Fine Gael is full of very ordinary people
Sir, – I wish to refer to Una Mullally’s article “Only someone who wouldn’t miss €50 a week would cut the PUP” (Opinion & Analysis, September 25th).
I really would like to live on Una Mullally’s planet where everyone and everything is reduced to a white hat or black hat, goodies and baddies and simple answers. Of course, in her view, Fine Gael are the baddies. Ideologically cruel, our entire focus is hell-bent on targeting the “welfare class” (her words, I don’t know any Irish politician who uses such an insulting phrase). Of course, on Planet Earth, the reality is different.
I should know, as I was the Fine Gael minister who introduced the pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) with colleagues Leo Varadkar and Paschal Donohoe. The PUP was created, in a matter of days, as a direct response to the speed with which the pandemic struck our economy.
Hundreds of thousands of people had their jobs literally closed down overnight in order to protect the public health of all our citizens.
My priority was to respond immediately – and with impact – to ensure that every family’s needs would be met.
Was it perfect? No. However, from my interaction with hundreds of people who contacted me directly to help them access the payment, I know it was seen as a lifeline and I genuinely believe it contributed greatly to the social cohesion we enjoyed as a country during the initial stages of Covid-19. It was always an emergency measure, and we always said that, when we had a breathing space, we would recalibrate it to ensure our resources were better targeted to those most in need.
Of course, Una Mullally sees any such tweaking of resources as an opportunity to accuse Fine Gael of abandoning the less well-off – as if it’s in our DNA. In reality, over the past five years, Fine Gael has increased the budget of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection from from €19.6 billion to €21.2 billion, directly supporting the most vulnerable.
On my watch, I managed to restore the Christmas bonus to 100 per cent; increased the back-to-school allowance by 50 cent; introduced a hot meals programme for schools to ensure less fortunate children get a hot meal daily; introduced paid parental leave; introduced jobseeker benefit for the self-employed; reintroduced treatment benefits; banned zero-hour contracts; and increased the minimum wage to what is now the second-highest level in Europe.
I’m sure these facts won’t dim your columnist’s obsession with painting Fine Gael as the party of privilege and private schooling. As someone who was born in Dublin’s northside, grew up in a council house and never went to a boarding school, I take particular offence at such a cartoon portrayal. I can tell you that the Fine Gael party is full of very ordinary people (despite her contention to the contrary). What unites us is not our school ties or postcodes but our passion for everybody in Ireland to get the help and support to better their lives.
In her column, Una Mullally sought to paint Fine Gael as Ireland’s Conservative Party. When I look at the former newspaper columnist across the water struggling to lead his country through a pandemic and Brexit, I am reminded that the simplistic worldview and polemical skills of some commentators don’t always translate into an understanding of the complexities of governing. Your columnist may have more in common with some Tories than she realises. – Yours, etc,