Ireland north and south is currently in the eye of a storm. We need to deal with the COVID-19 crisis and delay its spread while supporting health care staff, workers and those most in need.
We need to see a massive increase in testing capacity and urgent steps taken to ensure frontline health and social care staff are properly resourced with appropriate Personal Protection equipment.
We need to ensure maximum cooperation across the island of Ireland and ensure financial measures are put in place to protect workers and families.
We are relieved that we finally have a suspension of all activity except essential services in the south and we continue to push for suspension of all activity except essential services in the north. Our priority is to ensure that every worker and family is safe and that all those working in the frontline are protected. We now need to stay safe and keep each other safe.
It is also critical that people have enough to live on during this emergency and that workers and families are not left with huge debts in its aftermath.
We need to continue to see decisive action if we are going to ensure that our health services are not overwhelmed we need to act. The arrival of PPE from China is very welcome and much more will be required not just for those in our frontline health services but carers and many others. We also need to be getting supply chains within the country.
It is very important that during this crisis that political leaders continue to lead from the front. The Dáil needs to sit throughout the crisis, we need to work together but we also need to ensure that ministers are held to account, that the public interest is defended and that every and all actions are taken.
We need to ensure that we have all available capacity within our health systems, that we have sufficient ventilators and respiratory equipment, sufficient beds including ICU beds, and that our frontline workers are protected. We need more testing and tracing and we need to ensure that we have all available capacity within our health systems, that we have sufficient ventilators and respiratory equipment, sufficient beds including ICU beds.
The lack of protective equipment (PPE) for health workers, carers and others is causing a lot of concern – with frontline workers taking to the internet looking for resources and the government have stated that homehelp workers don’t need PPE.
We need to see delivery of more testing across the island to tackle COVID-19 in line with the advice of WHO and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Sinn Féin’s proposals in the south would have guaranteed 100% of income up to €525 a week for workers and the self-employed who are laid off due to this crisis. The Irish government’s proposal comes nowhere close to that and does not go far enough. €350 is not enough for people who have lost their jobs.
While we are supportive of the wage subsidy scheme we believe that it must be targeted and not open to abuse - employers should have to make up the rest of the 30% of the salary – under the Irish government proposal employers could put in just one cent towards their employees pay.
There are also outstanding issues including: will workers have to pay tax on this income, now or at the end of the tax year; can workers who reside in the north but pay tax in the south be able to access the PUP payment?
Finance Minister Conor Murphy has introduced protections for workers, small businesses and is lobbying the British Treasury to support the self-employed. He has brought in rate relief, including a three month rate holiday for all businesses and grants to support SMEs.
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has streamlined the benefit system to make it easy for those affected by COVID-19 to access benefits, including sick pay for workers. She has also introduced support measures for the community and voluntary sector.
Last week’s legislation in the Dáil will mean that landlords cannot issue notices to quit or evict tenants or increase rent over the next three months. A rent supplement is also expected to be introduced. While this is welcome, more needs to be done. Tens of thousands will accumulate substantial rent arrears during the emergency. With average rents of €1200 per month statewide and €1762 in Dublin this debt burden could be between €3,000 and €6,000 per renter depending on their rent levels and the length of the crisis. This is unsustainable and will cause a real problem when the ban on evictions and notices to quit is lifted.
There is a solution – we must ensure that landlords whose tenants are unable to pay their rent get a real moratorium on their mortgage and in turn renters must get real rent reductions and waivers. This means landlords get some level of rent via rent supplement and the renter will not be left with unsustainable debt when the restrictions are lifted.
In the north, Sinn Féin Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has introduced measures to support those in the public housing sector and we have called for mortgage relief for homeowners and businesses.
It is outrageous that many people with a €200,000 mortgage will pay close to €2,000 more over the lifetime of their mortgage because the banks are not only charging interest but interest on the interest. This is how the banks are intending to profit out of this crisis and it is outrageous. We want the Central Bank and the banks called in by the government and this to be stopped. We have been in touch with the Minister, the Central Bank and the banks on this. The fact is that they already charge twice the average EU interest rates for mortgage - they need to waive all interest during the period of the emergency and not profit on it.
The behaviour of the insurance industry also needs to be tackled – they are failing to respond properly to this crisis.
The insurance industry is trying to find ways of avoiding providing coverage to businesses who pay very high insurance premiums and have been forced to close as a result of the crisis. They need to be reined in by the Central Bank and taken to task over this behaviour. Nothing less than this is approach is required.