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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 628-652
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Workplace Safety
 Header Item Manufacturing Sector
 Header Item Credit Guarantee Scheme
 Header Item Credit Guarantee Scheme
 Header Item Credit Guarantee Scheme
 Header Item Credit Guarantee Scheme
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Job Losses
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Proposed Legislation
 Header Item Credit Guarantee Scheme
 Header Item Credit Guarantee Scheme
 Header Item Credit Guarantee Scheme
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Workplace Safety
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Work Permits
 Header Item Ministerial Meetings
 Header Item Health and Safety Authority
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Health and Safety Authority

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 993 No. 3

First Page Previous Page Page of 170 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 628-652

Covid-19 Pandemic

 628. Deputy Joe Flaherty Information on Joe  Flaherty Zoom on Joe  Flaherty asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys when bookmakers will re-open in the context of the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business and the resumption of full services; and if as a licensed business bookmakers will follow the same reopening timeline as bars. [6607/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business sets out five stages for unlocking the restrictions put in place to contain the Coronavirus, at three week intervals. The Roadmap sets out how we can keep the level of transmission of COVID-19 as low as possible while balancing continuing restrictions in proportion with the positive social and economic benefits which will be brought about by businesses reopening.  It is important to note that all decisions taken by Government on the timing of any lifting of restrictions as envisaged in Phases 2 to 5 of the Roadmap will be guided by the public health advice at the time.

  On 15 May the Government announced that we would move to Phase 1 of the Roadmap from Monday 18 May. This is in line with advice received from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). The categories of workers, list of retailers and other facilities that can re-open under Phase 1 are available on the Government’s website gov.ie.

  Businesses should review the Roadmap carefully and carry out a detailed assessment of their activities with regard to the continuing public health measures.  Businesses should, based on their assessment, identify which category in which phase of reopening they will be in a position to reopen safely and in line with the continued public health measures.  It is not necessary for businesses to seek official authorisation to reopen.

  The National Return to Work Safely Protocol is a useful guide for businesses in making their assessments and adapting their workplace procedures and practices to comply fully with the COVID-19 related public health protection measures. It sets out in very clear terms for employers and workers the steps that they must take firstly before a workplace reopens, and then while it continues to operate.

  The Protocol is available at https://dbei.gov.ie/en/Publications/Return-to-Work-Safely-Protocol.html

  The Health and Safety Authority, which is an agency of my Department, is the lead agency in overseeing compliance with the Protocol in the workplace.  If employers or employees need further guidance on the Protocol, the HSA Helpline can be contacted at 1890 289 389 or wcu@hsa.ie.

  In order to assist businesses to address the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Government has put in place a comprehensive suite of supports for firms of all sizes, which includes the wage subsidy scheme, grants, low-cost loans, write-off of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities. These supports are designed to build confidence, to further assist businesses in terms of the management of their companies and to allow them to begin looking to the future and start charting a path forward for weeks and months ahead. For a full list of supports for business please see https://dbei.gov.ie/en/What-We-Do/Supports-for-SMEs/COVID-19-supports/.

  On 8 May the Government agreed details of a further support which will give direct grant aid to micro and small businesses to help them with the costs associated with reopening and reemploying workers following COVID-19 closures. The Restart Grant will be available to businesses with a turnover of less than €5m and employing 50 people or less, which were closed or impacted by at least a 25% reduction in turnover out to 30 June 2020. It is a contribution towards the cost of re-opening or keeping a business operational and re-connecting with employees and customers. The grants will be equivalent to the rates bill of the business in 2019, with a minimum payment of €2,000 and a maximum payment of €10,000.

  I recognise the impact that this pandemic is having on businesses right across the country, I know that employers and employees want to get back to work and I support them in that ambition, but it must be safe to do so.  My Department contributed to the considerations around the phased re-opening of sectors and I will work within Government to secure further details and clarity for businesses as we progress through the phases outlined in the Roadmap.

  A wide range of stakeholders including employers, unions and representative groups were consulted and their advice formed part of the considerations when drawing up the Roadmap. It is a living document and Government has the ability to flex the plans depending on the circumstances existing as we progress through each phase. It will be subject to regular review in the context of the progression or suppression of the disease in Ireland or new guidance or research that emerges from other sources.   

Workplace Safety

 629. Deputy Róisín Shortall Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if the concerns raised by an organisation (details supplied) will be addressed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6642/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I have received the correspondence referred to from the Hairdressing Council of Ireland. I can confirm that I will be responding to the Council to address their concerns in the coming days.

Since this crisis began, I have engaged with businesses and responded by putting in place a broad range of business supports. I have convened numerous meetings of the Enterprise and Retail forums, which I chair, and met other representatives of employers and employees and the response back has been very positive. I will continue to maintain that dialogue with stakeholders so that we can work towards getting people back to work safely.

The Government recognises that the COVID-19 emergency has had an unprecedented impact on our economy, as well as society.  It is acknowledged that as the reopening of the economy begins, businesses will require significant additional supports on top of the existing measures such as income support schemes and enhanced liquidity supports.  However, it is important to note that all decisions taken by Government on the timing of any lifting of restrictions will be guided by the public health advice at the time.

Manufacturing Sector

 630. Deputy Róisín Shortall Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if consideration has been given to State sponsored manufacturing of protective face masks; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6643/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys My Department continues to engage with its enterprise agencies, other Departments, public health officials, other enterprise development agencies and bodies and companies to increase the supply of a whole range of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

  To date the following actions have been undertaken:

 - Enterprise Ireland has connected both client and non-client Irish companies with capability to produce hand sanitizer and other types of PPE, including face masks, with the HSE.

 - Enterprise Ireland’s Global Sourcing and Public Sector Procurement staff, in conjunction with IDA Ireland and industry contacts, are working to identify where companies have capability to produce hand sanitizer and other types of PPE or which could source them through their networks.  Company lists are being produced and shared with the HSE, where appropriate.

 - Ireland has world-class researchers in our Higher Education Institutions and a diverse range of innovative companies, both indigenous and multinational, that can quickly pivot to deliver projects, treatments and interventions as needed.  Research teams within the Higher Education Institutes, including Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Research Centres and other SFI supported research teams, have joined the effort to respond to local and national demand for PPE by producing face shields and other equipment for frontline staff.  This work is being carried out on an ongoing basis.

  As part of this work, a number of injection moulding companies have been approached with regard to face shield manufacture.  Two Irish companies are producing face shields for the HSE and a number of Irish companies are now setting up production for masks to add to those already manufactured in Ireland or being sourced from overseas.

  Other results emerging from this work are:

 - A number of companies were identified as having potential capability and capacity to switch production to hand sanitizers.  Irish companies are now meeting all HSE Hand Sanitizer requirements.

 - A number of Irish companies are now making gowns and aprons for HSE.

 - Assistance has been given to all manufacturers in sourcing the raw materials and packaging for the production of hand sanitizer and PPE.

 - Some distilleries have made available ethanol for hand sanitizer production for free and at low cost.

 - EI and IDA Clients and other companies have activated their supply network in China with a focus on face masks and gowns.  Gloves have been sourced by two EI clients and from an agent based here.

 - Another EI client has manufactured reagent for testing and supplied it to the HSE.

 - Many Irish companies have been introduced to the HSE with COVID-19 related solutions in patient monitoring, disinfecting devices, testing and temperature detection and many other areas.

  I can assure the Deputy that the Government will continue to work with all enterprises to ensure the supply of PPE to our front line workers.

Credit Guarantee Scheme

 631. Deputy Michael McGrath Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the differences between the existing credit guarantee scheme and the new €2 billion credit guarantee scheme announced on 2 May 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6673/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Government on 2 May announced a new €2 billion COVID-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme as a further development of the existing Credit Guarantee Scheme (CGS) already available from AIB, BOI and Ulster Bank. 

This Scheme forms a major component of the government’s strategy to aid SMEs in these difficult times by providing critical support to ensure businesses are facilitated in having access to credit facilities to assist a return to a more regular trading environment.  It will provide an 80% guarantee on lending to SMEs until the end of this year, for terms between 3 months and 6 years.  The guarantee can be used for a wide range of lending products between €10,000 and €1 million that have a maximum term of 6 years or less.

The implementation of this Scheme will require primary legislation, the drafting of which has been approved by Government, and my officials are already working with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel on this drafting work.

There are a number of liquidity supports for COVID 19 impacted businesses currently available, including the existing Credit Guarantee Scheme supporting loans up to €1 million for periods of up to 7 years.  The scheme is designed to support a range of debt products appropriate to the borrowing needs of SMEs. Term loans and other products such as stocking facilities, performance bonds are covered by the Scheme. It is possible for SMEs to avail of between a three to six-month interest-only payment period subject to the lender’s assessment of the application.

The differences between the existing Credit Guarantee Scheme (CGS) and the new Covid-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme include:

- An increase in the level of guarantee available to participating finance providers from €150 million per annum to €2 billion and an increase in the portfolio cap which will provide these finance providers with greater security to offer facilities under the guarantee.

- The Covid-19 CGS will be available to primary producers which are excluded from the existing Scheme due to State Aid rules. This restriction has been removed in light of the Covid-19 situation and in accordance with the European Commission's State Aid Temporary Framework.

- The Covid-19 CGS will be available to small Mid-Caps (up to 499 employees) which are excluded from the current CGS. 

- The Scheme will have interest rates below current market rates. The exact figures cannot be announced until the legislation and operational aspects have moved further along the process.

My officials are also currently engaged in discussions with a view to broadening the number of participating finance providers participating in the Scheme.

I can assure the Deputy that I continue to work with my colleagues across Government to examine  supports to assist businesses impacted by Covid-19.

Credit Guarantee Scheme

 632. Deputy Michael McGrath Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the date the current credit guarantee scheme came into effect; the allocation of State funding set aside for the existing credit guarantee scheme as against the scheme announced on 2 May 2020; the amount that has been currently used up; the number of loans that have been issued to companies under the scheme each month since the scheme was established; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6674/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Credit Guarantee Scheme was implemented under the Credit Guarantee Act 2012, which came into effect on 30 August 2012, with secondary legislation setting out the operational detail of the Scheme.  The Credit Guarantee Scheme is available to Covid-19 impacted businesses, it supports loans up to €1 million for periods of up to 7 years.  The Scheme offers a partial Government guarantee of 80% to banks against losses on qualifying loans to eligible SMEs.  The scheme is designed to support a range of debt products appropriate to the borrowing needs of SMEs. Term loans and other products such as stocking facilities, performance bonds are covered by the Scheme.

  An application to access the Credit Guarantee Scheme can be made through one of the participating finance providers which are currently Allied Irish Banks, Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank Ireland.  The Scheme is operated by SBCI.  The Department plays no role in the application or decision-making process, which, is fully delegated to the participating lenders.  The current Credit Guarantee Scheme facilitates guarantees up to a maximum of €150 million in any one year.

  There are no upfront costs for the scheme, however loans under guarantee represent a contingent liability for the State.  Since its inception there have been eight claims against the Credit Guarantee Scheme for a value of €955,247.

  Since its inception in 2012 there have been 863 loans sanctioned to the value of €151,659,224 up to 31st March 2020.  While the monthly breakdown is not available I have provided the annual breakdown as follows.

Year No. of Loans Sanctioned Value
2012 6 €582,000
2013 88 €12,107,500
2014 68 €9,283,444
2015 108 €20,385,050
2016 131 €22,312,000
2017 129 €19,726,700
2018 139 €21,561,562
2019 118 €25,067,734
2020 Qtr 1 76 €20,633,234 


As announced on Saturday, 2 May 2, Government has agreed a new €2 billion COVID-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme as a further development of the existing Credit Guarantee Scheme already available from AIB, BOI and Ulster Bank.  This Scheme forms a major component of the government’s strategy to aid SMEs in these difficult times by providing critical support to ensure businesses are facilitated in having access to credit facilities to assist a return to a more regular trading environment.  It will provide an 80% guarantee on lending to SMEs until the end of this year, for terms between 3 months and 6 years.  The guarantee will be able to be used for a wide range of lending products between €10,000 and €1 million that have a maximum term of 6 years or less. 

  The Scheme will be available to all SME sectors, including primary producers.  It will also have interest rates below current market rates.  The implementation of this Scheme will require primary legislation, the drafting of which has been approved by Government, and my officials are already working with the Office of the Parliamentary counsel on this drafting work.

Credit Guarantee Scheme

 633. Deputy Michael McGrath Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the reason for the exclusions to the current credit guarantee scheme; if the agriculture sector primary production in agriculture, horticulture and fisheries is excluded from the scheme; if the construction sector property-related activities are excluded from the scheme; if a company cannot use the scheme to restructure its current debt; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6675/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Credit Guarantee Scheme was implemented in 2012 and is available to Covid-19 impacted businesses, it supports loans up to €1 million for periods of up to 7 years.  The Scheme offers a partial Government guarantee of 80% to banks against losses on qualifying loans to eligible SMEs.  The scheme is designed to support a range of debt products appropriate to the borrowing needs of SMEs. Term loans and other products such as stocking facilities, performance bonds are covered by the Scheme.

An application to access the Credit Guarantee Scheme can be made through one of the participating finance providers which are currently Allied Irish Banks, Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank Ireland.  The Scheme is operated by SBCI, the Department plays no role in the application or decision-making process, which, is fully delegated to the participating lenders.  The Credit Guarantee Scheme facilitates guarantees up to a maximum of €150 million in any one year.

Primary producers in agriculture, horticulture and fisheries are excluded from the current Credit Guarantee Scheme under State aid rules. However, they will be included under the Covid-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme arising from the amended State Aid rules under the the European Commission’s State Aid Temporary Framework measures to support the economy in the context of the Covid-19 outbreak. 

The new Scheme will be available to all SME sectors, and will also be available to small Mid-Caps (under 499 employees) which are excluded from the current Scheme. 

Refinancing of existing debts are excluded from the current Credit Guarantee Scheme as the purpose of this Scheme is to facilitate additional lending into the economy. Such arrangements continue to be dealt with by banks under their current lending arrangements.  The new Scheme will include re-financing arrangements, the terms of these arrangement are currently under discussion with the financial institutions. 

The implementation of the Covid-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme will require primary legislation, the drafting of which has been approved by Government, and my officials are already working with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel on this drafting work.

Credit Guarantee Scheme

 634. Deputy Michael McGrath Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if the exclusions in the current credit guarantee scheme will be removed from the new scheme announced on 2 May 2020; if the new scheme will avail of the relaxed state aid rules; if state aid approval has been sought for the new scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6676/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Since the Covid-19 crisis began, Government has worked to put in place a suite of supports to ensure appropriate financing is available to businesses that have been impacted by the outbreak or by the restrictions that have been put in place to mitigate the spread of the disease.

As announced on Saturday, May 2, Government has agreed a new €2 billion COVID-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme as a further development of the existing Credit Guarantee Scheme already available from AIB, BOI and Ulster Bank.  This Scheme forms a major component of the Government’s strategy to aid SMEs in these difficult times by providing critical support to ensure businesses are facilitated in having access to credit facilities to assist a return to a more regular trading environment.  It will provide an 80% guarantee on lending to SMEs until the end of this year, for terms between 3 months and 6 years.  The guarantee will be able to be used for a wide range of lending products between €10,000 and €1 million that have a maximum term of 6 years or less. 

The Scheme will be available to all SME sectors, including primary producers in agriculture, horticulture and fisheries.  These sectors are excluded from the current Credit Guarantee Scheme under State aid rules. They will be included under the Covid-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme arising from the amended State Aid rules under the the European Commission’s State Aid Temporary Framework.  The Scheme will also be available to small Mid-Caps (up to 499 employees) which are also excluded from the current Scheme. 

The new Scheme will include re-financing arrangements, the terms of these arrangement are currently under discussion with the financial institutions. 

My officials are currently engaged with the European Commission in seeking approval for the Covid-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme and ensuring the Scheme's adherence to the rules set out in their Temporary Framework.   

The implementation of this Scheme will require primary legislation, the drafting of which has been approved by Government, and my officials are already working with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel on this drafting work.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 635. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys when betting shops can re-open in view of the fact there is no guideline in the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business relating to same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6684/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business sets out five stages for unlocking the restrictions put in place to contain the Coronavirus, at three week intervals. The Roadmap sets out how we can keep the level of transmission of COVID-19 as low as possible while balancing continuing restrictions in proportion with the positive social and economic benefits which will be brought about by businesses reopening.  It is important to note that all decisions taken by Government on the timing of any lifting of restrictions as envisaged in Phases 2 to 5 of the Roadmap will be guided by the public health advice at the time.

  On 15 May the Government announced that we would move to Phase 1 of the Roadmap from Monday 18 May 18. This is in line with advice received from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). The categories of workers, list of retailers and other facilities that can re-open under Phase 1 are available on the Government’s website gov.ie.

  Businesses should review the Roadmap carefully and carry out a detailed assessment of their activities with regard to the continuing public health measures.  Businesses should, based on their assessment, identify which category in which phase of reopening they will be in a position to reopen safely and in line with the continued public health measures.  It is not necessary for businesses to seek official authorisation to reopen.

  The National Return to Work Safely Protocol is a useful guide for businesses in making their assessments and adapting their workplace procedures and practices to comply fully with the COVID-19 related public health protection measures. It sets out in very clear terms for employers and workers the steps that they must take firstly before a workplace reopens, and then while it continues to operate.

  The Protocol is available at https://dbei.gov.ie/en/Publications/Return-to-Work-Safely-Protocol.html

  The Health and Safety Authority, which is an agency of my Department, is the lead agency in overseeing compliance with the Protocol in the workplace.  If employers or employees need further guidance on the Protocol, the HSA Helpline can be contacted at 1890 289 389 or wcu@hsa.ie.

   In order to assist businesses to address the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Government has put in place a comprehensive suite of supports for firms of all sizes, which includes the wage subsidy scheme, grants, low-cost loans, write-off of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities. These supports are designed to build confidence, to further assist businesses in terms of the management of their companies and to allow them to begin looking to the future and start charting a path forward for weeks and months ahead. For a full list of supports for business please see https://dbei.gov.ie/en/What-We-Do/Supports-for-SMEs/COVID-19-supports/.

  On 8 May the Government agreed details of a further support which will give direct grant aid to micro and small businesses to help them with the costs associated with reopening and reemploying workers following COVID-19 closures. The Restart Grant will be available to businesses with a turnover of less than €5m and employing 50 people or less, which were closed or impacted by at least a 25% reduction in turnover out to 30 June 2020. It is a contribution towards the cost of re-opening or keeping a business operational and re-connecting with employees and customers. The grants will be equivalent to the rates bill of the business in 2019, with a minimum payment of €2,000 and a maximum payment of €10,000.

  I recognise the impact that this pandemic is having on businesses right across the country, I know that employers and employees want to get back to work and I support them in that ambition, but it must be safe to do so.  My Department contributed to the considerations around the phased re-opening of sectors and I will work within Government to secure further details and clarity for businesses as we progress through the phases outlined in the Roadmap.

  A wide range of stakeholders including employers, unions and representative groups were consulted and their advice formed part of the considerations when drawing up the Roadmap. It is a living document and Government has the ability to flex the plans depending on the circumstances existing as we progress through each phase. It will be subject to regular review in the context of the progression or suppression of the disease in Ireland or new guidance or research that emerges from other sources.

Job Losses

 636. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú Information on Ruairí Ó Murchú Zoom on Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if her attention has been drawn to the 176 redundancies announced by a company in Dundalk, County Louth, on 8 May 2020; if her attention has been further drawn to the fact that many of the redundant positions are being advertised in Tunisia; the engagement her Department has had with the company ahead of and after the redundancies announcement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6694/20]

 639. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if she will make all available resources available to staff affected by job losses announced by a company (details supplied) in County Louth; if discussions have taken place to offer the wage subsidy scheme to the company in the short term; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6812/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I propose to take Questions Nos. 636 and 639 together.

The announcement by National Pen that it is to seek redundancies at its Dundalk facility is deeply disappointing. My immediate concern is for the workers and families who have been impacted by this announcement. Many of these workers have been with the company for many years, which makes this news all the more difficult.

The IDA have been in contact with senior management at National Pen and will continue to work closely with the company to support and maintain the Dundalk operation. The company has stated that it has experienced a significant decline in demand for its products. It has advised the IDA that the steps being taken now are necessary to secure the long-term future of the business and preserve the positions of the majority of the workers at the Dundalk operation.

It is important to remember that, despite the loss of these roles, National Pen will continue to be a significant employer in the region. The company has confirmed that it remains committed to operating in Ireland and will retain 380 staff in Dundalk.

The Government will make every State support available to employees impacted by this announcement. My Department, the Department of Social Protection, as well as our State Agencies, will all be doing their utmost to help workers transition and find new employment opportunities.

IDA Ireland has already made the company aware of the Government supports that are available. I understand that the IDA will also be working with National Pen’s HR team to connect staff with other clients in the IDA portfolio in due course.

Ireland’s economy, as we all know, is outward-facing, export-orientated and reliant to a large degree on global FDI. This means that when a multinational company makes decisions, either as result of Covid-19 or for other business reasons, we unfortunately can feel the impact here.

However, the employment situation in Louth has been positive in recent years with over 4,400 staff employed in IDA firms in Louth, a more than threefold increase on 2010. The pipeline of new jobs has included significant investments from Wuxi Biologic, Panasonic, Wuxi Vaccines and PCI Pharma.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 637. Deputy Dessie Ellis Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her views on whether boutique gyms, micro gyms and those that offer personal training and small group personal training would be more suited to inclusion in phase 3 of the Covid-19 re-opening phases which allows for indoor sporting activities in which social distancing is adhered to behind closed doors rather than in phase 5 (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6801/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business sets out five stages for unlocking the restrictions put in place to contain the Coronavirus, at three week intervals. The Roadmap sets out how we can keep the level of transmission of COVID-19 as low as possible while balancing continuing restrictions in proportion with the positive social and economic benefits which will be brought about by businesses reopening.  It is important to note that all decisions taken by Government on the timing of any lifting of restrictions as envisaged in Phases 2 to 5 of the Roadmap will be guided by the public health advice at the time.

  On 15 May the Government announced that we would move to Phase 1 of the Roadmap from Monday 18 May. This is in line with advice received from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). The categories of workers, list of retailers and other facilities that can re-open under Phase 1 are available on the Government’s website gov.ie.

   Businesses should review the Roadmap carefully and carry out a detailed assessment of their activities with regard to the continuing public health measures.  Businesses should, based on their assessment, identify which category in which phase of reopening they will be in a position to reopen safely and in line with the continued public health measures.  It is not necessary for businesses to seek official authorisation to reopen.

  The National Return to Work Safely Protocol is a useful guide for businesses in making their assessments and adapting their workplace procedures and practices to comply fully with the COVID-19 related public health protection measures. It sets out in very clear terms for employers and workers the steps that they must take firstly before a workplace reopens, and then while it continues to operate.

  The Protocol is available at https://dbei.gov.ie/en/Publications/Return-to-Work-Safely-Protocol.html

  The Health and Safety Authority, which is an agency of my Department, is the lead agency in overseeing compliance with the Protocol in the workplace.  If employers or employees need further guidance on the Protocol, the HSA Helpline can be contacted at 1890 289 389 or wcu@hsa.ie.

  In order to assist businesses to address the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Government has put in place a comprehensive suite of supports for firms of all sizes, which includes the wage subsidy scheme, grants, low-cost loans, write-off of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities. These supports are designed to build confidence, to further assist businesses in terms of the management of their companies and to allow them to begin looking to the future and start charting a path forward for weeks and months ahead. For a full list of supports for business please see https://dbei.gov.ie/en/What-We-Do/Supports-for-SMEs/COVID-19-supports/.

  On 8 May the Government agreed details of a further support which will give direct grant aid to micro and small businesses to help them with the costs associated with reopening and reemploying workers following COVID-19 closures. The Restart Grant will be available to businesses with a turnover of less than €5m and employing 50 people or less, which were closed or impacted by at least a 25% reduction in turnover out to 30 June 2020. It is a contribution towards the cost of re-opening or keeping a business operational and re-connecting with employees and customers. The grants will be equivalent to the rates bill of the business in 2019, with a minimum payment of €2,000 and a maximum payment of €10,000.

  The Roadmap document is a living document and will be subject to regular review in the context of the progression or suppression of the disease in Ireland or new guidance or research that emerges from other sources.   

  I recognise the impact that this pandemic is having on businesses right across the country, I know that employers and employees want to get back to work and I support them in that ambition, but it must be safe to do so.  My Department contributed to the considerations around the phased re-opening of sectors and I will work within Government to secure further details and clarity for businesses as we progress through the phases outlined in the Roadmap.

  A wide range of stakeholders including employers, unions and representative groups were consulted and their advice formed part of the considerations when drawing up the Roadmap. It is a living document and Government has the ability to amend its plans depending on the circumstances existing as we progress through each phase. It will be subject to regular review in the context of the progression or suppression of the disease in Ireland or new guidance or research that emerges from other sources.   

Proposed Legislation

 638. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if legislation prepared by her Department will be required to implement the new measures announced recently to help businesses recover from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic; the progress made to date in drafting this legislation; when it is hoped to publish same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6806/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys T.D.

I recognise that the current healthcare crisis has put enormous pressure on companies of all sizes and across all sectors in our economy, and the Government has put in place a number of schemes to support enterprises and their employees in responding to the crisis.

To further enhance the supports already available to enterprise, the Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe TD, and I announced a suite of measures to support businesses that are negatively impacted by Covid-19 which had been agreed by Government at its meeting on Saturday 2 May 2020. 

Within that package, the specific measure which falls within the remit of my Department is the €2 billion Covid-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme.   

The implementation of this new Covid-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme requires amendments to the Credit Guarantee Act 2012 (as amended).  Since the Government approved the scheme, officials in my Department have been working urgently alongside the Office of Parliamentary Counsel on the priority drafting of the Covid 19 Miscellaneous Financing Provisions Bill 2020. 

This amending legislation will also include amendments to the Microenterprise Loan Fund Act 2012 to facilitate Microfinance Ireland (MFI) to be able to borrow moneys from bodies other than its parent body, the Social Finance Foundation.  This is intended to allow MFI to have access to greater sources of funding, to enhance its ability to provide more microenterprise loans to those qualifying enterprises in need of additional finance options. 

There is also an amendment to the European Investment Fund Act 2018 to be included within this Bill, which will allow it to take greater advantage of additional funding streams available from the European Investment Bank and European Investment Fund to facilitate access to finance for qualifying enterprises.  These measures are also intended to facilitate increasing the range and capacity of sources of additional finance for enterprises in Ireland, allowing them to identify what best suits their own individual needs.   

My Department and the Office of Parliamentary Counsel intend to publish the Bill before the end of May. My priority is to ensure that this legislation can be progressed through the Oireachtas as a matter of urgency following the formation of a new Government.  I am very aware of the pressure for enterprise to access these supports in order to be able to resume economic activity and hope that all Parliamentarians will facilitate its urgent commencement.

In order to support that urgency, and in tandem with the preparation of the enabling legislation, officials in my Department, along with officials from the Department of Finance and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, have also been working on progressing the operational issues to establish the Covid 19 Credit Guarantee Scheme as quickly as possible, including negotiating with the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland and participating financial institutions.   

I would also like to remind Deputies that the existing array of supports for business from the Department, its enterprise agencies and other Departments, continue to be available for businesses at this time.

  Question No. 639 answered with Question No. 636.

Credit Guarantee Scheme

 640. Deputy Michael McGrath Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the average interest rate charged by the banks on the loans handed out with regard the current credit guarantee scheme; if there is a 0.5% premium on top of that for the guarantee scheme; if she is considering to reduce this premium to zero; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6814/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Credit Guarantee Scheme was implemented in 2012 and is available to Covid-19 impacted businesses, it supports loans up to €1 million for periods of up to 7 years.  The Scheme offers a partial Government guarantee of 80% to banks against losses on qualifying loans to eligible SMEs.  The scheme is designed to support a range of debt products appropriate to the borrowing needs of SMEs. Term loans and other products such as stocking facilities, performance bonds are covered by the Scheme.

  The interest rate charged on a loan is the SME lending rate of the individual bank offering the loan which can change according to market conditions. It is possible for SMEs to avail of between a three to six-month interest-only payment period subject to the lender’s assessment of the application.

  In addition, the borrower pays a premium which partially covers the cost of providing the guarantee. The premium can vary but is currently 0.5%.  State Aid rules for Government guarantees require that a premium be charged.   The European Commission’s State Aid Temporary Framework, also sets guarantee premium requirements but makes no provision for a zero-value premium.     

  An application to access the Credit Guarantee Scheme can be made through one of the participating finance providers which are currently Allied Irish Banks, Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank Ireland.  The Scheme is operated by SBCI, the Department plays no role in the application or decision-making process, which, is fully delegated to the participating lenders.  The Credit Guarantee Scheme facilitates guarantees up to a maximum of €150 million in any one year.

  As announced on Saturday 2 May, Government has agreed a new €2 billion Covid-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme as a further development of the existing Credit Guarantee Scheme already available from AIB, BOI and Ulster Bank.  This Scheme forms a major component of the Government’s strategy to aid SMEs in these difficult times by providing critical support to ensure businesses are facilitated in having access to credit facilities to assist a return to a more regular trading environment.  It will provide an 80% guarantee on lending to SMEs until the end of this year, for terms between 3 months and 6 years.  The guarantee will be able to be used for a wide range of lending products between €10,000 and €1 million that have a maximum term of 6 years or less. 

  The Scheme will be available to all SME sectors, including primary producers.  The implementation of this Scheme will require primary legislation, the drafting of which has been approved by Government, and my officials are already working with the Office of the Parliamentary counsel on this drafting work.

Credit Guarantee Scheme

 641. Deputy Michael McGrath Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the interest rate that will be applicable to loans advanced under the new scheme for the €2 billion credit guarantee scheme announced in early May 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6815/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys As announced on Saturday 2 May, Government has agreed a new €2 billion COVID-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme as a further development of the existing Credit Guarantee Scheme already available from AIB, BOI and Ulster Bank.  This Scheme forms a major component of the Government’s strategy to aid SMEs in these difficult times by providing critical support to ensure businesses are facilitated in having access to credit facilities to assist a return to a more regular trading environment.  It will provide an 80% guarantee on lending to SMEs until the end of this year, for terms between 3 months and 6 years.  The guarantee will be able to be used for a wide range of lending products between €10,000 and €1 million that have a maximum term of 6 years or less. 

The Scheme will be available to all SME sectors, including primary producers.  It will also have interest rates below current market rates. The implementation of this Scheme will require primary legislation, the drafting of which has been approved by Government, and my officials are already working with the Office of the Parliamentary counsel on this drafting work.

Credit Guarantee Scheme

 642. Deputy Michael McGrath Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the changes made to the credit guarantee scheme as a result of Covid-19; the number of loans that have been advanced under the scheme since the changes were made; the value of loans advanced under the scheme since the changes were made; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6816/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Government announced a new €2 billion COVID-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme, as a further development of the existing Credit Guarantee Scheme already available from AIB, BOI and Ulster Bank, on the 2nd May. 

This Scheme forms a major component of the Government’s strategy to aid SMEs in these difficult times by providing critical support to ensure businesses are facilitated in having access to credit facilities to assist a return to a more regular trading environment.  It will provide an 80% guarantee on lending to SMEs until the end of this year, for terms between 3 months and 6 years.  The guarantee will be able to be used for a wide range of lending products between €10,000 and €1 million that have a maximum term of 6 years or less. 

The Scheme will be available to all SME sectors, including primary producers.  It will also have interest rates below current market rates.  The implementation of this Scheme will require primary legislation, the drafting of which has been approved by Government, and my officials are already working with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel on this drafting work and as it awaiting legislation, loans are not yet being advanced under the revised scheme.

There are a number of liquidity supports for COVID 19 impacted businesses available right now, including the existing Credit Guarantee Scheme supporting loans up to €1 million for periods of up to 7 years.  The Scheme is designed to support a range of debt products appropriate to the borrowing needs of SMEs. Term loans and other products such as stocking facilities, performance bonds are covered by the Scheme. It is possible for SMEs to avail of between a three to six-month interest-only payment period subject to the lender’s assessment of the application.

An application to access the current Credit Guarantee Scheme can be made through one of the participating finance providers which are currently Allied Irish Bank, Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank Ireland.  The Scheme is operated by SBCI, the Department plays no role in the application or decision-making process, which, is fully delegated to the participating lenders.  The Credit Guarantee Scheme facilitates guarantees up to a maximum of €150 million in any one year.

When the COVID-19 crisis began, I made changes to the Credit Guarantee Scheme to make it easier for businesses to access – including removing the requirement that businesses be refused a loan by the banks before they could access the scheme.

I can assure the Deputy that I continue to work with my colleagues across Government to examine  supports to assist businesses impacted by Covid-19.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 643. Deputy Peter Burke Information on Peter Burke Zoom on Peter Burke asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if guidance will be provided to those doing one on one consultations, such as personal trainers, on when they will be permitted to resume these sessions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6849/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business sets out five stages for unlocking the restrictions put in place to contain the Coronavirus, at three week intervals. The Roadmap sets out how we can keep the level of transmission of COVID-19 as low as possible while balancing continuing restrictions in proportion with the positive social and economic benefits which will be brought about by businesses reopening.  It is important to note that all decisions taken by Government on the timing of any lifting of restrictions as envisaged in Phases 2 to 5 of the Roadmap will be guided by the public health advice at the time.

  On 15 May the Government announced that we would move to move to Phase 1 of the Roadmap from Monday 18 May. This is in line with advice received from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). The categories of workers, list of retailers and other facilities that can re -open under Phase 1 are available on the Government’s website gov.ie.

  Businesses should review the Roadmap carefully and carry out a detailed assessment of their activities with regard to the continuing public health measures.  Businesses should, based on their assessment, identify which category in which phase of reopening they will be in a position to reopen safely and in line with the continued public health measures.  It is not necessary for businesses to seek official authorisation to reopen.

  The National Return to Work Safely Protocol is a useful guide for businesses in making their assessments and adapting their workplace procedures and practices to comply fully with the COVID-19 related public health protection measures. It sets out in very clear terms for employers and workers the steps that they must take firstly before a workplace reopens, and then while it continues to operate.

  The Protocol is available at https://dbei.gov.ie/en/Publications/Return-to-Work-Safely-Protocol.html

  The Health and Safety Authority, which is an agency of my Department, is the lead agency in overseeing compliance with the Protocol in the workplace.  If employers or employees need further guidance on the Protocol, the HSA Helpline can be contacted at 1890 289 389 or wcu@hsa.ie.

  In order to assist businesses to address the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Government has put in place a comprehensive suite of supports for firms of all sizes, which includes the wage subsidy scheme,  grants, low-cost loans, write-off of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities. These supports are designed to build confidence, to further assist businesses in terms of the management of their companies and to allow them to begin looking to the future and start charting a path forward for weeks and months ahead. For a full list of supports for business please see https://dbei.gov.ie/en/What-We-Do/Supports-for-SMEs/COVID-19-supports/.

  On 8 May the Government agreed details of a further support which will give direct grant aid to micro and small businesses to help them with the costs associated with reopening and reemploying workers following COVID-19 closures. The Restart Grant will be available to businesses with a turnover of less than €5m and employing 50 people or less, which were closed or impacted by at least a 25% reduction in turnover out to 30 June 2020. It is a contribution towards the cost of re-opening or keeping a business operational and re-connecting with employees and customers. The grants will be equivalent to the rates bill of the business in 2019, with a minimum payment of €2,000 and a maximum payment of €10,000.

  I recognise the impact that this pandemic is having on businesses right across the country, I know that employers and employees want to get back to work and I support them in that ambition, but it must be safe to do so.  My Department contributed to the considerations around the phased re-opening of sectors and I will work within Government to secure further details and clarity for businesses as we progress through the phases outlined in the Roadmap.

  A wide range of stakeholders including employers, unions and representative groups were consulted and their advice formed part of the considerations when drawing up the Roadmap. It is a living document and Government has the ability to flex the plans depending on the circumstances existing as we progress through each phase. It will be subject to regular review in the context of the progression or suppression of the disease in Ireland or new guidance or research that emerges from other sources.

Workplace Safety

 644. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the State agency responsible for enforcing public health guidelines in the workplace as set out in the Return to Work Safely Protocol; if spot workplace inspections will take place under the protocol; and the number of inspectors available under the protocol. [6851/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The national “Return to Work Safely Protocol” provides a clear compliance framework for all places of work to ensure that businesses can re-open and workers can return to work safely. The Protocol was drafted in close consultation with the social partners under the auspices of the Labour and Employer Economic Forum and agreed with them.

Compliance with the Return to Work Safely Protocol is being led by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), who have overall responsibility for ensuring the health, safety and welfare at work of all workers

The HSA is deploying all its available inspectors across sectors to carry out both spot checks and other inspections to check compliance with the Protocol.  The HSA inspectorate will be supplemented significantly by deploying, under the authority of the HSA, other inspectors from across the system who already have an environmental health, agriculture or other workplace/business inspection responsibilities.  As we have seen with the general public health measures over the past two months, most people are complying with the rules. We can expect the same from employers and workers, most of who want to get back to work, and want the workplace to be safe, for them and for the families that they are returning to in the evenings.

Even with the enhanced cohort of inspectors available to the HSA, they cannot be expected to go into every business in the country. That would be entirely unrealistic and unachievable. What they will do is a mix of unannounced inspections, along with providing advice and information through the HSAs Workplace Contact Unit email and phoneline wcu@hsa.ie and Tel: 1890 289 389.

If, following contact from a worker, and follow-up engagement with the employer, they feel that an inspection is warranted, they will follow up with an on-site visit.  if, on foot of an inspection, the inspector forms the opinion that further action is required, the appropriate action - up to and including the closure of a workplace - will be taken using the relevant powers. Where relevant, the public health authorities will be involved, and we have already seen this in the case of the meat processing plants.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 645. Deputy Martin Heydon Information on Martin Heydon Zoom on Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the supports available for businesses that need to make structural changes to their business premises to adhere to Covid-19 guidelines; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6866/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys A major part of my Department’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been to expand the range of financial supports to ensure businesses have sufficient liquidity to see them through the crisis and to prepare for the announced reopening phases.  My Department and I continue to monitor the needs of companies as the situation evolves and provide new supports where required and appropriate to do so.

Included in the now €7.5 billion of liquidity supports which I announced over the past few weeks, is a Sustaining Enterprise Fund for Small Enterprises which is being administered by Enterprise Ireland. This fund for smaller businesses provides €25,000 and €50,000 in repayable advances, depending on size and turnover of company. This fund will provide liquidity to enable these enterprises to steer a pathway towards recovery and to introduce measures in response to the controls and health and safety requirements in line with changing work patterns and protocols and guidelines being introduced as we begin the re-opening of the economy.

On 15 May last, the Government also agreed the arrangements for the new €250m “Restart Grant” for micro enterprises and small businesses.  The "Restart Grant"  is a contribution towards the cost of re-opening or keeping a business operational and re-connecting with employees and customers. It will be a critically important tool to support small businesses to reopen their doors and get back on their feet. This grant will enable small and micro business reconnect with their employees and customer base by helping to defray ongoing fixed costs and the costs, such as PPE, associated with re-launching the business.

The grants will be equivalent to the rates bill of the business in 2019, with a minimum payment of €2,000 and a maximum payment of €10,000.  Applications for the "Restart Grant" can be made online to all local authorities from Friday 22 May.

In addition to the extensive package of liquidity measures announced, the full range of Enterprise Ireland, IDA, Local Enterprise Office (LEO) and Údarás na Gaeltachta grant and advisory supports continue to be available to eligible firms to help with strategies to access finance, commence or ramp-up online trading activity, reconfigure business models, cut costs, innovate, diversify markets and supply chains and to improve competitiveness. 

I can assure the Deputy that I continue to work with my colleagues across Government and all stakeholders to examine further appropriate supports to assist businesses impacted by Covid-19.  In that regard, Government will continue to explore funding potential for all enterprises as they work through the challenges facing them, including through any mechanisms allowable under the EU’s state aid framework.

Work Permits

 646. Deputy Louise O'Reilly Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the number of permits for migrant workers issued to date for each of the months to May 2020; the figures for the same period for 2019; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6928/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Under the Employment Permits Acts in order to work in the State all non-EEA nationals require a valid employment permit or relevant immigration permission from the Minister for Justice and Equality which allows them to reside and work in the State without the requirement for an employment permit.  Migrant workers from the European Union and European Economic Area (EEA) do not require an employment permit to work in Ireland.

  Ireland operates a managed employment permits system maximising the benefits of economic migration and minimising the risk of disrupting Ireland’s labour market. The employment permits regime is designed to facilitate the entry of appropriately skilled non-EEA nationals to fill skills and/or labour shortages, however, this objective must be balanced by the need to ensure that there are no suitably qualified Irish/EEA nationals available to undertake the work and that the shortage is a genuine one.

  In order to ensure that the employment permits system is responsive to changes in economic circumstances and labour market conditions, it is managed through the operation of the Critical Skills and Ineligible Occupations Lists for the purpose of granting an employment permit, which are subject to twice yearly review. These reviews, which are evidence based and are guided by research undertaken by the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN) and the Skills and Labour Market Research Unit (SLMRU) in SOLAS, as well as a public consultation process and input from the relevant Government Departments as well as the Economic Migration Inter-Departmental Group, chaired by the Department. Account is also taken of contextual factors such as Brexit and, in the current context, COVID-19.  

   At the end of April 2020 there was a 6% increase in the number of applications received over the same period in 2019, and there was a 15% increase in the number of permits issued over the same period in 2019.  Since the COVID-19 crisis began, the Department has been prioritising the processing of employment permit applications for medical personnel and these applications continue to be prioritised.  Since mid-March, this has resulted in 1,404 employment permits issuing to medical personnel, accounting for approx. 37% of  permits issued in that period.

  The statistics request by the Deputy are as follows:

  Permits Issued Permits Issued
  2019 2020
Jan 1,556 1,349
Feb 1,196 1,447
March 1,155 1,228
April 1,112 1,769
May 1,359 831 (at COB 15th May)


  The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation has implemented a contingency plan to ensure that the Employment Permit system continues to operate throughout the crisis. The Department has implemented remote working arrangements for staff and has adjusted operations to, inter alia, provide for the acceptance of electronic/scanned documents.

  Full details on the Employment Permits contingency arrangements are available at the following link - https://dbei.gov.ie/en/Publications/Publication-files/COVID-19-Employment-Permits-System-Contingency-Arrangements.pdf

Ministerial Meetings

 647. Deputy Louise O'Reilly Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if she has engaged with a group (details supplied); if so, the time and date of these meetings; if she will publish the minutes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6936/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I have engaged with representatives of the Industry concerned. I have had two conference calls to date, the first on 7 May 2020 and the second today, 20 May 2020, with the Industry. The President of the Group concerned was one of the participants in the call this morning.

Health and Safety Authority

 648. Deputy Louise O'Reilly Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the additional resources deployed to the Health and Safety Authority to ensure it can monitor compliance with Covid-19 recommendations; the grade of the additional workers; the hours of work specifically spent on inspections of the additional workers; the number of hours they are contracted for in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6937/20]

 649. Deputy Louise O'Reilly Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if consideration has been given to the need for a dedicated hotline for workers who have specific Covid-19 related concerns regarding their health and safety on returning to and continuing to work; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6938/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I propose to take Questions Nos. 648 and 649 together.

The national “Return to Work Safely Protocol” provides a clear compliance framework for all places of work to ensure that businesses can re-open and workers can return to work safely. The Protocol was drafted in close consultation with the social partners under the auspices of the Labour and Employer Economic Forum and agreed with them.

Compliance with the Return to Work Safely Protocol is being led by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), who have overall responsibility for ensuring the health, safety and welfare at work of all workers. While the HSA has an overall complement of about 100 in the inspectorate grade, between 60 and 70 of these will initially be deployed across sectors to carry out both spot checks and other inspections to check compliance with the Protocol. The HSA inspectorate will be supplemented significantly by deploying, under the authority of the HSA, other inspectors from across the system who already have an environmental health, agriculture or other workplace/business inspection responsibilities. These will be warranted by me, using powers in the 2005 Act, to carry out COVID-19 inspections under the Protocol, as the economy opens up in line with the Government Roadmap.

As we have seen with the general public health measures over the past two months, most people are complying with the rules. We can expect the same from employers and workers, most of who want to get back to work, and want the workplace to be safe, for them and for the families that they are returning to in the evenings. So I am expecting employers and workers, in line with what is set out in the Protocol, to actively and jointly take responsibility for applying the clear measures set out in the Protocol, for the health and safety of all concerned.

The HSA is deploying all its available inspectors across sectors to carry out both spot checks and other inspections to check compliance with the Protocol. The HSA inspectorate will be supplemented significantly by deploying, under the authority of the HSA, other inspectors from across the system who already have an environmental health, agriculture or other workplace/business inspection responsibilities. As we have seen with the general public health measures over the past two months, most people are complying with the rules. We can expect the same from employers and workers, most of who want to get back to work, and want the workplace to be safe, for them and for the families that they are returning to in the evenings.

Even with the enhanced cohort of inspectors available to the HSA, they cannot be expected to go into every business in the country. That would be entirely unrealistic and unachievable. What they will do is a mix of unannounced inspections, along with providing advice and information through the HSAs Workplace Contact Unit email and phoneline.

The inspectors will be a mix of grades, but all are warranted to carry out inspections under the 2005 Act. The number of hours to be worked by each individual inspector is not possible to compile.

In relation to a dedicated hotline for workers the Health and Safety Authority's workplace contact unit (WCU) is available to answer any queries employers, workers or members of the public may have in regard to all occupational safety and health matters including adherence with the provisions of the National Return to Work Protocol. Additional resources have been made available for the WCU. Workplace contract unit email and phone number wcu@hsa.ie and Tel: 1890 289 389.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 650. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore Information on Jennifer  Whitmore Zoom on Jennifer  Whitmore asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if supports will be provided for businesses having difficulties paying rent and facing rent arrears due to Covid-19; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6961/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The issues businesses are facing in respect of commercial rents / leases have been raised with me through the Enterprise Forum and Retail Forum, both of which I chair, and other channels.

  These are difficult times and many companies have had to temporarily close their businesses and/or premise(s), curtail their activities or make alternative work arrangements due to COVID-19 restrictions. I am keenly aware that some businesses are concerned that some landlords are continuing to insist on the payment of rents and leases as normal despite their premises being closed.

At the same time, we must remember that landlords have their own financial obligations, like debt repayments, insurance or security costs, that still need to be paid. Where a landlord has debt in place, their flexibility will likely be driven by what their bank / lender will accept. The Minister for Finance raised the broader issue of rents in meetings with the pillar banks. He referenced this in his announcement of 18 March concerning an arrangement with the banks to the effect that any landlord who has agreed a deal with the banks on foot of the arrangement will be expected to pass the benefit on to their tenants. I reiterated this in the Dáil on 30 April last.

  While commercial leases are primarily a contractual matter for the tenant and the landlord, the Government has urged landlords to demonstrate forbearance in these extraordinary times and to play their part, as everyone must, in helping the country through this difficult period. I would encourage tenants and landlords to engage with each other on this matter and come to some arrangement as it is in everybody’s interest that terms are amicably agreed.

  I have asked my officials to raise the matter of commercial rents and leases across a number of Government Departments. An initial inter-departmental discussion has already taken place and I understand further engagement is underway with a range of stakeholders, including groups representing businesses and landlords, to gain additional insights and gather intelligence to inform any further discussions. I have also asked my officials to look into the different responses from other countries and to identify possible options for supports.

  While different options are being explored, I would point out that any support to business in respect of rents alone would ultimately end up as a support to the landlord. Not only would it be difficult to estimate the costs involved for such a scheme, but the offering of support, or even the perception that such supports will be forthcoming, may affect the market and lessen the impetus for landlords to renegotiate with tenants.

  The matter of legal protections for businesses who are unable to pay their commercial rents has been raised with the Attorney General. Specifically, I asked about the potential for legislation to prevent the eviction of commercial tenants who have failed to pay rent as a result of the pandemic and the possibility of legislating to place a moratorium on businesses having to pay rent for premises they cannot used due to the restrictions imposed by Government. I have just received a response in which the Attorney General advises that there are significant legal difficulties in respect to both of the questions posed. I have asked my officials to consider this advice.

  The Government is committed to ensuring as many businesses as possible survive this challenging period, and it will continue to look at how we can support businesses that have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

  I would like to point out that the Government has introduced a range of measures aimed at supporting businesses including:

  - The Credit Guarantee Scheme supports loans up to €1 million for periods of up to 7 years. Applications can be made to AIB, Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank. Eligibility criteria apply.

  - Microenterprises can access COVID-19 Business Loans of up to €50,000 from Microfinance Ireland. The terms include a six months interest free and repayment free moratorium, with the loan to then be repaid over the remaining 30 months of the 36-month loan period. Businesses can apply through their Local Enterprise Office or directly online at www.microfinanceireland.ie. 

  - The new €450m SBCI COVID-19 Working Capital Scheme for eligible businesses supports loans from €25,000 up to €1.5 million (first €500,000 unsecured). Applications can be made through the SBCI website at www.sbci.gov.ie. 

  - An additional €200 million in COVID-19 funding for the Future Growth Loan Scheme, which will be released in tranches, will provide longer-term loans to COVID-19 impacted businesses.

  - The new Sustaining Enterprise Fund of up to €180 million is specifically aimed at firms with 10 or more employees impacted by COVID-19 that are vulnerable but viable. The fund is operated by Enterprise Ireland, providing repayable advances of up to €800,000 as agreed with the EU under new State Aid rules.

  On 2 May, a number of additional measures to aid the economy as the Covid-19 restrictions start to be lifted were introduced. These included:

  - A €10,000 restart grant for micro and small businesses based on a rates waiver/rebate from 2019 (see below for more information);

  - A three-month commercial rates waiver for impacted businesses;

  - A €2 billion Pandemic Stabilisation and Recovery Fund within the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), which will make capital available to medium and large enterprises on commercial terms;

  - A €2 billion COVID-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme to support lending to SMEs for terms ranging from 3 months to 6 years, which will be below market interest rates;

  - The ‘warehousing’ of tax liabilities for a period of twelve months after recommencement of trading during which time there will be no debt enforcement action taken by Revenue and no interest charge accruing in respect of the warehoused debt;

  - A commitment to local authorities to make up the rates shortfall, so that local authorities can continue provide full services to the public.

  These supports acknowledge that impacted businesses need time and space to restructure and resume activity, without the added pressures of trying to repay legacy debts, such as commercial rents, when revenues are just beginning to return.

  On Friday 15th May last, the Government agreed the arrangements for the new €250m “Restart Grant” for micro enterprises and small businesses.  The Restart Grant is a contribution towards the cost of re-opening or keeping a business operational and re-connecting with employees and customers. Eligible businesses will receive a Restart Grant equivalent to their commercial rates assessment for 2019 (excluding arrears), subject to a minimum grant of €2,000 and a maximum of €10,000.

  This grant will provide funding to enable small and micro business reconnect with their employees and customer base by helping to defray ongoing fixed costs and the costs, such as PPE, associated with re-launching the business.

  Further information on all of these and additional Government supports for COVID-19 impacted businesses can be found at www.gov.ie or on my Department’s website (https://dbei.gov.ie/en/What-We-Do/Supports-for-SMEs/COVID-19-supports/).

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 651. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her plans to provide supports for the live entertainment industry (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7021/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys As the Deputy is aware, policy responsibility for the arts rests with my colleague, the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan TD. Information on the suite of COVID-19 supports for artists and this working in the arts sector which her Department has put in place is available at www.chg.gov.ie.

  I am acutely aware of the immediate and critical financial pressures which the pandemic has created across all business sectors. Accordingly, I have put in place a comprehensive suite of supports for firms of all sizes, which includes grants, low-cost loans, write-off of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities. These supports are designed to build confidence, to further assist businesses in terms of the management of their companies and to allow them to begin looking to the future and start charting a path forward for weeks and months ahead.  For a full list of supports for business please see https://dbei.gov.ie/en/What-We-Do/Supports-for-SMEs/COVID-19-supports/.

Health and Safety Authority

 652. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the additional staffing and resources that will be made available to the HSA to ensure that it can carry out widespread inspections of workplaces to ensure compliance with public health measures and social distancing, provision of PPE and sanitiser and to ensure prompt responses to reported breaches of public health guidelines; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7022/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The national “Return to Work Safely Protocol” provides a clear compliance framework for all places of work to ensure that businesses can re-open and workers can return to work safely. The Protocol was drafted in close consultation with the social partners under the auspices of the Labour and Employer Economic Forum and agreed with them.

Compliance with the Return to Work Safely Protocol is being led by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), who have overall responsibility for ensuring the health, safety and welfare at work of all workers.

The HSA is deploying all its available inspectors across sectors to carry out both spot checks and other inspections to check compliance with the Protocol. The HSA inspectorate will be supplemented significantly by deploying, under the authority of the HSA, other inspectors from across the system who already have an environmental health, agriculture or other workplace/business inspection responsibilities. As we have seen with the general public health measures over the past two months, most people are complying with the rules. We can expect the same from employers and workers, most of who want to get back to work, and want the workplace to be safe, for them and for the families that they are returning to in the evenings.

I am expecting employers and workers, in line with what is set out in the Protocol, to actively and jointly take responsibility for applying the clear measures set out in the Protocol, for the health and safety of all concerned.

Even with the enhanced cohort of inspectors available to the HSA, they cannot be expected to go into every business in the country. That would be entirely unrealistic and unachievable. What they will do is a mix of unannounced inspections, along with providing advice and information through the HSAs Workplace Contact Unit email and phoneline.

If, following contact from a worker, and follow-up engagement with the employer, they feel that an inspection is warranted, they will follow up with an on-site visit.

Importantly, if, on foot of an inspection, the inspector forms the opinion that further action is required, the appropriate action - up to and including the closure of a workplace - will be taken using the relevant powers. Where relevant, the public health authorities will be involved, and we have already seen this in the case of the meat processing plants.

I am satisfied that the steps that we have taken are giving both employers and employees the confidence to re-open businesses and return to work.


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