away from those who end up in that unlucky position? The whole reason we introduced the PUP separate to the already existing dole is because employment post-Covid is not the same as employment pre-Covid. 300,000 people aren't slacking off, they're living through a pandemic and they're doing it on €350 a week, if they're lucky.
Today, Humphreys further explained that anyone self-isolating after travel also can't get the payment, since they can't look for work. This also seems to be a pretty antiquated idea of "looking for work," since much of the world has been working from home since March. Honestly, even the idea that you have physically be in Ireland at all times to be looking for work in Ireland is just downright wrong.
Something that is not law has become law for one section of the population. That gives rise to profound questions of discrimination. It behoves the Government to provide clarity on this: Was this a Cabinet decision? Has the AG offered advice on the legality of the approach?
— ICCLtweet 🏳️🌈 (@ICCLtweet) July 27, 2020
So it seems like bad policy. It sounds like they're making it up as they go along. But even if it wasn't, even if they weren't, we can all surely agree that our government's right hand should know what the left is doing, especially when that left hand is taking money from people during a pandemic.
Citizens Information, a treasure trove of helpful information when it comes to navigating Irish bureaucracy, was changed to reflect Varadkar's comments after he made them. In such volatile times, isn't it vital to public health that people know exactly what we can and can't do? What we should and shouldn't do? That the rules aren't changed in order to align with something a Minister said in an interview?
Similarly, gov.ie was edited today to line up with Varadkar's comment that the two-week grace that usually allows those on Jobseeker's Benefit has been done away with. Changing the rules out of nowhere like this makes life much harder to navigate for everyone, not just those receiving the PUP.
It seems chaotic. It feels chaotic. But it is worse than chaotic. To call it chaotic is to suggest that the government is acting at random. It isn't. It's following the well-worn path of reducing the quality of life of society's easy targets, making life chaotic for the ordinary people who have to live with the consequences.