Agency workers such as cleaners, nurses and paramedics in public hospitals who were contracted or seconded to the HSE during the Covid-19 pandemic will receive the €1,000 bonus payment, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.
However, the pandemic bonus will not be extended to family carers and those in the private sector because of Government concerns about the potential cost.
Gardaí have called for the pandemic bonus to be extended to them, with the Garda Representative Association (GRA) saying that all frontline emergency workers should receive it.
“If the Government wanted to express their gratitude to frontline workers then we should be there with that group,” said Brendan O’Connor, vice-president of the GRA.
Mr O’Connor told Newstalk radio that gardaí were “frontline workers” and “essential parts of the State’s response” in the pandemic
Mr Varadkar told the Dáil that the Government hoped to issue the payment in February or March, and that it would require legislation but this could be done “quite quickly”.
He said the once-off €1,000 tax-free payment would be paid to more than 100,000 frontline healthcare workers, and it was “very hard to know where to draw the lines on these things”.
It was open to those who worked in “clinical settings, wore masks and gowns every day, were employees of the State, were exposed to Covid patients every day, not just the risk of being exposed to someone who might have Covid and did so at a time when there were no vaccines.”
This included agency workers contracted by the HSE, including nurses, cleaners and paramedics, but did not include those working for a private hospital, a GP surgery or pharmacy.
“There would have been very substantial fees paid to those businesses and companies for the work they did during the pandemic, many have already paid a bonus to their staff and can do so if they choose to,” he said.
Terms of reference
Mr Varadkar said the membership and terms of reference for a panel to examine the categories entitled to the payment had not yet been finalised, but would be done “in the near future” .
The Tánaiste distinguished between family carers and carers working for the HSE or agencies.
Home carers employed by the HSE would visit “lots of different houses” and “may have been exposed to dozens or hundreds of people through the course of their work”, he said. “Family carers would almost always provide that care in their own homes, in their own household or perhaps in the household of a close relative.”
He felt that family carers still deserved recognition, and that the Government wanted to amend rules to allow family carers to claim the State contributory pension.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Pearse Doherty said there remained a "high level of ambiguity" about who will receive the bonus and that the Government "hasn't been very clear about this."
“The group of people who feel most let down by their omission so far is family carers,” he said.
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath said it was “simply not possible” to extend the bonus to other workers such as carers due to financial constraints.
Mr McGrath said if the Government was to extend the payment to other workers and volunteers, the cost could rise to “half a billion euro or more”.