The chief executive of small firms group ISME said that granting an additional bank holiday next year must be done for "intelligent, justifiable reasons" and not because we have just come through a pandemic.

Neil McDonnell said that there is "a whiff of 2006" of the suggestion that an additional bank holiday is needed, with the message appearing to say "let's all keep spending money".

He told RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne programme that awarding an additional bank holiday should be done to achieve standardisation in the European Union, with Ireland's nine bank holidays being one or two days fewer than many of its European neighbours.

He said that Ireland entered the pandemic with large national debt which has now increased and he claimed there seems to be a "clamour to spend even more money".

Mr McDonnell said he would like to hear "someone shouting stop".

The ISME boss said that between 25,000 and 50,000 redundancies are in the starting blocks once employment subsidies are withdrawn in the coming months.

Many non-essential retailers will never return to trading again and many premises will be left vacant so there are "huge problems coming down the pipe in traditional retail", he added.

In relation to the Covid bonus, Mr McDonnell said nobody was going to begrudge both public and private sector healthcare workers some level of recognition for the year they have gone through.

He said the issue is how much and where do you stop, but added that no-one has had the moral courage to discuss who gets it and on what basis.

Many health services workers were paid overtime for their work, he noted.

Mr McDonnell said it is inevitable that if there is "a one size fits all" approach in the public sector it would only be natural for others working in the private sector to feel hard done by if employers do not take the same approach.

He said some employers in online retail and pharma have done very well and expanded, but city centre retail was badly hit.

Fórsa says recognition payment has led to confusion

Éamonn Donnelly, Head of Health and Welfare Division at Fórsa, said the debate around the Covid recognition payment has led to confusion and he blamed the Government for mixed messaging.

"This is a Government strategy to cause chaos and confusion among people and pit worker against worker. The messaging is all over the place," he stated.

Mr Donnelly today called on the Government to take it seriously and sit down with workers' representatives to see what is possible.

He said Fórsa put in a claim for recognition during the pandemic and said the claim was unspecified without details of days off or any bonus payment.

He also outlined how the pandemic has put extraordinary demands on the healthcare sector and why it believes its members want some recognition.

He believes the HSE should have been allowed to behave as an employer and speak to employer representatives on this matter, and he also acknowledged that essential workers are not limited to healthcare workers.

Mr Donnelly also said if there is going to be a public holiday it should be because Ireland is trying to meet EU standards, and not because of a pandemic.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said that the Government wants to recognise the work done by people working in the public service "who went the extra mile … and did heroic and extraordinary things" during the pandemic.

The Government is working on the details of an appropriate reward, he said, including who it extends to, how much it will be and when it will be paid and in what form.

Speaking on RTÉ's News At One, the Fine Gael leader said he understands and appreciates the risks people took going into hospitals and Covid wards when there was a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and no vaccines.

He said there is a difference in the work many people carried out in the health service, including where activity was reduced, so this has to be worked out with employers and employees.