‘Outrageous’: Martin and McDonald trade accusations in bitter Dáil row on pay

Taoiseach accuses Sinn Féin leader of using every opportunity to ‘tell untruths’

Micheál Martin has accused Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald of taking every opportunity to ‘tell untruths’. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Micheál Martin has accused Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald of taking every opportunity to ‘tell untruths’. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

There were heated and bitter Dáil exchanges on Wednesday between the Taoiseach and the Sinn Féin leader in a row over the Low Pay Commission and changes to the pandemic unemployment payment (PUP).

Mary Lou McDonald accused Micheál Martin and the Government of “delusional reverie” and “turning your back” on low-paid workers, but the Taoiseach in turn accused Ms McDonald of using every opportunity “to tell the untruths” and “smear”.

He said she was trying to claim the pay commission was an arm of Government when it was an independent statutory body.

He also told her that she sought to “deliberately distort” an effective and unprecedented substantial intervention made to support employers and workers amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The row erupted following the walkout by the trade union movement from the Low Pay Commission when it emerged that other members of the commission believed an increase in the minimum wage for 2021 should not go beyond 1 per cent, or 10 cent an hour.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) said there should be a minimum increase of 20 cent an hour. The current rate of minimum wage is €10.10 an hour.

Ms McDonald said there is something very wrong when members of a Low Pay Commission cannot agree a meaningful increase for low-paid workers who were described as heroes a few weeks ago.

“Is this your version of ‘we are all in this together’? Because it strikes me that the fingerprints of the Tánaiste and Fine Gael are all over this,” she said.

Highlighting the applause and tributes such frontline workers received in the early stages of the pandemic, Ms McDonald said those workers could not rely on “flowery language and applause” to feed their families.

‘Further engagement’

Mr Martin said he regretted that Ictu had pulled out of the Low Pay Commission but he understood their reasons.

He said there would be “further engagement” with the congress and he hoped they would go back in to the commission because “we’ve all in this House agreed with the idea of an independent statutory body to decide on low pay”.

Ms McDonald told Mr Martin that since September 1st “you have locked 153,000 of the lowest-paid workers out of the employment subsidy scheme . . . They are not eligible.” They had been left out in the cold, and that was a fact, she said. Another 150,000 workers on the PUP had had their payment cut by €50 or €150, she added.

“And now we have a Low Pay Commission that is not minded to deal in any acceptable way with the issue of low pay.”

The Taoiseach told her that was an “outrageous” allegation to make when the State was supporting 750,000 workers because of Covid-19 and was trying to do so in a sustainable way right throughout 2021.

Mr Martin said she was wrong about the employment wage subsidy scheme, which he said was about employers.

And he claimed she used every opportunity “to tell the untruths” and “deliberately distort” an effective and unprecedented substantial intervention made to support employers and workers amid the pandemic.

“Why do you always need to distort and sort of smear people who are trying to do their best? You do it for political advantage.”

He said the pay commission was an independent body “yet you come in here trying to pretend that the Low Pay Commission is an arm of Government”.

Ms McDonald intervened and said that “the facts I set out as regards . . . the wage subsidy scheme and PUP are accurate”. She said she did not appreciate being accused of “laying untruths before the House”.

Earlier Labour finance spokesman Ged Nash said the Government should “put your money where your applause is” and provide for a meaningful and reasonable increase to the national minimum wage.

He asked “how could you possibly turn around and say well on the one hand we’ve public sector workers, TDs included by the way, who’ll receive a 2 per cent pay increase come October.

“And then on the other hand say the lowest paid workers in this country are not deserving of a miserable increase that will only add an extra 20c an hour if you look at the 2 per cent proposal in that context.”

Aontu TD Peadar Toibin said the Government is spending millions of euro on special advisers but cutting families’ income. He said “it is reminiscent of the days of Charlie Haughey, when he was telling people to tighten their belts while, at the same time, he was purchasing Charvet shirts in Paris.”

Solidarity TD Mick Barry said he should have bought a packet of peanuts in the Dail canteen “to hold it up in the air” and ask the Taoiseach “if this is what you are going to offer low-paid workers in the Budget”