The Irish Government has confirmed that anyone receiving the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) who travels abroad will have their payment stopped in a controversial measure that has been criticized by politicians and voters alike.
The Department of Social Protection has confirmed that 104 people have their PUP stopped as a result of checks carried out in Irish airports while a further 44 other social welfare payments have been stopped since July 7.
The Department said that the Irish Government's advice was still to stay in Ireland this year and that the €350 PUP is reserved for those who are actively seeking work.
"It is not paid to people who go on holidays abroad or when they are going through their 14 day quarantine period," the Department said.
In theory, someone who booked a holiday to a "green list" country at the beginning of the year, and then lost their job due to the COVID-19 pandemic, would have to choose between losing out on the money they paid for flights and accommodation or losing out on the PUP.
Opposition politicians claim that the measure targets low-income earners and argue that travel should either be open to everyone or no one.
People Before Profit leader Richard Boyd Barrett said on Twitter that the measure was "grotesque" and that people who lost their job due to the COVID-19 pandemic were being singled out with financial penalties while those in secure jobs were permitted to leave the country.
"People who through no fault of their own lost their job because of #COVID-19 are singled out for financial penalty for going on holidays. Travel restrictions are either for everyone or for no-one. So much for we’re 'all in it together'," Barrett said on Twitter.
This is truly grotesque! People who through no fault of their own lost their job because of #COVIDー19 are singled out for financial penalty for going on holidays. Travel restrictions are either for everyone or for no-one. So much for we’re “all in it together”. @pb4p @rtenews https://t.co/27MnwDHnOe— Richard Boyd Barrett (@RBoydBarrett) July 26, 2020
Boyd Barrett argues that a different standard applies to people receiving the PUP and says that employed people can effectively flout the Irish Government's travel restriction's with impunity.
Tanáiste Leo Varadkar, on the other hand, said that it was his understanding that a person had to be seeking work and living in Ireland to receive the PUP.
Speaking on RTÉ's This Week in Politics, Varadkar said that payments would be stopped if people were not actively seeking work.
"The Department of Social Protection gets information from the airports and if somebody is not genuinely seeking work or is not living in the country anymore their welfare payments can be stopped," Varadkar said.
However, Varadkar was challenged by This Week in Politics presenter Áine Lawlor, who reminded the Tanáiste that unemployment benefits had never been stopped before if people went on holidays.
Speaking on #rtetwip Tánaiste @LeoVaradkar says "the Department of Social Protection gets information from the airports and if somebody is not genuinely seeking work or is not living in the country anymore their welfare payments can be stopped". #rtenews pic.twitter.com/TgkVo6kdSx— The Week in Politics (@rtetwip) July 26, 2020
In normal circumstances, people receiving jobseekers allowance are permitted to leave the country for up to two weeks without affecting their unemployment payments.
Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald, meanwhile, called the measure outrageous and retweeted a tweet that claimed the criteria to receive the PUP changed overnight to include job-seeking criteria after Varadkar had appeared on This Week in Politics.
This is outrageous https://t.co/p1BVYucQ7c— Mary Lou McDonald (@MaryLouMcDonald) July 27, 2020
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