Pandemic welfare supports to be phased out from October onwards, Varadkar confirms

Vaccine portal will open to people aged between 40 and 45 soon, Tánaiste tells Fine Gael meeting

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said Government would have to outline plans to phase out pandemic supports from the fourth quarter onwards. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said Government would have to outline plans to phase out pandemic supports from the fourth quarter onwards. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said the Government will next week outline plans to phase out pandemic welfare supports from October onwards.

At the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday evening, Mr Varadkar said that no dramatic changes should be expected in the third quarter as the country will still be in reopening mode.

He added, however, that the supports must be phased out and that the Government would next week signal for the fourth quarter what the phase-out would look like.

Mr Varadkar also said the Government is aiming to put the country into Level 2 Covid-19 restrictions, similar to what was in place last summer.

Sources said Mr Varadkar said the current situation in relation to Covid-19 is where the Government expected it to be at this stage.

He said that the vaccine portal would open to people between 40 and 45 “in the coming days”. There will be an option for this group to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, he said.

The Fine Gael leader said he did not know where the Government would “land” in terms of easing restrictions on Friday as he has not yet seen the advice from the State’s public health team.

He said that the Government will next Tuesday reveal its plan for the extension of pandemic supports such as the wage subsidy scheme and the pandemic unemployment payment.

It will involve an extension of the various welfare schemes and business supports as Mr Varadkar said there will not be a “cliff edge” cutting of those supports.

He said, however, that while there will no “dramatic changes” in the third quarter, the Government would have to outline plans to phase out pandemic supports from the fourth quarter onwards.

Mr Varadkar also said the Government would not forgive itself if a fourth wave of Covid-19 was unleashed.

He said Ireland was “not out of the woods yet” and the country would need to get through at least another winter before the picture becomes clear.

He warned that the threat of a fourth wave remained. Mr Varadkar said an increase in socilalisation and a new variant caused the third wave. “That is not impossible again…we could find ourselves in a difficult position again,” he is understood to have said as he called for caution.

Mr Varadkar also shot down comments made earlier on Wednesday by Fianna Fail TD Paul McAuliffe who suggested that the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) should be decommissioned. He said Nphet had served the country well.

Meanwhile, Limerick TD Patrick O’Donovan said he did not know “where Fáilte Ireland got their 105 minute time limit from”.

He asked what would happen if a soccer match went into extra time or if a customer wanted to watch hurling and GAA and soccer.

Mr O’Donovan said the figure was plucked from the sky and said people were being treated like children.

The meeting also heard concerns from a range of Fine Gael TDs about the impact of the pandemic on the aviation sector.

Senator Tim Lombard said he had met with the head of Cork Airport to discuss ongoing concerns. Mr Lombard said that if international travel is not reopened until August, the season will be lost as he called for the a date to be set instead for early July.

Limerick TD Kieran O’Donnell echoed these calls, sources said, and said extensive state supports were needed for airlines along with a clear roadmap on Friday. MEP Sean Kelly said that he did not understand why Ireland’s travel rules were so “draconian”.

Separately, the forthcoming byelection in Dublin Bay South could end up as a fight between Fine Gael and Sinn Féin, the Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris told the parliamentary party meeting this evening.

The party’s byelection candidate James Geoghegan appeared before the parliamentary party meeting this evening to ask TDs and Senators for their help to get him elected.

Sources say he said he wanted to be a voice for his generation in relation to the housing crisis and said that he believed Fine Gael could get through that crisis. Mr Geoghegan is in his mid-30s.