We can't go back to business as usual post-Covid19
2 April 2020
Spokesperson on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform
I welcome this opportunity to place this statement on the record of the House.
My first thoughts are with the loved ones of those who have sadly passed away.
If this crisis has done anything, it has put into perspective what really matters.
And it has demanded that we put the interest of others and of wider society – people we may not even know – above our own for the greater good.
The interests of wider society and the battle against the pandemic are not served by the presence of Deputies here today.
That is why the Labour Party have decided not to attend today’s non-essential sitting and instead use the option available to us to have our statements recorded.
We believe that now more than ever we need to lead by our actions, not just our words.
And although our democracy should never be suspended, there are clearly other ways to express our views safely in support of our frontline staff.
The best way to support the citizens we depend on to keep us safe and the best way to help stop the spread of Covid-19 is to stay at home and only leave if we really have to.
This crisis has proven that once the common good becomes paramount, all things impossible suddenly become possible.
It has been said before that there are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.
We are now living those weeks.
We have seen the State take control of private hospitals, directly pay the wages of childcare staff and both unions and employers come together to protect and support workers.
This needs to be the new normal.
We cannot afford to backslide into business as usual once the crisis has abated.
As President Higgin’s has remarked, there is also a need to redefine work in terms of the socially embedded economic policy.
To give a relevant example, how can a worker in a low-paid precarious job who shares a cramped room with 3 or more people possibly “afford” to self-isolate?
The reality is, precarious work leads to precarious lives, and all these economic injustices have a human face and a broader social cost.
This shows the need and the value of a legal right to collective bargaining which is the only way we can ensure that we set a social floor under which no-one can fall under.
Likewise, the shoots of a social wage are emerging from the crisis. The welfare state, the good State, is coming into its own.
For too long, Ireland has been an outlier in Europe with regards to our flat-rate approach to social protection.
Currently, when working people are unfortunate enough to become unemployed or sick, their income falls off a cliff – which only adds to greater stress and anxiety as they struggle to make ends meet.
In contrast, in most EU countries, pay-related welfare is provided from day one at a percentage of a person’s wage.
The introduction of the TWSS and the Covid-19 payment (from day one) serves as a welcome break from the old and wholly inadequate dispensation.
If this State admits higher rates of social welfare are required now, then let’s build on this nee dispensation and provide a floor of decency that can become the mark of a good and fairer society.
And it is the first step towards building a truly social, protective and comprehensive social protection system in the post-crisis period.
Yet despite this progress, some immediate anomalies remain.
Specifically, access to Covid-19 emergency payments for cross-border workers – for example, someone living Newry but working in Dundalk –needs to be with a reviewed, along with other issues such as exclusion based on age.
I am dealing with many cases of young workers and older workers being treated less favourably than their colleagues aged between 18 and 66. This is not on.
I want to at this point thank social protection staff for their work in processing an unprecedented number of claims in the last two to three weeks.
We all need to make sure that the resources families need hit their accounts as soon as possible and that those who may be owed back money get it without delay.
Overall, this is the medium long-term vision, but in the short-term the EU must also step-up to support those who've lost jobs or at risk of losing jobs.
The Coronavirus is an external shock, a war-like situation which requires a war-like response.
We are all shocked and staggered by the scale of the job losses experienced by our people over the last two to three weeks.
Today’s Live Register figures represent hundreds of thousands of broken dreams, devastated lives.
We need to work day and night and do the right things to ensure hope is restored and to avoid an unnecessarily long and deep recession.
I therefore commend the Government’s support of the Coronabonds proposal which is in keeping with this reality.
Likewise, I am glad to see that the Dutch Labour Party (the PVDA) is leading the domestic opposition against their Government’s hard-line stance on the issue.
In closing, we are now facing a precipice in EU politics, which demands political action which is far greater than our own countries self-interest or any one party’s narrow ideology.
A prosperous, inclusive and tolerant Europe was built on the back of post-war debt relief and the Marshall plan.
Failure to recognise the magnitude of the challenge facing us and the to respond appropriately – as we did in the past – only risks the disintegration of the EU project, a dangerous retreat behind the borders of our own states and the growth of a dangerous, populist nationalism that will inevitably lead to conflict and hardship.
This is the horizon facing and nothing will do only the intervention of a Social Europe, acting collectively and in solidarity to avoid catastrophe.
So, I can only hope that our colleagues across the EU will echo the required individual response to the coronavirus and put the interest of others, the interests of all of Europe, above their own perceived short-term interests, for the greater good.