The Taoiseach has defended the Government's decision to appoint ten special advisers for Junior Ministers.

He was responding to Sinn Féin Leader Mary Lou McDonald, who said she was gobsmacked and astounded at the move.

She said this was happening following a mean cut to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment that will be felt by many people from today.

Micheál Martin said the PUP originally came in as a 12-week scheme and the Government has already put €3.5 billion into the scheme.

He said the economic impact of Covid-19 could go right through the entirety of 2021, and that the fiscal planning has to take that into consideration.

Thousands of people receiving the PUP will see their entitlement fall by up to €100 a week from today.

Mr Martin said Sinn Féin was engaged in hypocrisy on the issue of special advisers, and described Ms McDonald as one of the great enthusiasts for advisers.

The Government had initially planned to hire 17 special advisers, one for each Minister for State, but the plan was met with much criticism.

The previous government employed nine advisers for 16 Ministers of State.

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy has said that further reductions in unemployment supports will be a "double blow" for many people.

She said that the timing of the reductions could not have come at a worst time and needed to be reversed.

Speaking during Leaders Questions, Ms Murphy also said parents whose children have been told they have to self-isolate are not entitled to sick pay if they are not sick themselves. 

She appealed to the Taoiseach to reverse the reduction in the Covid-19 unemployment supports and extend the enhanced illness payment to parents whose children have been sent home from school.

The Taoiseach said that changes to the PUP last July were done to give sustainability to it.

He said it has been extended to April and the Government was conscious they had to plan for longer term in terms of the impact of Covid-19 on certain sectors.

He also said the Government had to look at sector specific areas where sectors that were suffering more than most would get extra supports.

In relation to parents whose children are self isolating, he said that the figures are low in terms of positivity rates in mass testing in this area. 

However, he said that given the low numbers he said he would inquire about what could be done to help out. 

Asking about the cut to the PUP, Irish Solidarity/PBP TD Paul Murphy said: "This is a time when people need support from the Government - how can you justify slashing the supports to workers?"

He told the Taoiseach it would take "a thousand weeks for those workers to make what you make in a year".

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly said the proposal of a six-month review of the Labour Party bill in relation to parental leave and sick pay during Covid-19 was unbelievable - he said it is a constructive measure.

Mr Kelly said early years services workers are making the choice about going to work with Covid symptoms or getting paid.

Covid Committee meeting postponed

The Taoiseach told the Dáil that the Oireachtas Covid Committee has been rescheduled for next week rather than tomorrow as the Health Minister, the head of the HSE and the Acting Chief Medical Officer are finalising the Winter Plan.  

Opposition deputies have complained that this week's sitting had been cancelled at short notice.

Sinn Féin's David Cullinane said they only got notice today of the postponement and that was unacceptable. 

The Taoiseach said the Government is willing to engage but it was hard to discern when the Opposition was being constructive or was deliberately undermining.

PBP TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the Winter Plan has become the excuse not to discuss the restrictions around Covid-19.

Meanwhile, the Government has submitted a bid to have the European Medium Range Weather Forecast Centre relocated from Reading in England to Cherrywood in Dublin. If successful, it would bring 150 jobs to Dublin.

Additional reporting Maggie Doyle, Aisling Kenny