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'They’re being singled out for punishment' - TD criticises halting of Covid payment to those who go abroad on holiday

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Willie O'Dea. Picture: Collins

Willie O'Dea. Picture: Collins

Willie O'Dea. Picture: Collins

SOCIAL Protection Minister Heather Humphreys has insisted the government is "not trying to pick on anybody" amid growing criticism of the halting of pandemic unemployment payments to recipients taking holidays.

Her comments come as Willie O'Dea has claimed that people on unemployment payments are being "singled out for punishment" by having their benefits cut if they leave the country for holidays.

The high-profile Fianna Fáil back-bencher is the second government TD to break ranks and raise questions over the policy after the Green Party's Neasa Hourigan said she intends to raise the issue with Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys.

Mr O'Dea said he would do the same as he criticised the situation that has seen 104 people have their Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) stopped after they took flights out of the country.

The Limerick City TD said that people should be following government advice and not be leaving the country unless it's "absolutely essential".

But he said he doesn't think it's "right or proper" that one group of people that ignore the travel advice should be "singled out for punishment".

Mr O'Dea told RTÉ Radio One's Today with Sarah McInerney show: "why should one particular category be penalised for it when everybody else can do it scot-free?"

He also suggested that the number of social welfare recipients travelling abroad would be "very, very small" adding that the "overwhelming majority" of people leaving the country would be those that can afford it.

He said the stopping of payments is penalising one section of society "in other words the lowest rung of the population - people who are forced to exist from week to week on social welfare.

"They’re being singled out for punishment, nobody else is. I don’t think that’s right."

Mr O'Dea said he will raise the issue in the Dáil with Ms Humphreys when asked what he intended to do about the situation.

He added: "I can talk to our ministers and ask that the government withdraw this campaign."

Ms O'Dea said that an argument in favour of the policy being made by the government - that jobseekers are supposed to be making themselves available for work and therefore shouldn't travel - is "a bit thin".

He said: "All statistics have shown that when work is available Irish people will take up work."

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