I wish to speak to the section, which refers to the Title of the Bill. Lets us remind ourselves of the Title. It is the Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2020. In other words, this is a Bill that is supposed to be a response to a public health pandemic. I put it to the Minister that she should change the Bill or its Title because it is clear when one reads the text and hears Government policy on the matters we have debated on Second Stage that the Government is not trying to address Covid-19 or assist in the battle against it in this legislation. What it is doing is actually a threat in our battle against Covid-19 in a number of ways. First, it has been put to the Minister on multiple occasions, and I put it to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney, again today, that the Government is speaking out of both sides of its mouth on the question of non-essential foreign travel. I believe there should be no non-essential foreign travel and that it endangers public health. I say that not because I am an expert but because the actual experts, namely, NPHET and the expert advisory group, say that. They say there should be no non-essential travel outside the State. However, the Government says, unless the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is somehow no longer part of the Government, and I think it still is, that non-essential travel to 13 countries is okay.
The website states that the general advisory against non-essential travel does "not apply to those 13 countries." The Minister is, therefore, penalising a specific group of people in receipt of the PUP who heed that advice, and conclude from it what anybody who understands English would conclude, that is, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Government say it is okay to travel to those 13 countries. I do not think it is okay. The Minister claims, she says, it is not okay but the Ministry responsible for it, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, says it is okay.
The Minister then punished people who followed that advice by cutting off their payments but not rich people who do not have to depend on the PUP or workers lucky enough that their sectors have recovered and they are back at work. They can go to the 13 countries. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, even embellished it further earlier today by saying it is safer to go to those countries. He actually said that today in the Dáil. There is less likelihood of getting an infection in the 13 countries than here, which begs the question, why are we not all going? Seriously, why are we not all going? We are less likely to get infected if we believe the Minister. Luckily, he is not a virologist, epidemiologist, or a public health doctor, although he appears to behave as if he is because he is issuing advice on public health matters that directly conflicts with what NPHET and the expert advisory group said.
Deputy Coveney and the Government are breaking from the public health advice, sowing confusion and threatening the second wave which the Minister just said she was concerned about. She said if there is another wave, people will blame her. They will blame her because the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is telling people it is okay when NPHET is saying it is not okay. They would be right to blame the Minister. If she wants to do something about that, there is a simple way. It is not about selectively cutting off the payments of one cohort of people. It is simply about changing the advice of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to say it is not okay to go to those 13 countries and to further say that anybody who breaches the advice of the public health authorities will receive the same sanction, whatever that sanction is. We are all in it together in solidarity; an injury to one is an injury to all. She can put it whatever way she likes. There should be one law for everybody when it comes to protecting public health. The Minister has two laws and she is speaking out of both sides of her mouth on the issue of public health. It is fundamentally dishonest and fundamentally damaging to the fight against Covid-19. Frankly, the Minister should be ashamed of herself for it.
The second issue whereby her actions are threatening the public effort is in selectively looking for the means to cut certain people off the Covid-19 payment which, as she rightly said, was introduced to underpin solidarity in the fight against Covid-19 in a financial way. The point of it was to ease the hardship caused as a result of people losing their jobs and income because of Covid-19. From the beginning, however, certain people were excluded and discriminated against, namely, the over-66s. I thought I misheard when Deputy MacSharry - because I presume, he is now going to vote against this Bill - said he wished the Government would do something about the discrimination against the over-66s. It is repeated in the Bill. A person does not get the PUP if he or she is over 66 or under 18 even if he or she is working. What did that do? That meant taxi drivers who were working during the height of the pandemic, and most of the taxi drivers who are still working are over 66. Precisely the people who should have been cocooning were working. The Government's discrimination was, and is, threatening the health of the most vulnerable group of taxi drivers and that remains the case. The inequity of it is threatening the fight against Covid-19.
Of course, one then begins to think about what is the real agenda behind the Bill. It has got nothing to do with the fight against Covid-19; it is about driving people off the pandemic payment. The Government was forced under pressure to raise the pandemic payment from her original proposal of €203 up to €350 because people rightly said it was not enough, and now it is desperately trying to unravel that. That is what is going on. This Bill gives the Minister the legislative armoury to do it and copper-fastens the distinction she has imposed that largely affects the self-employed.
Three major victims of this are artists, taxi drivers and people who work in the bar industry. All of them are being picked on and having their incomes cut even though they cannot return to work because of the Minister's public health advice. This is incentivising them to bang down the door of their employment and say, "Open the bars" because that is the only way they can recover their income when, of course, the public health advice is to keep the bars closed at the moment. That is the truth. The Minister can cry crocodile tears about the plight of the arts workers, musicians and all the rest of it, and then do absolutely nothing about it, or, in fact, do worse than nothing by slashing their income. That has happened and she is copper-fastening it in this Bill. That is undermining the public health effort. It breaks the solidarity that has underpinned that public effort and because she is breaking that solidarity she will be to blame if things go wrong.