Ceisteanna – Questions

Departmental Administrative Arrangements

Alan Kelly


1. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the economic division of his Department. [25398/20]

Alan Kelly


2. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the status of the national risk assessment for 2020. [27098/20]

Richard Boyd Barrett


3. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the economic division of his Department. [27113/20]

Mick Barry


4. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the economic division of his Department. [28555/20]

Mary Lou McDonald


5. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the economic division of his Department. [28557/20]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together.

The economic division of my Department assists me and the Government in developing and implementing policy across relevant areas including economic growth and job creation, infrastructure and housing and climate action and social dialogue. This work is focused, in particular, on the delivery of commitments in the programme for Government, for example, the development of a new national economic plan as well as co-ordination of issues which will cut across multiple Departments.

The economic division supports the work of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Recovery and Investment, the Cabinet Committee on Housing and the Cabinet Committee on the Environment and Climate Change. The division also leads Ireland's participation at the annual European semester process, liaises with the Central Statistics Office, CSO, and provides me with briefing and speech material on economic and related policy issues. In addition, the division jointly leads work on preparedness for Brexit along with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and other divisions of my Department.

Finally, the economic division is also responsible for publishing the national risk assessment, NRA, which has provided a high-level overview of strategic risks facing the country since it was first published in 2014. Given the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic crisis and the priority attached to responding to the crisis within my Department and across Government it is not intended to publish an updated national risk assessment in 2020. However, I intend that the national risk assessment process will resume for 2021.

In doing so, the Department will consider any learning and examine options for further strengthening the NRA process including in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. The intention is to evaluate how best the process can be used with a view to ensuring it can continue to play a role in identifying these strategic risks facing Ireland. Given its role, the division works closely with colleagues in the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and with colleagues in other Departments which have legal responsibility for specific policy areas.

First, yesterday at the Taoiseach's announcement it was strongly reported that he was going to announce a new bank holiday.

Yes. He can deny it was even in his thoughts or part of his assessments but it was strongly reported. In fact, it was assumed for some reason. A date was even given out. It was to be around Christmas. He can come back and let us know if that was in his thoughts. If it was not, he should just say it out straight. If it was considered, he should tell us why he dropped it at the last minute.

Given where we have gone in recent days - I am not trudging over old ground - we need to consider how we plan to support people. I hope this Cabinet committee is considering that. What are the Taoiseach's thoughts about the pandemic unemployment payment? Have his thoughts on the €350 changed since yesterday? What is to happen with the ban on evictions? We are now in a different scenario from last week. What is happening with the payment moratorium on loans and mortgages?

The hospitality industry has a specific issue. Last week, on Leaders' Questions, I asked the Taoiseach about sectoral requirements in the hospitality industry, the events industry, pubs and restaurants. Obviously, the budget is coming up. Tourism and hospitality businesses are being affected more than others. I ask the Taoiseach to consider this.

On risk assessment, I know that the Taoiseach responded to me earlier on private hospitals. The previous Minister for Health left with an agreement on ICU capacity and private hospitals sitting on his desk. The current Minister never took it up and it is time he took it up or did something with it. That buffer zone would give the public considerable security. Obviously, there are issues with ICUs, but the two biggest risks which I want the Government to address in this pandemic are as follows. The first is non-Covid healthcare. The Taoiseach has until tomorrow to provide figures - at least I gave him a week's notice - on coronary care, cancer care, diagnosis and also how people are being treated versus last year. The second risk, the real one, is how the Minister, despite what he announced in the winter plan, will get 12,500 staff into the system by next April. That is the biggest risk. I do not know how it will be done based on what I have heard so far. I hope those two risks are at the top of the risk register that the Taoiseach discussed.

The Tánaiste launched a really cynical, politically motivated attack on the public health team in order to cover over the Government's failure to use the summer period to resource our ICUs to the level we need, our hospitals generally and a tracing regime that would allow us to chase the virus, rather than be chased by it, as is currently happening.

Regardless of the cynicism of the Tánaiste's attack, if infection rates continue even at their current level or if, as predicted by the modellers at NPHET, they get worse, the economic, human and social damage will be even worse. If the Government is to deal with that situation and take the measures that will be necessary one way or another to protect public health, it will need to protect the incomes of working people. The taxi drivers in their thousands will be on a socially distanced drive protest this Friday because along with other groups they have seen the Government slash their pandemic unemployment payments, forcing them back to work when there is no work. The same is true for those who work in events, the arts and music, along with bar workers and hotel workers. Effectively, from a financial point of view, the Government has stabbed them in the back at the time when they need support. It has lifted the eviction moratorium and the mortgage repayment moratorium that would have allowed them to survive this period. It has failed to give them supports and has reduced their supports. Tomorrow, we will debate a motion calling for the restoration of those payments. Will the Government do that? Irrespective of our dispute with the Government about restriction levels and so on, if it wants public compliance, it cannot do anything other than restore the income supports for people who have lost their jobs as a result of this pandemic. Will the Government do it?

Seven minutes remain in this slot and we need to bear in mind that the Taoiseach needs to have time to answer.

I ask about the plight of two groups of workers, namely, the Aer Lingus workers and the Debenhams workers. The Aer Lingus workers have been submitting short-term working forms to Intreo offices to try to get the back-money due to them from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection from before 1 September. Why are they getting satisfaction in some offices and not in the majority? For example, the Intreo office in Drogheda will process the claims, but Intreo offices in other areas are not doing so. This is all wrong. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection needs to issue a directive to follow the Drogheda example and to process those claims. The workers are in dire need.

The Debenhams workers will have been on strike for six months this Friday. They are now forced to picket in the cold and with the virus on the increase. On 8 September, the Taoiseach told the Dáil that KPMG and Mandate should talk. Mandate officials are ready and willing to talk, but since then - a month ago - KPMG has not only ignored the Taoiseach's words, but it has introduced non-union workers into the shops, who have passed picket lines to pack the stock at the centre of the dispute. KPMG has also involved the Garda in the dispute on more than one occasion.

Given that the Taoiseach's first call was a month ago and given the actions of KPMG since then, is the Taoiseach prepared to amplify that call and tell the Dáil today very loudly and in no uncertain terms that KPMG must come to the table and negotiate seriously, in other words, put on the table an offer that is better than the paltry increase proposed the last time?

Yesterday, 12 trade organisations and 429 businesses from the hospitality and events sector wrote an open letter to the Taoiseach. I assume he has read that letter. He will know that the vast majority of these businesses are indigenous. He will know that they are now at their wits' end and are calling on the Government to make a series of emergency interventions to ensure their businesses are not lost. In next week's budget will the Government reduce the 13.5% VAT rate to 9% for the hospitality and tourism sectors? Will it extend the commercial rates waiver? Will it provide enhanced grants for the sectors worst affected by the Covid-19 restrictions? By that, I mean those sectors that simply cannot function or sectors whose turnover is down by much more than 30%. Will the Government grant aid those to ensure they survive?

We have moved to level 3 meaning that tens of thousands of workers will be laid off across the State. Given that turn of events is due to a Government decision, I ask it to revisit the wage subsidy scheme, particularly in respect of workers on very low pay, many of whom are students and women, but all of whom are low-paid and vulnerable.

The case to reverse the Government's cut to the pandemic unemployment payment is now unanswerable. The Government's decision to go to level 3, the recognition that we are still in the grip of this pandemic with all the uncertainty and jeopardy that presents for businesses and workers, means that it must reverse that cut.

I cannot call Deputy Paul Murphy because of the short time remaining. I will give the Taoiseach the three minutes remaining.

I must resist the attempt to underplay and undermine the progress that has been made in ramping up key aspects of the health service. The testing and tracing capacity has been significantly enhanced with an onshore laboratory capacity for 100,000 tests and 2,000 per day offshore.

We are currently increasing capacity onshore for November and December and we will continue to have offshore capacity during the winter period. As such, there has been a very significant ramping-up of the testing situation. A total of 90% of our tests are completed end to end in less than three days, more than 91% of GP referrals get an appointment in less than 24 hours, more than 95% of people get the result less than 48 hours following the swabbing appointment and overall end to end, the period between the referral and the end of tracing median is less than two days. There has been substantial progress and it is time to acknowledge that. It is not where it was in March; it is far better. There are higher volumes. We are testing far more now than we did in the early part of the pandemic and that has to be accepted.

On the hospital system, there has been a 30% increase in ICUs once the winter initiative is implemented: 25% since March and a further 17 as a result of the winter initiative. Admittedly it will be challenging to get the staff but the funding has been made available. It is the largest funding for a winter initiative ever in the history of the health service. It is designed to try to increase capacity both on the ICU side and also on the general hospital side, to increase staffing and to release healthcare staff who had come to the rescue in the early phase of the pandemic back to their front-line services. Substantial recruitment is under way and as I said earlier concerning contact tracers and swabbers, very significant progress is being made on that front. No proposal was left on any desk on private sector capacity. The HSE has been continually negotiating and that is ongoing. There is a bridging agreement of €25 million. It has completed a new procurement agreement to deal with diagnostics and general services, and negotiations are ongoing about need in the event of a surge.

The PUP was originally meant as a 12-week provision. It has been opened to new entrants and, therefore, anyone who is laid off as a result of us going to level 3 will be able to avail of it; it has been extended out to April of next year. The Government has to look at beyond April 2021 to make the PUP sustainable. It also has to look at other social welfare recipients. There are 213,000 people on jobseeker's allowance on €203 per week and then there are carers and lone parents and the whole area of child poverty. There is a range of payments across social protection that we have got to look at as well in addition to all of the other commitments. Deputies are having an each-way bet. On the one hand, Deputy McDonald talks about thousands being laid off in hospitality because of a Government decision. Covid has forced that decision. The Government does not willingly lay off people or cause sectors to close. Other Members will say we should have gone to level 5, which would have meant hundreds of thousands of people being laid off overnight. These are the calls and choices that Government has to make.

We have to move on to Question No. 6. Time is up.

The budget will hopefully deal with some of the issues to which Deputies are referring but I cannot pre-empt it today and I do not intend to.

A Thaoisigh, you cannot answer the questions. If Members consume all the time asking the questions, you cannot be expected to answer them so we have to move on to Question No. 6.

I will come back to it later.

I again appeal to Members asking questions to please give the Taoiseach time to answer them.

Departmental Advertising

Peadar Tóibín


6. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Taoiseach the amount spent by his Department on advertising online, broadcast and print advertising in each of the past five years. [25601/20]

Alan Kelly


7. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach the amount his Department has spent on advertising for online, print and broadcasting to date in 2020; and the expenditure plans for the rest of 2020. [26659/20]

Peadar Tóibín


8. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Taoiseach the amount spent by his Department on advertising online, broadcast and print advertising in each of the past five years. [27115/20]

Richard Boyd Barrett


9. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the amount his Department has spent on advertising for online, print and broadcasting to date in 2020. [28894/20]

Alan Kelly


24. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if his Department or agencies working on its behalf monitor and report on social media content relevant to Government policy. [26660/20]

Catherine Murphy


149. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he has engaged a third party company in each of the years, 2017 to 2019, and to date in 2020, to conduct online and or social media monitoring and or provide reports on social media coverage of his Department; if so, the cost of same; and if the name of the social media platforms being monitored will be provided. [28925/20]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 9, inclusive, 24 and 149 together.

The bulk of the spend in 2020 to date has been to deal with the Covid-19 emergency. Of the €11.4 million spent to date, €4.2 million was on advertising in publications and €5.8 million on broadcast advertising. Since March, my Department has co-ordinated communications for the whole-of-government response to the pandemic and this necessitated expenditure on a broad range of targeted public information campaigns.

The overall communications strategy for Covid-19 is based on a co-ordinated response that ensures maximum clarity for citizens, business and our wider community. This aligns both with WHO and European Centre for Disease Control, ECDC, advice, both of which emphasise the importance of ensuring the general public is aware of the seriousness of the Covid-19 outbreak and, further, that a high degree of population understanding, community engagement and acceptance of the measures put in place are key in preventing further spread.

It is also recommended that communications strategies should target different audiences and provide the rationale behind the measures, also outlining the necessity of putting a support system in place to provide essential services and supplies, for example, food and medication, and to monitor vulnerable individuals. It was also necessary to run campaigns at each phase of the roadmap as restrictions were lifted. The campaigns associated with the roadmap were aimed at giving people time to prepare so businesses could be ready to open. Campaigns were developed to ensure businesses were aware of the broad level of supports being made available to them by Government and to raise awareness of the Return to Work Safely Protocol and the July jobs stimulus package which was focused on restoring confidence and investment in the recovery.

More recently, public information campaigns have been run as restrictions were placed, and then subsequently lifted, in regions such as counties Kildare, Laois and Offaly and when counties Dublin and Donegal were placed under level 3 restrictions. In all such cases, it is essential that citizens, business owners and communities are informed of the decisions being made by Government, and campaigns are developed and implemented to make the public aware of these decisions.

In 2019, the spend included €12,000 on online advertising and €17,000 on video and radio production. My Department paid for public information campaigns on budgets 2019 and 2020, public consultation notices for draft language schemes and for the Vótáil 100 commemorations. There was also expenditure for advertisements relating to the recruitment of judges and the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, IBRC, Commission, which is an independent statutory commission that contracted services to manage their public relations responsibilities.

In 2018. the €1.6 million spend was across online, print and broadcast advertising and production costs. This spend related to major cross-government public information campaigns that the Department funded centrally. These campaigns included Healthy Ireland, Global Ireland, Project Ireland 2040 and the self-employed benefits campaign, aimed at ensuring self-employed people are aware of the new and existing benefits available to them.

In 2017, the €40,000 spend related to cross-government public information campaigns on Healthy Ireland and self-employed benefits.

In 2016, the €10,000 spend related to the Home to Work information campaign.

A detailed annual breakdown of the advertising spend will accompany the reply to the questions. The Department does not engage third party media monitoring services. As part of the press office’s normal operation, both traditional print and social media are monitored for content of relevance to the work of the Department.

Under the previous Government, the decision was made that all online advertising would go through the Taoiseach's office. Is that still the case? What controls are in place to monitor Government spending? Perhaps the Taoiseach will furnish us with a report on and breakdown of Government spending on this. There is no doubt that there need to be controls. A sum of €2 million is large and I am concerned there might be another agenda at play. We are all familiar with the CervicalCheck scandal, which was a shocking situation that happened in this country, and with the amount of coverage it received internationally. Strangely, if one Googles the words "cervical check Ireland" one will note the first page of results omits any mention of the scandal whatsoever in any news reports. The first page is all Government advertisements. Now perhaps that indicates a very ambitious Government looking to advertise the services available but it is strange there are just enough ads on that page to push all news items to the next page. Again I figured that there was probably nothing wrong here, but it is worth considering that these ads were still being run during the pandemic when there was a Government decision that those screening services would stop. We had a full page of search-optimised adverts running right through the pandemic when women could not access those services at all. Why did the Government continue to spend money on advertising when those services were not available?

The Taoiseach ran out of time earlier but he might inform the House why he bottled the announcement of 21 December as a bank holiday. Last night, we were led to believe this might happen. If the Government were never even considering it, he can tell us that as well.

On the matter at hand, I have no issue with spending where it is appropriate but when the Taoiseach was leader of the Opposition he vigorously opposed the strategic communications unit. What is he doing differently? How much less is he going to spend than his predecessor pro rata? To date, in the 100 or days since his appointment what is that figure as a proportion? He was quite critical and we have to continue his critical analysis now he is Taoiseach to see what the money is being spent on and whether there is oversight of it because some concerns are emanating about it. I fully believe that money will have to be spent on informing the public about the changes that are taking place across the board as a result of Covid.

We need to see that it is being spent in the right manner. I ask one thing of the Taoiseach, which I know he did not get to answer earlier. We have to communicate to the public and get across the difference between bloody visors and proper masks. There is a huge difference. I have stressed it for a week to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health. We really need to deal with this and we need to practice what we preach in here.

If the Taoiseach wants an effective campaign of public information in the situation we are in, he should not have a control freak attitude, which is fearful of public debate. In fact, he should use the resources he is making available for online activity or announcements to actually facilitate debate and provide more detailed information than is currently available. There is a tendency for the Government to insult the intelligence of the public and not to believe in their wisdom. In the end, these debates are forced out. Last week, I organised a briefing about zero Covid at which it was argued that we a need a debate about strategy. A week later, we are having a debate about strategy. It has been forced on the Government but there is massive confusion. Advice from NPHET says one thing, the Taoiseach dismisses it and the Tánaiste absolutely rubbishes NPHET but where is the information and the evidence? We need to put in the public domain the information and the data that led the Taoiseach to dismiss NPHET and put out NPHET's data, and let people adjudicate on the actual information and not be afraid to have a debate.

I reiterate the point just made. We now have access to the letter written from NPHET to the Minister for Health, which found its way into the public domain; I do not know how. Perhaps the Taoiseach knows but I do not know how it found its way into the public domain on Sunday evening. It was private correspondence. In any event, that is all we have. The production and publication of data are essential because data are the building blocks of the logic for the direction of travel in very important decisions that impact on people's lives. The right approach is to have this type of transparency and I ask the Taoiseach to publish the information. He received the letter from NPHET but he had a much deeper conversation with the Chief Medical Officer and others on modelling and all of the metrics. They are very skilled professional people. Let us have access to the information also.

The data are being published. The data on ICUs are being published.

A lot of the considerations are not.

I was talking about Philip Nolan's-----

Information on the case numbers is published on an ongoing basis. The NPHET letters are being published.

At five weeks behind.

I am talking about the letters-----

Sorry, the minutes are five weeks behind.

-----that were the key issue in terms of Thursday's advice and Sunday's advice. They have been published.

The minutes are always six weeks behind.

Everybody should wear masks as often as they possibly can.

Give out the guidance on visors please.

The guidance is out there-----

-----on masks.

I ask the Taoiseach to answer the question and stop the interaction please.

There was no bank holiday date in my mind yesterday. I do not know where that came from. There was a lot more on my mind yesterday than the awarding of a bank holiday. I do not know where that came from.

It is an interesting one.

It was not in my head.

It was in someone's head.

There was a more fundamental issue about level 3 and level 5. Those were the issues yesterday.

To respond to Deputy Tóibín's points, I am perplexed by the suggestion. There is no media monitoring of Government criticism by anybody in the Government Information Service or the Department of the Taoiseach. There is no monitoring of any criticism by political parties. That does not happen. No public servant or anybody else is doing this type of work. The idea that advertisements are being put out to stop the bad news sounds extraordinary and bizarre to me and I certainly do not believe that is the case.

There were advertisements during the period-----

There could have been a contract that was entered into earlier. I do not know. I will check it out for the Deputy and get an answer on it. Perhaps contracts were entered into in advance for a set period. I do not know with regard to the specific issue raised by the Deputy on CervicalCheck advertisements.

The bulk of communications has been on Covid-19 with regard to the various roadmaps, which predate the new Government, and letting people know what was reopening and when, and the issues pertaining to that. Likewise, in terms of the various levels we went to in Kildare and so on, various campaigns have to kick in on all media platforms in terms of what is allowed and not allowed, what the new regime and new restrictions mean, the business supports required in order that businesses can apply for restart grants, how to apply for rates relief, how to apply for various schemes that can support businesses and so on, as well as information for the public. It has been quite comprehensive. We need to continue with these information campaigns at all levels to make sure the members of the public are aware of their entitlements and what the restrictions themselves mean. We will be giving a detailed breakdown on the spend and we will circulate it to Deputies.

There is no control freak approach on issues. It seems that the Business Committee meets on Thursday and, as I said earlier, every Tuesday there is a call for something to be added. This seems to be the stock in trade and the norm on how it operates. No matter what the Business Committee agrees on a Thursday, I can guarantee that on the following Tuesday when we open, there will be a demand for something else. I have no issue with having debates on aspects of this but the Oireachtas participated in a debate on the plan, which allowed for a graduated response.

We did not dismiss NPHET's recommendation. The Government published a plan three weeks ago. It has to take wider societal issues into consideration. It has to take the economy and employment into consideration. Of course, public health is uppermost. The whole idea of the plan is that people could anticipate or expect that if we are at level 2 and things are getting worse, we might go to level 3, then to level 4 and then level 5. Sometimes the virus may not respect that but everybody was taken aback on Sunday when there was a suggestion that most counties would move from level 2 to level 5 in one fell swoop. It would have had enormous implications for many enterprises and businesses and many people working. It would have been the lower paid and young people who would have suffered most if we had moved to level 5 in that way.

At this stage, the Government has taken a view that we did not think it would be proportionate or the right course of action to go to level 5. I have also said, and I said it yesterday to the Irish people, that we do need collectively and individually to work together to stabilise the numbers and get the spread of the virus under control.

Cabinet Committees

Paul Murphy


10. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee which addresses the economy will next meet. [25608/20]

Mick Barry


11. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee which addresses the economy will next meet. [26731/20]

Richard Boyd Barrett


12. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee which addresses the economy will next meet. [28548/20]

Mick Barry


13. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee dealing with transport last met. [28810/20]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 to 13, inclusive, together.

The Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment has been established and first met on 8 July. It has met on a total of five occasions, most recently on 22 September. The Cabinet committee is scheduled to meet next on 9 October.

Membership of the committee comprises the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Minister for enterprise, employment and trade, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications and for Transport, the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, and the Minister for media, tourism, arts, culture, sport and the Gaeltacht. Other Ministers or Ministers of State will attend when required.

The Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment is responsible for issues relating to the economy and investment. Its initial focus was on developing the July jobs stimulus. The July jobs stimulus, a package of over €7 billion worth of measures, was announced by the Government on 23 July. It is designed to stimulate a jobs-led recovery and to build economic confidence, while continuing to manage the impact of Covid-19. It includes measures to extend income and employment supports to affected individuals and companies, to help people get back into work, training or education, to build confidence among businesses and support them through the months ahead, to invest in job-rich infrastructure projects in every part of the country and to invest in areas of future growth like the green economy.

Issues relevant to the transport sector can arise, as required, at a number of Cabinet committees, most notably the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment.

They can also arise at the Cabinet committee on environment and climate change. Issues relating to the economy and to transport are regularly discussed at full Cabinet meetings where all formal decisions are made.

In the summer the Government had the opportunity to follow New Zealand and crush Covid. Instead, it turned a blind eye to the outbreaks in meat factories, ignored the calls for sick pay for workers and wound down the level of testing. It took the decision to accelerate through the phases and to reopen the economy, under pressure of lobbying from businesses and for the image of the then Taoiseach, now Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar. Unfortunately, the same approach of allowing the interests of private, short-term profit to stand before public health is being pursued by the Government. Despite urging others to follow medical advice, the Taoiseach is not following the recommendations of NPHET. What we saw last night from the Tánaiste was disgraceful. The result will be more outbreaks, more deaths and more lockdowns.

Does the Taoiseach not accept that it is likely that the Government will be forced to go to level 5 in any case but later, for longer and after more deaths? NPHET in its letter to the Government was clear that a gradual approach will not have a sufficient or timely impact. Sometimes people say this is the Government putting the economy before public health. It is actually only short-term profit being put first, however. The consequence of this roundabout and yo-yo of lockdowns and partial reopenings will be devastating not only for public health but also for wider society and the economy, from the point of view of ordinary people.

From midnight tonight, the entire country will be at level 3. As the restrictions tighten, there could be and should be an increase in supports but there will not be. In fact, those on the pandemic unemployment payment have seen their supports cut. They are down between €50 and €100 every week, money needed to keep a roof over one's head, put food on the table and keep the wolf from the door. I put it to the Taoiseach that those cuts should be reversed more or less immediately and not later than next Tuesday's budget.

I want to return to an issue I raised earlier to which the Taoiseach did not have time to respond, namely, the hundreds of former Debenhams workers, overwhelmingly women, who, this Friday, will have been forced to picket for the past six months. Now, they must continue to picket in the cold weather with the Covid virus on the increase. KPMG ignored the Taoiseach's mild appeal four weeks ago to have talks with these workers and their representatives. Will the Taoiseach make a strong, clear and unambiguous call on KPMG to stop messing around and get to the table with a serious offer for these workers?

I echo Deputy Barry's call with regard to the Debenhams workers. It is shameful that 1,000 workers have to continue their protest for this length of time to get basic justice and decent treatment from the liquidator. Debenhams clearly does not care a damn about them. The Taoiseach must exercise the influence he has to ensure those workers get a just settlement. Martin in Blackrock, who I mentioned earlier, repeats his invitation for the Taoiseach to, in all seriousness, sit down with him, Eilish, Viv, Helen and others to talk to them about why they are there and what they expect of the Government to ensure they get just treatment.

I cannot understand why the Government will not restore the pandemic unemployment payment. There is no difference between now and March in terms of the bills, mortgages, financial pressures and so on facing people who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. How does the Taoiseach think people whose work has been stopped and whose income has been drastically reduced as a result of the pandemic are going to pay their bills? The Taoiseach must answer them. It seems to me that there is no other answer other than that the Government has to restore those payments and protections as a minimum measure.

The Taoiseach seems to have difficulty even accepting publicly or saying out loud that the Government did in fact cut the pandemic unemployment payment. We know it was initially envisaged as a 12-week intervention. We know now that this was not the case. We know this is a protracted period of a public health and an economic crisis for workers across the State. The cut that was made has to be reversed. It is not reasonable nor is it proportionate for the State to impose restrictions which keep people away from work. That is what public health restrictions do. They are a necessary intervention of last resort. One can do that on the one hand and then cut the supports on which people rely on the other hand. That is patently unfair. The letter I referred to from the hospitality and events sector makes that point around the pandemic unemployment payment. It is not just workers but employers who recognise that this was a mistake, as was the cutting of the wage subsidy scheme. The letter also stated that what was announced in the July stimulus was not enough. The sector needs more grant aid rather than debt.

Is it the case that the Opposition Deputies are saying that unemployment assistance and jobseeker's allowance should be €350?

It should certainly be higher than €203.

Is it the case that it should be €350? We need to call a spade a spade.

I am making the point that this is not sustainable. Carer's allowance at €350 a week could not be sustainable. If one elevates every social protection measure to €350 per week-----

It is in our budget statement.

The Deputies opposite are avoiding this all the way through. Deputy McDonald has avoided it.

Deputy McDonald is avoiding nothing.

Deputy Boyd Barrett would tax the imaginary whoever to fund it.

They are not imaginary. They are corporations.

There has to be sustainability to what we do. We have to think ahead. The whole idea of the pandemic unemployment payment was to open it up to new entrants. We did that because of the acknowledgement that there would be further restrictions imposed. We also extended it to April. It is my sense that we will have to extend beyond that until we get a vaccine.

The Government has to take the overall view. We are borrowing over €20 billion this year, and rightly so. We will be borrowing large amounts next year. There are limits, however. There has to be fairness across the board. The majority of pandemic unemployment payment recipients receive very close to what they were receiving prior to going on the payment, bar those on a higher level.

The Taoiseach should not mislead the Dáil. That is entirely untrue. That is inaccurate. That is wrong information.

On the Debenhams workers, again, I am conscious of the efforts made by Mandate and others in terms of the liquidation. I am not happy with how Debenhams dealt with this. There are limitations, however, to what can be done. The Government will provide a statutory redundancy payment and will do whatever it can within its powers to get extra support for the workers where that is possible. That has been the Government's approach from the outset. I never promised something that I felt might not be achieved for the workers concerned. I am clear on that and have been when I met the workers. We will do what we can within the limits of the law to get some supports for the workers concerned.

I will speak to the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection on the rights of Aer Lingus workers being undermined.

This idea that this is all being done for profit is nonsense. A lockdown destroys ordinary people's lives. The Deputy talks about ordinary people. Does he know what he is saying? Who suffers the most?

The virus kills people.

I know that. We have a set of criteria in the plan that we discussed with NPHET. They are broad criteria; I accept that. The bottom line is that everyone had an expectation of a graduated response.

It was not graduated.

Once there is a lockdown, there are unintended consequences. There is no point pretending it would not have a serious effect on many ordinary self-employed people who have grasped the period from the last lockdown to now to try and create viability in their business. They might employ four or five people. A lockdown on Sunday night could have spelled the end for them. These are the hard decisions we have to make and we are not making the call in terms of short-term profit. That is an outrageous and propagandistic assertion, which is more to do with ideology than reality on the ground.

The decision is about ideology.

Our reality is to protect people as much as we can, including lives and livelihoods. They are intertwined because a range of health consequences can emanate from people losing jobs or being unsure about their future. Their mental health can be undermined. We have to take that on board.

We will be back to level 5.

We may not. We still have it within our responsibility as people. We can impact on this, collectively and individually, if we pull together to try to get the numbers stabilised. If we do not, we may have to move to another level.

Then it will be later and longer. There will be more damage-----

We may have to do that. As I said last week, the decision was at this stage not to move to level 5. I have no guarantees, just as there were no guarantees that had we moved to level 5, it would all be fine in four weeks' time.

On the New Zealand strategy, we are not New Zealand, either geographically or in terms of economic construct. We are different from New Zealand. No other country in Europe at the moment has gone ahead with a lockdown, even though their numbers are far higher than ours.

But our ICU capacity-----

No, it is not to do with ICU capacity.

That is not what NPHET says.

NPHET does not say that.

That is what it is worried about.

There is a range of criteria. The HSE says it has ICU capacity. We are obviously concerned and will monitor that but the HSE is running the service and the last time out, we managed. We created a surge capacity when it came and our hospitals managed.

By stopping all other activity in the services.

We will have to readjust and I hope we do not get there but, if we do, we will do everything we can to protect people. There has to be balance to the debate and using language to suggest that short-term profit triumphs over everything is just propagandistic, ideological nonsense.

Sitting suspended at 4.13 p.m. and resumed at 4.36 p.m.