Bonus payment for ‘pandemic heroes’ creates headache for Government

Cost clearly a factor in restricting access to bonus as many frontline workers left out

The Government has been mulling over how to reward the ‘heroes of the pandemic’ for several months before Wednesday’s announcement. Photograph: Mario Cruz/EPA

The Government has been mulling over how to reward the ‘heroes of the pandemic’ for several months before Wednesday’s announcement. Photograph: Mario Cruz/EPA

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Opposition TDs demanded that the Government do more. Some union representatives expressed outrage that their members weren’t included. Asked about a definitive list of recipients, the Government’s spokesman deflected the question to the Department of Health. The department pointed to the general categories in the press release. But they leave many questions unanswered.

The Government has been mulling over how to reward the “heroes of the pandemic” for several months before Wednesday’s announcement that a €1,000 bonus would be paid to frontline healthcare workers.

Much of the deliberation will have been around who should and shouldn’t get the tax-free payment.

But on Wednesday night there was uncertainty about who exactly qualified for the bonus, when they might get it and what it will cost the taxpayer – all questions you might reasonably have expected would have answers before the announcement was made.

So who qualifies for the €1,000?

Hospital Report

Confirmed cases in hospital Confirmed cases in ICU
228 28

It is doctors and nurses, paramedics, hospital porters and cleaners. But not all doctors – GPs are excluded, despite having been pretty much the definition of the front line. Frontline workers in private hospitals are also not included.

Singled out

People who worked in nursing homes and hospices and Army personnel brought into testing centres also benefit. Also students who were training in clinical settings during the pandemic.

Those that won’t see a €1,000 boost to their bank accounts include gardaí, shop staff and workers in the wider civil service and public sector, transport workers and those who tended and operated essential infrastructure.

Nor will Department of Social Protection staff who processed Pandemic Unemployment Payments and Revenue workers making sure businesses got subsidies – despite being singled out by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar last September as deserving of a bonus payment or extra leave.

Clearly, cost was a factor in restricting access to the bonus. Last autumn, Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath warned that the cost of a bonus for all public sector workers in the shape of a mooted two weeks’ extra holidays could be more than €1 billion.

The Cabinet decision on Wednesday means the exchequer will get off lightly in comparison – the bonus will cost in the region of €100 million and the bank holiday about €50 million per year.

But what does the Government get for that? Not much thanks, a political headache and confirmation once again that the Coalition is often its own worst enemy.

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