15 April 2020 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Michael Fisher

The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, has indicated that it’s up to the Stormont Executive to make more money available for some cross border workers in the Republic who have been temporarily laid off.
The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection says people who work in the south (in Co. Monaghan, for example) but are resident in Northern Ireland are ineligible for the emergency Covid-19 pandemic payment announced last month by the government.

A weekly payment of €350 is available for workers laid off due to the coronavirus crisis in the Republic. However people living in the north can only claim up to £73 (€84) through the Jobseekers’ Allowance in the UK. Residents of the Republic who normally work in Northern Ireland are entitled to claim the €350 payment.

It’s estimated that 30,000 people cross the border from Northern Ireland every day to work in the Republic. There have been calls for the government to change the criteria in order to let all people who have been temporarily laid off to claim the Covid payment.

Speaking in the Dáil earlier this month, Sinn Féin Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Finance Pascal Donohoe TD to provide clarity for those cross border workers who had lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. Fianna Fáil Senator Robbie Gallagher said some of the cross-border workers from the north had not received a single cent since the crisis began and he also called for clarification.

Interviewed on The Joe Finnegan Show on Northern Sound, Business Minister and Fine Gael Deputy for Cavan Monaghan Heather Humphreys said it was up to the Northern Executive to increase payments at their end:

“I think it’s something that we can take up with them when we meet them again, but in fairness I think it would be something they should be looking at themselves. People who live in the South and work in the North can claim the enhanced unemployment benefit here of €350, and perhaps the Northern Ireland Executive would look at doing the same for people living in the North,” Minister Humphreys said.

Workers living in Northern Ireland who have received the new Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment have been asked by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to return the money. They are insisting that the €350 a week social welfare payment is only available to laid-off employees and self-employed workers who are resident in the State. 
RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme reported last week that some applicants who work in the Republic but are resident in the north had already been given the payment. 

An office worker, living in Co. Armagh but working for fifteen years here in Co. Monaghan, told the programme she was unaware of the restrictions when she filled out the online application. “I didn’t know you had to be a resident of the Republic and I put in my address in Northern Ireland,” she said. “The payment came through but I’m afraid to spend a penny of it. I’m anxious and stressed.” 

She described feeling let down by the welfare system. “Everybody should be pulling together but that doesn’t seem to be the case,” she added. “The Revenue doesn’t seem to mind where my address is when I am paying tax,” she added. 
The Department said it had received unprecedented numbers of applications over the last number of weeks and it was working through checks on these once they are processed.

“If a person has received any payment to which they were not entitled, they should refund this either directly to the Department’s bank account or they can do so by debit card. Where a person thinks they inadvertently applied for the payment, they must close their application and we would kindly ask them to do so now,” a Department statement said.

Border workers are advised that they must claim unemployment benefits where they live, not where they work. Substitute primary school teacher Ronan Gregory said the difference in available benefits was leaving a “sour taste.” The 26 year-old lives in Co. Armagh and was teaching in Co. Monaghan and also in Co. Louth. 

“I just assumed because I was paying my tax in the south, I thought they would support me,” he said. “I suppose it’s alright for the other teachers in the school because most of them are full-time. They are secure, but I wasn’t. I have nothing for the foreseeable coming in. It’s crazy.” 

The Department clarified that Northern Ireland-based workers were entitled to be included in the temporary wage subsidy scheme in which the State subsidises wages by up to 70%. However, employers in the Republic must have sufficient cash flow to pay the remainder of the salary.

• Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys TD

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