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Coalition under fire for stopping Covid welfare to people going abroad

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Criticised over advisers: Green Party leader Eamon Ryan. Going on the defensive: Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

Criticised over advisers: Green Party leader Eamon Ryan. Going on the defensive: Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

Criticised over advisers: Green Party leader Eamon Ryan. Going on the defensive: Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

The Government has come under fire for stopping the pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) for people who are leaving the country for holidays.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar defended the decision to have Garda welfare officers check whether travellers were on the payment before they went abroad on flights.

However, Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan raised questions over why one group of people would be policed while travelling and said she planned to raise the issue directly with Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald described the Government as a "shambles" after it emerged that in the last two weeks, 104 people had their payment stopped after they took flights out of the country.

Under the rules of the social welfare benefit, which was introduced after thousands of businesses closed due to the Government's Covid-19 lockdown, people are not supposed to travel abroad over fears it could heighten the chances of the virus being spread.

The Government last week introduced a 'green list' of countries deemed safe. However, the €350 rate for people on the PUP will be cut if they fly to these countries.

Yesterday, Mr Varadkar said people receiving the payment must be resident in Ireland seeking work.

"The Department of Social Protection gets information from the airports and if someone is not genuinely seeking work or is not genuinely living in the country any more, their welfare payments can be stopped," he said.

On Twitter, Ms Hourigan said that unless travel was "absolutely vital and necessary", people should all be staying at home.

"However, I will be writing to the department to get clarity on how and why we would police one particular group in this way and in what circumstances Dublin Airport provides this information," she added.

A majority of the 104 people who left Ireland over the last two weeks are believed to have been travelling home permanently or for an extended period.

Meanwhile, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has come in for criticism over his decision to appoint eight special advisers - including two joint chiefs of staff who could earn as much as €101,000 each a year.

The 'Sunday Independent' reported Mr Ryan appointed the two chiefs of staff and is expected to hire an additional six advisers.

The Labour Party's public-­spending spokesperson Ged Nash said that when people voted for the Green Party in the general election, this was not the "green jobs boost they had in mind".

"Eamon Ryan will now have almost as many special advisers in his office as the Green Party has TDs," he said.

"This is an extraordinary way to spend taxpayers' money and at a time when businesses and families across the State are tightening their belts.

"Coming on top of the decision last week to change the law to shell out an extra €16,200 and keep all three government parties sweet, this shows once again how out of step this new Government is with the needs and concerns of ordinary people up and down the country who are worried about their own jobs and pressures.

"Minister Ryan and the Taoiseach and Tánaiste need to put the brakes on and stop the Bertie Ahern-era style spending on spin doctors and advisers."

The new government spending revelations follows Mr Varadkar insisting on a personal aide de camp and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney seeking to keep his State car and Garda driver.

Mr Coveney's spokesperson did not respond to requests about how many advisers he plans to appoint.

Irish Independent