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'Disgraceful and discriminatory'- Labour leader hits out at decision to remove Covid pay from recipients who travel

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Labour Party leader Alan Kelly (Niall Carson/PA)

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly (Niall Carson/PA)

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly (Niall Carson/PA)

Labour leader Alan Kelly has labelled new rules which would see those in receipt of Covid-19 payment lose their benefits for travelling abroad "disgraceful and discriminatory" against poor people.

Mr Kelly agreed with legal advice that the rule, which see pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) cut off if recipients travel abroad, is unlawful.

A bill, which includes a clause people have to be genuinely looking for work to receive the payment, has been passed by the Dáil and will seek Seanad approval to put it on a statuary footing.

Under the new rule, the payment is "not payable for any period spent outside of Ireland". The payment is also cut off for recipients, who have to reapply on return to Ireland.

"You will also not be paid for the 14 days that you are required to self-isolate when you return from abroad," the Government's website states.

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Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys. Pic Steve Humphreys

Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys. Pic Steve Humphreys

Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys. Pic Steve Humphreys

Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphreys, said last night that if somebody is leaving the state for essential reason like a family bereavement or a sick relative they can contact the social welfare office, and their payment will not be stopped.

Labour leader Alan Kelly said the statutory instrument Minister Humphreys introduced still has no legal basis, however.

"The Minister used language last night, which is not definable in law, let's be very clear about what we're talking about here. Everything has to be definable in law.

"She said last night that a common sense approach would be taken, common sense is not definable in law. It has to be under the basis of regulations, and the bill that has passed by Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann and signed in by the president."

The Tipperary TD said that if passed, the bill would discriminate against those who can not afford holidays.

"The whole issue about reasonable grounds for actually casting a net across ports and airports and effectively interrogating people as regards their social welfare status, given the changes that have been mishandled by the Minister," he said.

"This is a mess. The differential here is that what they're saying is that the people who are on PUP payments, who were working hard and paying their taxes, are being discriminated against on regards going on holidays.

"Obviously we prefer people not to be leaving the country, but to be Orwellian in nature and to say that for some people they can leave the country if they're rich enough and for others if they are poor or on the PUP payment, they can't, that is not the Ireland of 2020, that is disgraceful and discriminatory."

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Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Mr Kelly, who said that the solidarity shown during Covid-19 "went out the window last night, because of discriminatory changes brought in by this government", also criticised Simon Coveney for attempting to keep perks from his previous role as Tánaiste, not officially available to him now.

Mr Kelly raised a concern that a state car and garda driver has been retained by minister Coveney. These are parks, it emerged yesterday, which are not approved by the cabinet.

"I think the idea that the Tánaiste needs an aide de camp is a joke," Mr Kelly told Morning Ireland.

"I asked the question as to how this happened, and effectively what happened was the Secretary General of the government asked the Secretary General of the Department of Justice, who then rang the Garda Commissioner, who asked him would, on security grounds in inverted commas, the Minister of Foreign Affairs need a Garda car, and two drivers of the cost of over €200,000 on average a year.

"There is nothing in writing according to the response that I got. This is wrong. This is a million euros over five years, there is no reason for it and here's the big issue - in 2011 when Enda Kenny was take Taoiseach, he got rid of Garda cars and drivers."

Mr Kelly said that a government decision was made in 2011 to allow an Taoiseach, an Tánaiste and the Minister for Justice the protection "for obvious reasons".

The granting of the perk to Mr Coveney's new position, Minister for Foreign Affairs, was never since made, he said, and Taoiseach Mícheál Martin was not informed of the decision for Mr Coveney to keep the car and drivers.

"The outgoing Tánaiste, now Minister for Foreign Affairs just wanted to keep his garda car and drivers. He wanted the perk, he didn't like the idea of losing it and he had to in some way ensure it was kept," he said.

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