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Change to wage subsidy scheme to include those returning from maternity leave

The change will also accommodate those returning from a period of paternity or adoptive leave.

LAST UPDATE | 29 May 2020

FINANCE MINISTER PASCHAL Donohoe has announced a change to the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme to fix an anomaly that excluded people returning from maternity or paternity leave. 

As part of the scheme, employees need to submit a payslip from January and February, which meant women who were on unpaid maternity leave were not be eligible for the scheme. Those who were having their maternity leave topped up by their employer were only entitled to a fraction of their former salary.

This anomaly also affected people who are on paternity leave, illness benefit or off-pay leave, and has been criticised as having the “potential to be discriminatory”.

The TWSS makes up to €410 available per employee per week on the basis that employers keep workers on their books. 

Speaking after today’s Cabinet meeting, Donohoe said a change to the scheme has now been made to accommodate those who have returned to work after a period of maternity, adoptive or paternity leave who were not on payroll. 

An amendment to the legislation will be made later in the year but he said Revenue has confirmed the provision will be implemented now and backdated to 26 March. 

“We want to make sure citizens are not denied access to the scheme due to their personal circumstances when the scheme was introduced,” he said. 

Speaking on FM104 this morning, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar about 2,000 women were affected by the anomaly.

Two metre advice

While the issue of Ireland’s social distancing guidance of two metres has been on ongoing debate this week, it is not expected that any changes will be made after today’s Cabinet meeting. 

A number of ministers are understood to have called for it to be reduced to one metre during a meeting with the Chief Medical Officer Wednesday. However one minister said Dr Tony Holohan was “very firm” on the idea that it would not be changing for the moment.

The Taoiseach also stated after the Cabinet meeting today that he believes it is best to stick with this current recommendation. 

Some ministers have said there is now a clear division in Cabinet between those that want to stick with the roadmap as laid out and those that want to speed it up. 

It is understood that ministers such as Michael Ring, Michael Creed, Eoghan Murphy, Finian McGrath and Richard Bruton argued for social distancing rules to be eased. 

“There is a momentum for a faster lifting of restrictions,” said one minister, who said the same is being said in other political parties too.

Fianna Fail justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan said yesterday the Cabinet has “casually delegated too much responsibility to public health advisers” and they had to take account of the broad impact the lockdown was having on society.

O’Callaghan said it was never the intention of lockdown to stop people getting sick – it was so hospitals and ICUs would not be overwhelmed.

Other factors must be taken into consideration, such as the impact of the lockdown on children, the elderly, the economy and on peoples’ mental health.

Speaking on Newstalk radio yesterday, Junior Minister John Halligan, an independent TD who did not seek re-election, said the economy faces devastation.

“I’m not saying to abandon the complete lockdown, that would be madness, but I think the stages we have set are too far apart, we need to trust people. We have to consider the economy, we have to consider people’s lives,” he said.

He also asked why we aren’t questioning the two-metre rule.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin also argued in the Dáil this week that the travel distance rule of 5km and 20km is not based n scientific evidence.

The Taoiseach did indicate this week that if the low Covid-19 figures continue the government would be confident ti could bring forward some of the measures that ere earmarked for later phases.

Another election?

While pressure comes from inside and outside Cabinet to fast-track the easing of some restrictions, there are other rumblings afoot: talk of another election.

Halligan spoke of this on RTÉ Radio One yesterday, when he said: 

“If I was Fine Gael I’d go back to the country – they’re high in the opinion polls, I think Leo Varadkar is doing exceptionally well, and I think Simon Coveney is probably the best Minister for Foreign Affairs we ever had, Paschal Donohoe, Heather Humphreys and so on.

“They lost a number of seats by less than 1%. I’m convinced Leo Vardakar is doing a good job, I’m not here promoting Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil or the Greens, I think if Fine Gael went back to the country they would at least gain another seven or eight seats, maybe 10,” he said.

“If you want my honest opinion, I’ll be devoured for saying this, I regularly speak to people from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and so on, Fianna Fáil can’t stand Fine Gael essentially and Fine Gael can’t stand Fianna Fáil essentially, none of them can stand the Green Party so what’s this all about?

“They’re going to form a government that nobody wants. The people of Ireland didn’t want Fine Gael and to be fair to Fine Gael and the Taoiseach and Paschal Donohoe, they wanted to go into opposition, this is not what they wanted,” added Halligan. 

It is understood that it was acknowledged by Holohan during his meeting with ministers that there are concerns that people are tweaking the rules and that enforcement is a difficulty. 

The point was raised that if the measures lose the people’s backing, there will be little point of the roadmap.

Such a narrative has been heard on the hallways of Leinster House of late, particularly since the spat between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael over the contingency planning by the Department of Planning, Housing and Local Government into how an election might proceed alongside Covid-19.

One minister told this website that the government formation deal is “by no means wrapped up” despite assurances from parties that a government will be up and running by the end of June. 

Following last week’s poll in the Irish Daily Mail, which showed a fall in support for Fianna Fáil and an increase for Fine Gael, one government source said some Fine Gael TDs are minded to go back to the people. However, they added that they did not think this was the Taoiseach’s view.

The source speculated the talks could be dragged out for another three or four weeks, with no agreement reached, which would mean Varadkar might have to pay a visit to President Michael D Higgins to tell him a government cannot be formed.

- With reporting by Michelle Hennessy.

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