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Cuts to Irish Covid-19 unemployment payments unfair, says Mary Lou McDonald

Taoiseach Micheal Martin has defended the reduction.

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Mary Lou McDonald has claimed the cut in the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) will lead to economic hardship (PA)

Mary Lou McDonald has claimed the cut in the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) will lead to economic hardship (PA)

Mary Lou McDonald has claimed the cut in the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) will lead to economic hardship (PA)

Mary Lou McDonald has warned the cut in the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) will lead to economic hardship.

The Sinn Fein leader called for the Government to reverse the reduction.

The 350 euro-a-week payments have dropped to between 200 and 300 euros, which has affected the 150,000 people still in receipt of the benefit.

Ms McDonald said that Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe will have to reverse the decision, saying it was wrong to cut the payment particularly when Dublin and Donegal are facing tighter restrictions.

“I think he will have to change his mind because they’ve made a mistake, because what they’re doing is unfair, because what they’re doing will undoubtedly cause not just hardship, but what MABS (Money Advice and Budgeting Service) has described as a forthcoming tsunami of domestic debt,” she told RTE’s The Week In Politics.

“That’s not a smart thing to do socially or economically so Paschal will have to change his position because it’s the wrong position.”

Ms McDonald rejected Mr Donohoe’s claim that the Government cut the Covid-19 unemployment payments so the PUP could last longer for people.

“I think the very reason to extend and to maintain the payments is the fact that we are still in the grips of a crisis,” she added.

“If we thought initially six months ago that this was a transient crisis, that we could tough it out for six months and then we could go all come back up and breathe air that’s wrong.”

Taoiseach Micheal Martin last week defended the decision saying that while the rates have been reduced, the scheme had been extended until next April.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that bookings for hotels across Ireland plummeted by 67% in recent weeks, prompting a call by industry leaders for urgent action.

The latest survey from the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) reveals a collapse in hotel bookings following the tightening of Covid-19 restrictions in Dublin.

The IHF said that after the Government announced its medium-term six-month plan for living with coronavirus, the weekly rate of new bookings declined sharply.

IHF president Elaina Fitzgerald Kane said: “It is now ‘make or break’ time.

“Urgent and unprecedented intervention from the Government is required to support tourism businesses and safeguard thousands of jobs throughout the sector.

“This must form a central plank of the Budget due to be announced next month.”

Before the outbreak of Covid-19, tourism supported 270,000 livelihoods, one in 10 of all Irish jobs.

An estimated 100,000 of these jobs have been lost so far this year and a further 100,000 are at immediate risk, the IFH warned.

The survey’s results are based on the response from 298 properties accounting for a combined stock of 32,100 guestrooms spread throughout the country.

Hotel room occupancy rates across the country are at 40% for September, 23% for October and 12% for November based on business currently booked.

This compares with rates of 89% last September, 81% last October and 82% last November.

The occupancy rates in October and November are expected to be:

National room occupancy: 23% Oct / 12% Nov
Dublin City and County: 12% Oct / 10% Nov
Border region: 31% Oct / 14% Nov
Mid-West: 19% Oct / 10% Nov
Midlands / Mid East: 23% Oct / 12% Nov
South East: 40% Oct / 21% Nov
South West: 26% Oct / 9% Nov
West: 31% Oct / 15% Nov

Ms Fitzgerald Kane said that the stark figures highlight the requirement for additional sector-specific measures for tourism.

“This situation is nothing short of disastrous for our sector with serious implications for the tourism industry and wider economy,” she added.

“We are calling on the Government to implement sector-specific measures as a matter of urgency.

“These should include enhanced employment subsidies, a reduction in tourism VAT, extended waiver of local authority rates and greater access to banking finance.”

PA