The Government needs to rethink its decision to end the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, the Sinn Féin leader has said.

Mary Lou McDonald was speaking on RTÉ's Six One News after Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced the return of some Covid-19 restrictions.

She said people cannot be driven out of work or have their businesses crushed and be expected to live on fresh air.

Earlier the Taoiseach told the Dáil there are no plans to reopen the PUP or to delay planned cuts to the payment.

Micheál Martin said the Government has consistently heard that employers are struggling to fill job vacancies across the economy.

Recipients of the PUP will see the amount they receive reduced further from today. The move is part of the ongoing process of gradually winding down the payment.

Those currently receiving €300 a week will see their payment fall to €250, while those on the €250 rate will see it drop to €203, the current maximum rate of jobseeker's benefit and allowance.

Those whose payment reaches the €203 rate are then transitioned over to the main jobseeker's payments.

According to the most recent figures issued by the Department of Social Protection two weeks ago, there were around 78,000 people still in receipt of the PUP.

It is expected that when the next update is issued this week, the numbers will have fallen below 70,000, as more people return to work.

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At its peak in May of last year, the PUP was being claimed by 605,000 people across a large range of sectors.

In total, more than 900,000 have received at least one payment at some point over the last 18 months.

The first cut to the PUP took place in September, with rates also reducing by €50 then.

The system closed to new entrants on 8 July. It was introduced in March of last year as the pandemic struck in order to preserve incomes of those who suddenly lost their jobs when restrictions were introduced.

Some employers have blamed staff shortages in a range of sectors on the slow pace of the wind down of the PUP.

Around €9 billion has been spent on PUP payments to date.

People Before Profit has called on the Government to cancel plans to cut the PUP.

Its Social Protection Spokesperson Paul Murphy TD said: "It is cruel and perverse for the Government to go ahead with cuts to the PUP at the same time as rolling out new restrictions meaning many will now be out of work, with Christmas coming fast."

"Rather than cutting the PUP, the Government should this week restore it to the full €350 rate," he said.