Minister pulls out of jobs event after 'cut to dole' threat
Unemployed people in Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty's constituency were warned they would have their dole payments reduced unless they showed up at an event she was due to attend tomorrow.
The 'Community Employment and Tús Information Event' is pitched as an opportunity for those without a job to get career guidance.
But a notice sent out by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection added: "Failure to attend will result in sanctions on your payment."
Ms Doherty was scheduled to attend, but pulled out following queries to her department from the Irish Independent.
Fianna Fáil TD Thomas Byrne said he has been contacted by constituents who are "extremely concerned" about presenting themselves at the public information day.
"This is unacceptable and a gross breach of the privacy of the individuals concerned, some of whom were extremely concerned that word would get out that they were unemployed, in view of the public nature of this event.
"The Department of Social Protection has no office in South Meath, so having an event here in Ashbourne was a new departure for them," Mr Byrne said.
Ms Doherty acknowledged that "some concerns" had been raised by local constituents about the decision to invite local councillors "and as this is distracting from the true focus of the day, the minister herself will not be attending the event".
The invitation emailed to Mr Byrne said that Meath Partnership, a body set up to deliver a range of rural, social and economic programmes in the county, was inviting him on behalf of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.
In a statement, the minister's office stressed it was not the department that issued invites to local politicians.
"Other participants in the event may have invited local stakeholders. The minister believes these events should focus solely on the jobseekers, the opportunities available and take into account the sensitivities involved for attendees," a spokesperson said.
The minister's office also described the invitation threatening a cut to entitlements as a "standard letter" which is issued to remind jobseekers of their "obligations".
"Entitlement to a jobseeker's payment is conditional on a jobseeker being available for and genuinely seeking work," a spokesperson said.
Mr Byrne received his invitation from Meath Partnership which outlined that the session would run from 10.30am until 1pm. Participants will be helped to re-enter the workforce, it said.
The Fianna Fáil TD, who shares the Meath East constituency with Ms Doherty, claimed the minister was trying to "burnish her credentials in relation to community employment".
"But the department threatening to sanction individuals in the minister's constituency is utterly unacceptable and borderline illegal.
"Our CE schemes do great work. If some of our jobseekers need to be encouraged to join, that can be done on the normal one-to-one basis," he said.
However, Ms Doherty's office said it is normal that jobseekers commit to taking "reasonable steps to avail of opportunities to improve their prospects of employment".