Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.
Restrictions for Dublin city and county were announced on Friday, including restrictions on bars and restaurants banning indoor dining. This particular measure came as a shock. People did not see it coming. According to the Restaurants Association of Ireland it has resulted in tens of thousands of workers being laid off.
It is now clear that the Government’s strategy to deal with this pandemic will involve periods of intensifying restrictions and then relaxing them. For this to be a successful approach we need very clear communication and to understand that it means no surprises at the eleventh hour. Above all the Taoiseach needs to ensure that the State and his Government provide the necessary supports for families, for workers and for individuals who find themselves out of work at very short notice because of public health measures.
Last week the Government went ahead with a very mean cut to the pandemic unemployment payment and now more than 156,000 people who were in receipt of €350 a week will see a reduction in their payment of between €50 and €100. This cut happened precisely 24 hours before the Taoiseach announced these further restrictions on Dublin.
I am also absolutely astounded and gobsmacked at media reports that his Government approved this morning the hiring of ten special advisers for junior Ministers, this being done at a time when he is cutting payments to people in real difficulty who have lost their jobs. If this is the case it is outrageous and I ask him to clarify this matter.
At a time when sectors of the economy are still closed down or are vulnerable to being closed down again, when thousands of people are out of work, this is not a time to be cutting the very payment upon which they rely to pay their bills and look after their families. This decision needs to be reviewed immediately and reversed.
The Taoiseach also scrapped the eviction ban in August.
He replaced it with very weak legislation that provides nothing like the kinds of protections of the original ban and, consequently, has left thousands of renters exposed. He needs to revisit this decision also and reintroduce the original ban on evictions as a matter of urgency.
There are also some 37,000 households whose mortgage payment break is due to end in the coming days and many thousands of businesses are in the same boat. This will undoubtedly cause huge hardship for families and businesses up and down the land. If a further extension of these payment breaks is not granted before 30 September, these families and businesses will fall into default unless they are in a position to meet their full mortgage repayment. Banks and lending institutions need to act now to ensure that these 37,000 families, and businesses, are not plunged into further financial hardship. Deputy Martin is the Taoiseach and he needs to act on this matter because the real danger we face now is that people become more terrified of losing their job, their home and not being able to provide for their family than they are of the virus. That would be the worse possible situation we could walk into.
In terms of my asks, I want a reverse to the cut in the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, a reinstatement of the ban on evictions and the extension of mortgage breaks without interest. The Taoiseach said correctly that we all have to play our part. I agree with him but the State has to lead from the front.