Opera Lane during lockdown in October. Photo: Provision

Lockdown clarity needed

The Tanáiste Leo Varadkar’s vague and “drip, drip” approach to the reopening date for businesses is very bad news for workers on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP).

That’s according to Sean Sherlock TD for Cork East who said the Government must stop “moving the goalposts” considering that PUP recipients this year who return to work will have to pay tax on payments immediately.

Deputy Sherlock said that with no clear reopening date, workers will remain on the PUP for much longer than originally expected. He said for workers to then be hit with news that tax will have to be repaid immediately on this payment, adds further insult to injury.

“This change in approach by Revenue is going to cause massive worry and stress to workers already concerned about their future.

“Workers hit by the pandemic face great uncertainty this year with no sense of when they will return to work and their incomes and job security have been hit hard,” said the deputy.

He added that even when people do return to their employment, the money they take home after tax will be significantly reduced.

He said: “It’s at odds with the lived reality of these workers. This is a further change by the Government and very unusual given that the initial tax plan was that tax owed on PUP payments from 2020 will be paid back in increments between 2022 to 2025.”

On Tuesday, the Tanáiste said that he was hopeful of a summer similar to that of 2020 in terms of outdoor meetings and hotels and restaurants being able to open.

He said that a new road map would be coming soon that could see outside gatherings permitted as early as May.

However, councillor for Cork City North-East, John Maher (Labour) told the Cork Independent that businesses now need absolute transparency from the Government.

Cllr Maher said the Tanáiste had again “thrown the cat amongst the pigeons” in his comments and that, whether we agree or disagree with the Government “the message needs to be clear”.

“There’s a lot of businesses up in arms today because of uncertainty. They have already closed down for the good of public health. They’ve taken the hit,” said Cllr Maher.

According to Cllr Maher, if there is an extension of the lockdown, the Government should be talking about supports rather than positive headlines.

“Nobody wants an extension, but we understand why we have to do it and we need to talk about supports that compliment that. This isn’t the time for one-upmanship, but it seems to me the Tanáiste is the king of that,” concluded the councillor.