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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 445-470
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Health and Safety Authority
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Health and Safety Inspections
 Header Item Health and Safety Inspections
 Header Item Enterprise Support Services
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item EU Regulations

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 993 No. 5

First Page Previous Page Page of 170 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 445-470

Covid-19 Pandemic

 445. 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 bouncy castle companies are able to reopen in phase 1 of the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business if they only supply private homes with equipment for private family parties; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7893/20]

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 15th May the Government announced that we would move to Phase 1 of the Roadmap from Monday May 18th. 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 reopen 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 8th 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 re-employing workers following COVID-19 closures. The Restart Grant is 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 30th 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 grant is equivalent to the rates bill of the business in 2019, with a minimum payment of €2,000 and a maximum payment of €10,000.

  If a company is currently in a rateable premises but was not rate-assessed in 2019 it is still eligible to apply. The local authority can pay the grant based on an estimate of what the rates demand for 2019 would have been.

  Applications for the Restart Grant can be made online directly to local authorities and further information is available on the application form. If there are queries that are not addressed on the application form, businesses can contact the Business Support Unit in each local authority.

  All information including the application form will be available on the appropriate local authority website, the details of which are at the following link: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/942f74-local-authorities/.

  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 amends 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.   

Health and Safety Authority

 446. Deputy Paul Murphy Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if additional powers have been granted to the Health and Safety Authority to deal with the issues posed by Covid-19 in terms of health and safety at work. [7897/20]

 474. Deputy Imelda Munster Information on Imelda Munster Zoom on Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her plans to place the national return to work safely protocol on a statutory footing; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8138/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I propose to take Questions Nos. 446 and 474 together.

The national Return to Work Safely Protocol is designed to support employers and workers to put measures in place that will prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The Protocol should be used by all workplaces to adapt their workplaces procedures and practices to comply fully with the COVID-19 related public health protection measures identified as necessary by the HSE and the Department of Health. It is operating in parallel with existing workplace health and safety statutory requirements.

I would emphasise that, in the first instance, employers and workers have a responsibility to actively and jointly take responsibility for applying, and adhering to, the procedures and practices set out in the Protocol designed to protect the health and safety of all concerned.

Under the Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act, 2005, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has full powers to oversee compliance with the health, safety and wellbeing of workers in their place of work. While COVID-19 is a public health issue, the infectious nature of the virus and the way in which it is easily transmitted through human contact, makes it a workplace health and safety issue as well as a general health matter. Neither health, safety nor welfare are narrowly defined in the 2005 Act, so the HSA has all of the powers that it needs at this time.

The Health and Safety Authority is the lead Agency in relation to oversight and compliance with the Return to Work Safely Protocol. It is ensuring compliance with the Protocol through a range of measures including advice, guidance, inspection and enforcement action as appropriate and as set out in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.

The HSA is carrying out a mix of unannounced inspections, along with providing advice and information through the HSA Workplace Contact Unit email and phoneline, tel: 1890 289 389 and email wcu@hsa.ie. If, following contact from a worker, and engagement with the employer, they feel that an inspection is warranted, they will follow up with an on-site visit. However, if, following 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.

The Government is satisfied that in terms of overseeing adherence to the Protocol, there are sufficient legislative powers under the Health and Safety at work legislation, as well as existing and enhanced public health powers and the suite of employment rights legislation, to ensure, and enforce, if necessary, full compliance with the Protocol.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 447. Deputy Matt Carthy Information on Matt Carthy Zoom on Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if she will provide a bespoke support scheme for private bus and coach operators affected by the Covid-19 lockdown; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7918/20]

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

  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.

  In that regard, Government will continue to explore funding potential for all enterprises including micro-enterprises as they work through the challenges facing them, including through any mechanisms allowable through the EU’s state aid framework.

  The SBCI Covid-19 Working Capital Scheme was announced on 11 March and opened for eligibility applications on 23 March. The Covid-19 Working Capital Scheme is offered by my Department in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and is supported by the InnovFin SME Guarantee facility. The scheme is operated by the SBCI. It currently makes available a fund of up to €200 m to eligible businesses that have been negatively affected by impacts arising from the outbreak of Covid-19 to enable those businesses to innovate, change or adapt in response to the current business environment. Following my further announcement on April 8 this Scheme is now being expanded to make available an additional €250 million in lending, which will bring the total amount of lending available under this scheme to €450 million.

  The Future Growth Loan Scheme makes up to €300 million of loans available with a term of 8-10 years and is operated by the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) though participating lenders. We have seen strong demand for the scheme since its launch in April 2019 across all sectors and regions including in exporting businesses and family businesses.

  These measures are in addition to the €150m of funding capacity in the Government’s Credit Guarantee Scheme.

  For microenterprises (under 10 employees) and businesses with over 10 employees, Microfinance Ireland (MFI) are administering special COVID-19 Loans, with an additional €13m in capital support bringing its total lending capacity up to €20m for the coming period. There is also a substantial reduction in interest rates on these loans from 7.8% to 4.5%. Loans can be made up to €50,000 with no repayments required and no interest charged in the first six months.

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

  The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport may be able to provide further information to the Deputy in relation to this matter.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 448. Deputy Matt Carthy Information on Matt Carthy Zoom on Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if businesses that provide a repair service such as jewellers are permitted to conduct drop-off and collection services during this period of the Covid-19 restrictions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7919/20]

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 15th May the Government announced that we would move to Phase 1 of the Roadmap from Monday May 18th. 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 reopen 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 8th 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 re-employing workers following COVID-19 closures. The Restart Grant is 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 30th 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 grant is equivalent to the rates bill of the business in 2019, with a minimum payment of €2,000 and a maximum payment of €10,000.

  If a company is currently in a rateable premises but was not rate-assessed in 2019 it is still eligible to apply. The local authority can pay the grant based on an estimate of what the rates demand for 2019 would have been.

  Applications for the Restart Grant can be made online directly to local authorities and further information is available on the application form. If there are queries that are not addressed on the application form, businesses can contact the Business Support Unit in each local authority.

  All information including the application form will be available on the appropriate local authority website, the details of which are at the following link: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/942f74-local-authorities/.

  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 amends 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.   

  Question No. 449 answered with Question No. 394.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 450. Deputy Matt Carthy Information on Matt Carthy Zoom on Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the number of businesses that closed due to Covid-19 by sectoral category; the estimated number of businesses that will reopen at each phase of the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business; if she is satisfied that the necessary resources are available for the inspection and enforcement workload likely to present at each of the reopening phases; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7922/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys As the Deputy will appreciate, any thorough analysis of company closures on account of COVID-19 will require hard data which will arise from a variety of sources over the course of any given year. Insights are currently available from business surveys, stakeholder engagements, and real-time data at the level of employee where employees interact with the State’s employment support system.

  I would refer the Deputy to my Department’s recent report on Economic Considerations for Reinstating Economic Activity which is publicly available on my Department’s website. The report includes analyses by the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform which makes clear that the most-heavily impacted sectors are Accommodation and Food, Construction, Administrative and Support Services, Wholesale & Retail Trade, and other Personal Services. Other sectors where the impacts are significant but somewhat less severe include the Manufacturing sector, and Transport and Storage. This pattern of sectoral impacts is similar to that observed in other countries. In terms of employment, the report observes that the Department of Finance’s ‘central’ scenario in its Stability Programme Update projects employment to fall substantially in 2020, with approximately 220,000 jobs being lost. The unemployment rate is projected to dramatically rise over the first half of the year, with an average rate in the mid 20% range during the second quarter, before falling over the second half of the year, as containment measures are gradually eased.

  The CSO has conducted surveys on the business impacts of COVID-19 with the most recent release of 18th May last presenting findings of the second wave of the exercise. The Business Impact of COVID-19 Survey (BICS) has been created to measure and report quickly on the impact of COVID-19 on business in Ireland. A total of 3,000 enterprises were surveyed online for BICS Wave Two, with 24.5% of sampled enterprises completing the survey. The survey reports:

  - Nearly one in four (23.9%) enterprises had ceased trading either temporarily or permanently on 3 May 2020.

  - Almost a quarter (23.0%) of enterprises closed temporarily while 0.9% closed permanently.

  - More than three in four (76.0%) of responding enterprises were continuing to trade in some capacity on 3rd May 2020.

  - Among the enterprises who responded to both waves of the survey, one in six of those who had ceased trading temporarily by 19 April indicated that they had recommenced trading by 3 May.

  Of note also is that:

  - Two-thirds of Construction enterprises ceased trading either temporarily or permanently. Again, one would expect this to decrease arising from the return of construction activities in Phase 1 of the Roadmap.

  - Seven in ten enterprises had lower turnover due to COVID-19 over the two-week period from 20 April to 3 May 2020.

  - Exports decreased for over half of responding enterprises.

  - Almost half of responding enterprises expressed confidence in having financial resources to continue operating for longer than six months.

  - Over half of enterprises availed of Government supports schemes.

  - Social distancing in the workplace implemented by over half of respondents. Over half (53.2%) of responding enterprises had implemented working arrangements to facilitate social distancing in the workplace at some point during the COVID-19 crisis. This rose to 77.4% of enterprises in the Manufacturing sector.

  Turning to the issue of inspection and enforcement, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) is the lead Agency in relation to oversight and compliance with the national Return to Work Safely Protocol. It will ensure compliance with the Protocol through a range of measures including advice, guidance, inspection and enforcement action as appropriate and as provided for in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.

  The HSA is deploying all of its available field inspectors across all sectors to carry out both spot checks and other inspections to check compliance with the Protocol. However, the Government will ensure that 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.

  While details of these additional resources are currently being finalised, the numbers working with the HSA will be in the hundreds, from across the system. These will be specialist officials who already have sectoral business inspection responsibilities. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has given a commitment that inspectors from his Department will work with the HSA to ensure the implementation of the Protocol in workplaces. Compliance with the COVID-19 Return to Work Safely Protocol will become part of the normal inspection regime. It will start shortly with around 200 officials from the Environmental Health Service, and this number will increase steadily as officials from other parts of the system, with varying sectoral inspection and oversight responsibilities are brought on board, in line with the Government Roadmap. The details are being finalised at present.

  Question No. 451 answered with Question No. 442.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 452. 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 businesses selling hemp products are excluded from the range of Covid-19 business grants available through Enterprise Ireland; if so, the reason for such an exclusion; if she will reconsider the eligibility for the grant in view of the fact these companies are also negatively affected by Covid-19; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7986/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I understand that Enterprise Ireland is currently not in a position to support companies active in the area of cannabis-based products. Enterprise Ireland’s position is based on the fact that products containing any trace of THC are considered as a controlled drug in Ireland under the Misuse of Drugs Orders.

Currently, there is no lower limit of THC permissible under national legislation. Therefore, products which can contain even minimal levels of THC pose a reputational risk to Enterprise Ireland as the agency is not in a position to verify which companies, products and extraction methods meet the legal requirement in Ireland to contain 0.00% levels of THC, at least until there are further legislative or regulatory developments which may mitigate the reputational risks in future.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 453. Deputy Dara Calleary Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her views on correspondence from an organisation (details supplied) on confirming the situation regarding the return to work of construction workers who work mainly indoors. [7992/20]

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 15th May the Government announced that we would move to Phase 1 of the Roadmap from Monday May 18th. 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 reopen 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 8th 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 re-employing workers following COVID-19 closures. The Restart Grant is 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 30th 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 grant is equivalent to the rates bill of the business in 2019, with a minimum payment of €2,000 and a maximum payment of €10,000.

  If a company is currently in a rateable premises but was not rate-assessed in 2019 it is still eligible to apply. The local authority can pay the grant based on an estimate of what the rates demand for 2019 would have been.

  Applications for the Restart Grant can be made online directly to local authorities and further information is available on the application form. If there are queries that are not addressed on the application form, businesses can contact the Business Support Unit in each local authority.

  All information including the application form will be available on the appropriate local authority website, the details of which are at the following link: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/942f74-local-authorities/.

  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 amends 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.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 454. Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her plans to amend the criteria for the restart grant taking into account the needs of recently established businesses that might not have a rates evaluation for 2019; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8002/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys On Friday, May 15th, 2020 the Government announced details of the new €250m Restart Grant providing direct grant aid to micro and small businesses to help them with the costs associated with reopening and re-employing workers following COVID-19 closures; with the grant being administered by local authorities from Friday, May 22nd, 2020.

  Eligible businesses who have stayed open throughout the crisis, as well as those who are reopening under Phase 1 (from 18th May) and Phase 2 (8th June) of the Government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business, are encouraged to apply for the Restart Grant. These applications will be prioritised for payment by the local authorities.

  To avail of the Restart Grant, applicants must be a commercial business and be in the Local Authorities Commercial Rates Payment System and:

  1. have an annual turnover of less than €5m and employ between 1 to 50 people;

  2. have suffered a projected 25%+ loss in turnover to end June 2020;

  3. commit to remain open or to reopen if it was closed;

  4. declare the intention to retain employees that are on The Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme and re-employ staff on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment as business recovers.

  Subject to the qualifying criteria outlined above, any business that has a commercially rateable premises including those businesses with outstanding rates bills are eligible to make an application if they meet the criteria. The grant will be the amount of the rates demand in respect of calendar year 2019 only, subject to a minimum of €2,000 and a maximum of €10,000.

  In the case of a recently established company, if the company is currently in a rateable premises but was not rate-assessed in 2019 it is still eligible to apply. The local authority can pay the grant based on an estimate of what the rates demand for 2019 would have been.

  Applications for the Restart Grant can be made online directly to local authorities and further information is available on the application form. If there are queries that are not addressed on the application form, businesses can contact the Business Support Unit in each local authority.

  The eligibility criteria will be subject to ongoing review and we will continue to take on board issues as they arise.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 455. 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 purpose of placing a 50% portfolio cap on the credit guarantee scheme; the portfolio caps on each guarantee scheme run by other EU countries in response to Covid-19 in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8014/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The new €2 billion COVID-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme forms a significant 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.

My officials are also 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 Credit Guarantee Scheme operates using a portfolio approach whereby the entirety of a participating finance provider’s qualifying finance agreements in respect of which guarantees have been given will be treated as a single portfolio under this Scheme. The portfolio of each financial provider is subject to a percentage portfolio cap which is set in the Credit Guarantee Act, 2012, as amended. The portfolio cap under the current Credit Guarantee Scheme is 13%. It is currently proposed to increase the portfolio cap for the Covid-19 CGS to 50%.

An increase in the level of the portfolio cap will provide lenders with a higher incentive to offer facilities under the guarantee while at the same time the exposure to the exchequer and the risks associated with these loans will be shared between the Government and the financial providers.

Comprehensive information regarding the portfolio caps on each credit guarantee scheme developed by other EU countries is not publicly available as different countries do not always publish this information. I assure the Deputy that the scheme for Ireland has been designed to provide much-needed access to finance for a wide range of businesses which are currently under financial strain arising from the Covid-19 crisis.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 456. 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 an analysis has been carried out by her Department on the impact on productivity in the construction sector as a result of Covid-19 restrictions and social distancing; the impact in terms of input costs; the way in which that will impact the viability of housing and apartment projects; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8005/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation does not have policy responsibility for the construction sector although the Department and its agencies do engage in a limited way with the sector, mainly from a developmental perspective. Therefore an analysis of the type referred to in the question, including as regards impacts on the housing market, has not been undertaken.

One area of involvement, through Enterprise Ireland, is in he promotion and internationalisation of indigenous enterprise. In this regard, Enterprise Ireland supports a limited number of firms (approximately 750 out of a total of 50,000 construction enterprises) with construction products and services looking to engage with international markets.

In an effort to realise the potential of digital tools and processes within Ireland’s construction sector and improve productivity, Enterprise Ireland has played a lead role in supporting the adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM) in recent years – including its initial convening of the National BIM Council in 2016. This has largely been driven by the increasing requirement for BIM in international markets, and the need to equip the Enterprise Ireland client base, as well as potential exporters, with the competencies necessary to engage with markets in which BIM adoption is standard.

The Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business sets out a gradual easing of restrictions with Phase 1 including a phased return of outdoor workers including construction workers. The roadmap suggests a gradual reopening of sites with a focus in Phase 1 on site preparation and outdoor work with indoor work accommodated in Phase 2. Social distancing requirements will continue to apply. The construction industry is largely not public facing and can adopt safe work practices in a controlled environment, ensuring all public health guidelines are adhered to.

The reliance of the construction sector on foreign-national labour means there is potential for labour supply shortages as activity recommences if a share of the workforce has left Ireland during the COVID-19 restrictions. The sector also relies heavily on material inputs such as concrete, steel and other building materials and as such it will be important that supply chain issues (e.g. manufacturing, mining/quarrying, freight transport) do not prevent projects from progressing. Construction activity is also reliant on a functioning planning system (especially important for some strategic projects underway in the multinational sector) and use real estate services as the primary route to market. These interdependent activities, which are components of other sectors, would also need to be active in order to minimise disruptions. Ensuring that bottlenecks in the supply of labour, raw materials and supporting sectors are swiftly addressed will minimise the potential impact on productivity in the construction sector as activity restarts.

In support of the work of the Construction Sector Group - composed of the key Construction stakeholders in the public and private sectors to support the delivery of Project Ireland 2040, and which includes representation from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation - the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform commissioned an international benchmarking and economic analysis of the causes of productivity trends in the construction sector in Ireland. This was prior to the impact of Covid-19 on the Irish and global economies.

This analysis, which is now complete, contains a series of recommendations for enhancing the productivity performance of the Irish Construction sector, and the membership of the Construction Sector Group has approved an action plan to deliver these actions. The implementation of these actions will be monitored through the quarterly meetings of the Group and which will form part of its annual work programme.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 457. 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 rules regarding the restart grant; if the grant is based on 2019 commercial rates; the way in which that impacts businesses that do not pay commercial rates or businesses that have recently started and were not liable for 2019 commercial rates; if these businesses are prohibited from applying for the grant; if legislation is required to alter this; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8007/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys On Friday, May 15th, 2020 the Government announced details of the new €250m Restart Grant providing direct grant aid to micro and small businesses to help them with the costs associated with reopening and re-employing workers following COVID-19 closures; with the grant being administered by local authorities from Friday, May 22nd, 2020.

  Eligible businesses who have stayed open throughout the crisis, as well as those who are reopening under Phase 1 (from 18th May) and Phase 2 (8th June) of the Government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business, are encouraged to apply for the Restart Grant. These applications will be prioritised for payment by the local authorities.

  To avail of the Restart Grant, applicants must be a commercial business and be in the Local Authorities Commercial Rates Payment System and:

  1. have an annual turnover of less than €5m and employ between 1 to 50 people;

  2. have suffered a projected 25%+ loss in turnover to end June 2020;

  3. commit to remain open or to reopen if it was closed;

  4. declare the intention to retain employees that are on the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme.

  Subject to the qualifying criteria outlined above, any business that has a commercially rateable premises including those businesses with outstanding rates bills are eligible to make an application if they meet the criteria. The grant will be the amount of the rates demand in respect of calendar year 2019 only, subject to a minimum of €2,000 and a maximum of €10,000.

  If a company is currently in a rateable premise but was not rate-assessed in 2019 it is still eligible to apply. The local authority can pay the grant based on an estimate of what the rates demand for 2019 would have been.

  This direct grant support is part of the wider €12bn package 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, all of which will help to improve cashflow amongst SMEs.

  We will monitor the Restart Grant as it is rolled out and continue to take on board issues as they arise. Legislation is not required to alter the terms to this Scheme if deemed necessary in the future.

  Applications for the Restart Grant can be made online directly to local authorities since Friday, May 22nd, 2020 and further information can be obtained by contacting the Business Support Unit of the relevant local authority.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 458. 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 schemes in her Department in place to assist Covid-19-impacted businesses; the number of loans drawn down since 1 March 2020 in each instance; the aggregate amount drawn down under each scheme since 1 March 2020; the number of businesses that have availed of each scheme since 1 March 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8009/20]

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. There are currently a number of loan guarantee schemes in place which support the working capital needs of impacted businesses.

  Microfinance Ireland (MFI) was introduced as a support to microenterprises to help them address funding needs and provides loans to microenterprises that do not meet the conventional risk criteria of banks. These loans are available to eligible microenterprises responding to Covid-19-related difficulties, the negative impact of which must be a minimum of 15% of actual or projected income or profit.

  MFI provides vital support to microenterprises by filling the lending gap in the market by lending to businesses that cannot obtain loans from other commercial lenders. Where typical MFI loans are available at an interest rate of 6.8-7.8%, Covid-19 loans are available at an interest rate of 4.5% where the application is made through the network of Local Enterprise Offices around the country, or where referred by a bank or Local Development Committees. Where an application is made directly to MFI, the interest rate is 5.5%. These loans also include an option for a moratorium on interest and repayments for the first six months.

  The SBCI Covid-19 Working Capital Scheme opened for eligibility applications on 23 March. The scheme is offered by my Department in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The scheme is operated by the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI). It currently makes available a fund of up to €200m to eligible businesses that are exposed to impacts arising from the outbreak of Covid-19, to enable those businesses to innovate, change or adapt in response to the current business environment.

  Loans under this scheme are easier to access and offered at favourable terms when compared with other similar loans in the market, for example the maximum interest rate under the scheme is 4% and loans of up to €500,000 are available unsecured. Applicants may also be able to avail of a three-month interest-only payment period (depending on your lender’s assessment of your application).

  Following my announcement on 8 April, this scheme is now being expanded to make available an additional €250m in lending, which will bring the total amount of lending available under this scheme to €450m.

  Table of uptake:

Scheme Applications Amount drawn down Number of Business that availed of scheme
Microfinance Ireland Covid-19 Loan 2,574 inquiries €9,158,992 329 loans sanctioned
SCBI Covid-19 Working Capital Scheme 2,305 deemed eligible applicants loans sanctioned to a total value of €37,811,000 273 loans sanctioned(all figures as of May 21st 2020)


  As part of the 8 April announcement, I also announced a further €200m expansion of the Future Growth Loan Scheme. This scheme initially made available a fund of €300m to support loans to eligible businesses for strategic investment. The current scheme provides loans from €100,000 (€50,000 for farmers) to €3m per eligible business, for terms of 8-10 years. My Department is working through the details of this expansion and will bring this funding to market as soon as possible.

  The Government on 2nd May also 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.

  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.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 459. Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the financial supports that will be provided to the retail sector, particularly smaller scale businesses, to resume trading in view of current economic difficulties and the growth in online international business and its impact on smaller retail businesses; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8012/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys As Chair of the Retail Consultation Forum, I am acutely aware that Covid-19 has brought particular challenges for retailers - large and small, across the country.

  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/.

  The growth in demand for shopping online domestically and globally is driving the retail sector more broadly to develop its online capability in order to enhance its competitiveness. Trading online is a very important route for retail businesses to grow and improve their business in the current crisis and will be an important element in their recovery over the longer term. In April of this year I increased support for two online trading initiatives to a total of €7.6m: Trading Online Vouchers for micro enterprises in partnership with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, Richard Bruton TD; and a special Covid-19 Online Retail Scheme for indigenous retailers with 10 or more employees administered by Enterprise Ireland.

  Firstly, in conjunction with Minister Bruton's Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, I have increased support for the Trading Online Voucher Scheme which is available to all micro enterprises with less than 10 employees, including those in the retail sector through the Local Enterprise Office network nationwide. The €2,500 Trading Online Vouchers are a key government grant to help small and micro enterprises, with very limited or no e-commerce presence, to get online, boost their sales and reach new markets – particularly during this difficult period, when so many small businesses are closed to the public. However, the value of the Trading Online Voucher will stand to businesses for years to come, boosting revenue, and helping sustain and create jobs into the future.

  The Voucher can be used towards adding payment facilities or booking systems to websites or developing new apps for customers, with co-funding from the business currently set at just 10 percent. The Voucher can also be used towards subscriptions to low-cost online retail platform solutions to help companies quickly establish a retailing presence online. Training and further business supports are also provided along with the Scheme. Flexibilities to the Trading Online Voucher scheme are now in place allowing businesses apply for a second voucher where they have successfully utilised their first one, which brings the overall total voucher amount available up to €5,000 for each eligible business. Further details about the expanding Trading Online Voucher Scheme are available at   https://www.localenterprise.ie/Discover-Business-Supports/Trading-Online-Voucher-Scheme-/

  The Covid-19 Online Retail Scheme is complementary to the Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) Trading Online Voucher Scheme. The objective of the Scheme, administered by Enterprise Ireland, is to support companies in the indigenous retail sector which have started an online journey, which will have the most immediate impact enabling them to respond to both domestic and international consumer demand with a competitive online offer.

  My Department has introduced this Scheme in response to the COVID-19 crisis and the urgent need for retail companies to achieve a step change in online capability. Applicant companies must employ 10 or more people, have an existing online presence (e.g. website or social media), and have a retail outlet through which they derive the majority of their revenue. Successful applicants will be awarded funding to support a maximum of 80% of the project costs. Grants ranging from €10,000 to €40,000 will be awarded under the competitive scheme.

  This Scheme is not about taking the first steps; it is about raising the bar, in an informed, planned and strategic way. The total fund size will be up to €2 million under this call. Further details on this Scheme available at https://www.enterprise-ireland.com/en/funding-supports/online-retail/online-retail-scheme/online-retail-scheme.html.

  On 8th 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 re-employing 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 30th 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.

  If a company is currently in a rateable premise but was not rate-assessed in 2019 it is still eligible to apply. The local authority can pay the grant based on an estimate of what the rates demand for 2019 would have been. Applications for the Restart Grant can be made online directly to local authorities and further information is available on the application form. If there are queries that are not on the application form, businesses can contact the Business Support Unit in each local authority.

  All information including the application form will be available on the local authority website, the details of which are at the following link: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/942f74-local-authorities/.

  I am committed to supporting the needs of the retail sector at this time and in developing their online capability and enhancing their competitiveness.

Finally, it is important that all businesses check https://www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/c36c85-covid-19-coronavirus/ for the latest information, public health advice and guidelines from Government in relation to Covid-19.   

Covid-19 Pandemic

 460. Deputy Imelda Munster Information on Imelda Munster Zoom on Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the number of complaints received by the Health and Safety Authority regarding Covid-19 restrictions and social distancing in workplaces since 12 March 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8020/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Health and Safety Authority’s Workplace Contact Unit (WCU) is a helpdesk resource for employers, employees and members of the public. Since the beginning of March 2020, the WCU has dealt with a wide variety of queries and complaints, with a vast number of these pertaining to the application of public health measures in specific workplaces. The nature of these queries has evolved in recent weeks in tandem with new or additional public health measures announced by the Government to delay the spread of COVID-19.

In the period requested, from 12 March 2020 to date, 2,867 contacts were received by the WCU specifically in relation to COVID-19, which represented 2,512 Requests for Information (RFI) and 355 complaints. Of the 355 complaints received in relation to COVID-19, 299 reference either physical distancing or social distancing.

Each complaint received by the HSA is initially followed up with the relevant company or employer by the Workplace Contact Unit. If there is no response, or the response is not satisfactory or in the event of receipt of multiple or serious allegations at any one time, an inspector will follow up with the employer. The inspector may then decide that a pre-arranged or unannounced inspection is warranted.

I can assure the Deputy that complaints received by the Health and Safety Authority have been followed up and addressed with the employer.

Health and Safety Inspections

 461. Deputy Imelda Munster Information on Imelda Munster Zoom on Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the number of inspection requests relating to Covid-19 received by the Health and Safety Authority since 12 March 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8021/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Health and Safety Authority’s Workplace Contact Unit (WCU) is a helpdesk resource for employers, employees and members of the public. Since the beginning of March 2020, the WCU has dealt with a wide variety of queries and complaints, with a vast number of these pertaining to the application of public health measures in specific workplaces. The nature of these queries has evolved in recent weeks in tandem with new or additional public health measures announced by the Government to delay the spread of COVID-19.

In the period requested, from 12 March 2020 to date, 2,867 contacts were received by the WCU specifically in relation to COVID-19. The Health and Safety Authority does not categorise contacts by ‘inspection request’ however, it is worth noting that the 2,867 contacts received represented 2,512 Requests for Information (RFI) and 355 complaints.

Each complaint received by the HSA is initially followed up with the relevant company or employer by the Workplace Contact Unit. If there is no response, or the response is not satisfactory or in the event of receipt of multiple or serious allegations at any one time, an inspector will follow up with the employer. The inspector may then decide that a pre-arranged or unannounced inspection is warranted.

I can assure the Deputy that complaints received by the Health and Safety Authority have been followed up and addressed with the employer.

Health and Safety Inspections

 462. Deputy Imelda Munster Information on Imelda Munster Zoom on Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the number of inspections carried out by the Health and Safety Authority on foot of Covid-19 complaints, inspection requests or other similar correspondence since 12 March 2020. [8022/20]

 466. Deputy Robert Troy Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if the number of workplace inspections that have taken place by the Health and Safety Authority since the Covid-19 emergency emerged in March 2020 to ensure worker protection from the virus. [8075/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I propose to take Questions Nos. 462 and 466 together.

The Health and Safety Authority is the lead Agency in relation to oversight and compliance with the national Return to Work Safely Protocol. It will ensure compliance with the Protocol through a range of measures including advice, guidance, inspection and enforcement action as appropriate and as provided for in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.

Given the timeline, the number and nature of the complaints received by the HSA mirrors the changing NPHET and Government advice regarding businesses being open in this time period and a number of these complaints involved companies who had already closed. For the period requested, from 12 March to date, the Authority has received 355 complaints specifically in relation to COVID-19. Of the 355 complaints received to date in relation to COVID-19, 252 have been fully dealt with and closed and the rest are still open.

Furthermore, on 18 May 2020, in line with Phase 1 of the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business, the Authority launched a national programme of inspections. Authority inspectors were on the ground from that date enforcing compliance with the national Return To Work Safely Protocol. Over 500 onsite inspections have been undertaken by the Authority (as of Friday 22nd May) across a range of industry sectors. Details of the most recent of these inspections may not yet have been recorded on the Authority’s system, and this may impact (i.e. reduce) the number of open complaints referenced above.

Each complaint received by the HSA is initially followed up with the relevant company or employer by the Workplace Contact Unit. If there is no response, or the response is not satisfactory or in the event of receipt of multiple or serious allegations at any one time, an inspector will follow up with the employer. The inspector may then decide that a pre-arranged or unannounced inspection is warranted.

I can assure the Deputy that complaints received by the Health and Safety Authority have been followed up and addressed with the employer.

Any worker, employer or other stakeholder can submit a query or a complaint to the HSA helpline, the Workplace Contact Unit (WCU). This helpline is confidential and can be contacted by phone 1890 289 389 or wcu@hsa.ie. Every contact, whether a query or a complaint, is acknowledged and receives a reference number for tracking.

  Question No. 463 answered with Question No. 406.

Enterprise Support Services

 464. 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 business supports she has put in place for self-employed persons with a disability. [8058/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys  Ireland has a diverse SME ecosystem, of innovation driven enterprises, high-technology and high-growth, rural, owner-managers, family owned, traditional sectors, and a diverse profile of business owners including those with disabilities.

  The OECD review of SMEs and Entrepreneurship in Ireland which I commissioned recognises that there is well-spring of entrepreneurship right across the country. It also recognises that the Local Enterprise Offices have made a marked improvement in the promotion of and supports for entrepreneurs and it is the LEOs that are the first stop shop for anyone thinking of starting a business, including those with disabilities.

  The 31 Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs), located in the Local Authorities nationwide offer advice and guidance, financial assistance and other supports for anyone intending to start or grow a business. They operate on an equal opportunities basis and offer their services to any entrepreneur, regardless of their situation, in a fair and even-handed manner and in compliance with Government policy and all legal requirements.

  The LEOs provide a ‘signposting’ service in relation to all relevant State supports available through agencies such as Revenue, the Department of Social Protection, Education and Training Boards, the Credit Review Office and Microfinance Ireland. In that regard, information in respect of a client’s disability or otherwise is not relevant, this also applies to the collation of the LEO Annual Employment Survey with regard to individuals employed in businesses supported by the 31 Local Enterprise Offices.

  The LEOs can offer direct grant aid to any microenterprises (up to 10 employees) in the manufacturing and internationally traded services sector which, over time, have the potential to develop into strong export entities. Subject to certain eligibility criteria, the LEOs can provide financial assistance within three main categories

- Feasibility Grants   (investigating the potential of a business idea)

- Priming Grants   (to part-fund a start-up)

- Business Development grants for existing businesses that want to expand.

  For Start- ups or expanding businesses, the LEOs may be able to offer ‘soft’ support in the form of training or provide a mentor to work with the business proposer including courses such as:

- The Start Your Own Business programme guides clients through the various aspects of business and business planning. The objective is to assist clients in assessing their idea, its viability and to decide if they should proceed or take a step back.

- The Mentor Programme is designed to match up the knowledge, skills, insights and entrepreneurial capability of experienced business practitioners with small business owner/ managers who need practical and strategic one to one advice and guidance.

  Full detail on LEO supports are available on the Local Enterprise Office website at https://www.localenterprise.ie/Discover-Business-Supports/.

  Government has also responded rapidly to put in place appropriate supports for businesses that have been negatively impacted by Covid-19 but has not specifically introduced loan supports for self-employed persons with a disability. The Government continues to explore every available avenue for the delivery of further supports. To date, supports to businesses include:

  - Microenterprises can access Covid-19 loans of up to €50,000 from Microfinance Ireland. Loans are available at an interest rate of between 4.5% and 5.5%, with the first six months interest and repayment free. Businesses can apply through their nearest LEO or directly at microfinanceireland.ie.

  - The SBCI Covid-19 Working Capital Scheme for eligible businesses opened for eligibility applications on 23 March. The maximum loan size under the scheme is €1.5m (first €500,000 unsecured) and the maximum interest rate is set at 4%. Eligibility criteria apply. Applications can be made through the SBCI website at sbci.gov.ie

  - The Credit Guarantee Scheme supports loans of up to €1m for periods of up to seven years. Applications can be made to AIB, Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank.

  These schemes aside, we will also be supporting additional lending through the banks for longer-term loans to aid with strategic investment as the COVID-19 crisis moderates. To further assist companies to respond to these challenges, and in doing so stabilise and rebuild their business, Enterprise Ireland, on behalf of the Department of Business Enterprise and Innovation has launched a new suite of COVID-19 supports; these are:

- Sustaining Enterprise Fund: This €180 million fund will provide support to eligible manufacturing and internationally traded services companies employing 10 or more employees who have been impacted by a 15 per cent or more reduction in actual or projected turnover or profit, and/or have a significant increase in costs as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. The objectives of the scheme are to:

  - Ensure eligible companies have access to the necessary liquidity; and

  - Sustain business so that companies can return to viability and contribute to the recovery of the Irish economy.

  The Fund will provide financial assistance in the form of repayable advances of up to a maximum of €800,000 per company.

  This fund will provide a €25k to €50k short term working capital injection to eligible smaller companies to support business continuity and strengthen their ability to return to growth and be trading strongly within a three year time frame.

- NEW HPSU: This fund is aimed at EI High Potential Start-Up companies who, due to the Covid-19 pandemic are facing delays to projected sales growth and whose fundraising plans are significantly impacted or stalled. Under this fund, HPSUs can apply for co-investment of €50,000   per undertaking in the form of equity or convertible debt instruments.

  In addition to this fund Enterprise Ireland has launched the following supports:

- Covid-19 Business Financial Planning Grant: A €5k grant for eligible companies to work with third party consultants to prepare a detailed financial plan with forecasts and assumptions. 337 applications have been received for Covid-19 Business Financial Planning Grant.

- Lean Business Continuity Voucher: A €2.5k voucher for eligible companies to access training or advisory services support related to the continued operation of their business during the current pandemic. 156 applications have been received for the LEAN Business Continuity Voucher.

- Covid-19 Online Retail Scheme is a grant for retail companies with greater than 10 employees to develop a more competitive online offer. This competitive call has a budget of €2 million. Successful applicants will receive funding support of up to 80% of project costs, with a maximum grant of €40,000.

  Enterprise Ireland provides support for new start-ups and existing business through a wide range of initiatives and supports. The awarding of funding by the agency is based on eligibility, evaluation criteria and assessed company need.

  I will continue to ensure equal opportunities for entrepreneurship across the population and to address gaps in the self-employment and entrepreneurship activity rates of those with disabilities. My agencies continue to work very closely with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and Intreo Offices in every county to ensure those seeking to get back to work or start a business are aware of the range of supports available.

  Question No. 465 answered with Question No. 408.

  Question No. 466 answered with Question No. 462.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 467. Deputy Robert Troy Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if she and her colleagues have considered putting in place sector-specific task forces to oversee the lifting of restrictions and get businesses back to operating as quickly and as safely as possible as the United Kingdom has implemented. [8077/20]

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 15th May the Government announced that we would move to Phase 1 of the Roadmap from Monday May 18th. 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 reopen under Phase 1 are available on the Government’s website gov.ie.

  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.

  A key tool in implementing the Roadmap is the Return to Work Safely Protocol. This Protocol clearly and comprehensively sets out the steps and processes employers and workers must take to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 in the workplace. The Protocol is available at https://dbei.gov.ie/en/Publications/Return-to-Work-Safely-Protocol.html.

  The protocol was developed and agreed in consultation with the members of the Labour Employer Economic Forum, the forum for high-level dialogue between the Government and union and employer representatives on labour market issues. Participants in this process included IBEC, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Chambers Ireland and the Construction Industry Federation.

  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.

  Specific sectors may need to introduce additional safeguards but the Return to Work Safely Protocol sets the standard set of measures required in every workplace.

  Since this crisis began, I have convened numerous meetings of the Enterprise Forum and the Retail Consultation Forum, which I chair. The Enterprise Forum enables me to meet with business representatives and our State agencies with a view to identifying solutions to key challenges faced by my Department, such as Brexit. The Retail Consultation Forum provides a platform for a structured engagement between the Retail Sector and relevant Government Departments/bodies. Its purpose is to allow key issues of relevance to the sector to be discussed, with a view to identifying practical actions which could be taken by Government, or by industry itself, to support the sector. I have also met with other representatives of employers and employees and the response 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 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 assist businesses to address the challenges posed by COVID-19. The feedback I received from engagement with business and sectoral representatives since this crisis began enabled me to gain an insight into the difficulties faced by businesses. The supports are accordingly 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/.

  In April of this year, I opened applications for a new €2 million COVID-19 Online Retail Scheme to support indigenous Irish retailers to sustain their business through the crisis and into the future. It is one of two online trading schemes that has received additional funding to support firms in this difficult period.

  On 8th 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 re-employing workers following COVID-19 closures. The Restart Grant is 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 30th 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 grant is equivalent to the rates bill of the business in 2019, with a minimum payment of €2,000 and a maximum payment of €10,000. If a company is currently in a rateable premises but was not rate-assessed in 2019 it is still eligible to apply. The local authority can pay the grant based on an estimate of what the rates demand for 2019 would have been.

  Applications for the Restart Grant can be made online directly to local authorities and further information is available on the application form. If there are queries that are not addressed on the application form, businesses can contact the Business Support Unit in each local authority. All information including the application form is available on the appropriate local authority website, the details of which are at the following link: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/942f74-local-authorities/.

  In addition to the range of business supports which are being administered by the agencies under the aegis of my Department, I am aware that sector specific actions are also being taken by my Ministerial colleagues. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Mr Shane Ross T.D. and Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Mr Brendan Griffin T.D. announced on the 20th May the formation of a special Tourism Recovery Taskforce with an Independent Chair, dedicated to spearheading economic recovery for the tourism sector. Earlier, on 3rd April, a range of specific measures to support the artistic and cultural life of the nation at this difficult time, with a particular focus on wellbeing through personal and community creativity, was announced by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Ms Josepha Madigan T.D.

  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 amends 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.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 468. Deputy Robert Troy Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if her Department or the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has lead authority for the restart grant; and the budget allocation to the scheme and other individual Department allocations. [8078/20]

 469. Deputy Robert Troy Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if the eligibility criteria for the recently announced restart grant for small businesses will be re-examined (details supplied); and if the scheme will be reviewed to ensure that trades persons and entrepreneurs working from their home offices can access the grant scheme.  [8079/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I propose to take Questions Nos. 468 and 469 together.

  On Friday, May 15th, 2020 the Government announced details of the new €250m Restart Grant providing direct grant aid to micro and small businesses to help them with the costs associated with reopening and re-employing workers following COVID-19 closures. The Restart Grant is funded by my Department and is being administered via local authorities from Friday May 22nd, 2020.

  Eligible businesses who have stayed open throughout the crisis, as well as those who are reopening under Phase 1 (from 18th May) and Phase 2 (8th June) of the Government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business, are encouraged to apply first for the Restart Grant. These applications will be prioritised for payment by the local authorities.

  To avail of the Restart Grant, applicants must be a commercial business and be in the Local Authorities Commercial Rates Payment System and:   

 

1. have an annual turnover of less than €5m and employ between 1 to 50 people;

2. have suffered a projected 25%+ loss in turnover to end June 2020;   

3. commit to remain open or to reopen if it was closed;

4. declare the intention to retain employees that are on The Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme.

 

  Subject to the qualifying criteria outlined above, any business that has a commercially rateable premises including those businesses with outstanding rates bills are eligible to make an application if they meet the criteria. The grant will be the amount of the rates demand in respect of calendar year 2019 only, subject to a minimum of €2,000 and a maximum of €10,000.

  If a company is currently in a rateable premise but was not rate-assessed in 2019 it is still eligible to apply. The local authority can pay the grant based on an estimate of what the rates demand for 2019 would have been.

  Applications for the Restart Grant can be made online directly to local authorities since Friday May 22nd and further information on the Grant can be obtained by contacting the Business Support Unit of the relevant local authority.

EU Regulations

 470. Deputy Robert Troy Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if there is a mechanism to screen foreign investment here being considered by her Department in view of the way the Covid-19 crisis has underlined the importance of protecting strategic assets, for example, life sciences including medical research and pharmaceutical ingredients; and if proposals are being examined to introduce an investment screening mechanism to safeguard critical national assets and technology in the current crisis which would require primary legislation. [8081/20]

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Ireland is one of approximately 13 EU Member States that do not currently have a formal Investment Screening mechanism in place. However, the issues around any possible Irish mechanism are currently under active consideration.

An EU Regulation on Investment Screening is due to take effect from 11 October 2020. The aim of the Regulation is to establish a cooperation framework within the European Union for the screening of foreign direct investments.

The Regulation is a response to growing concerns within Europe about the potential acquisition of, and investment in, strategic European companies by foreign-owned firms that may undermine a Member State’s security or public order.

As the Deputy notes, Investment Screening has recently assumed greater political focus both globally and within Europe as a result of Covid-19. The EU is concerned that strategic European investments are currently experiencing severe economic vulnerability and low share prices and could be vulnerable to being acquired by third countries. As such, Investment Screening has been the subject of recent Guidance from the Commission calling upon Member States that already have an existing screening mechanism in place to make full use of tools available to them under EU and national law to prevent capital flows from non-EU countries that could undermine Europe's security or public order. In the Guidance, the Commission also calls on the remaining Member States to look at establishing a fully-fledged screening mechanism.

While the EU Regulation provides a framework for cooperation through which Member States and the European Commission can exchange information and raise specific concerns about a potential foreign investment, it does not require Member States to adopt or maintain a screening mechanism for foreign direct investment. It does, however, contain a number of mandatory requirements - including a requirement to nominate national contact points in each Member State and to comply with certain annual reporting requirements.

As I indicated in my response to the Deputy's earlier question on Investment Screening on 27 April last, in advance of the Regulation taking effect in October, my Department has already established a dedicated Unit, the Investment Screening Unit comprising of 2.5 staff members. This Unit has been notified to the European Commission as the designated national contact point for Ireland. The Unit will undertake and fulfil the cooperation and reporting obligations under the Regulation and is also developing a range of policy options for consideration by Government.

As part of this ongoing work on investment screening, my Department has established and chairs an interdepartmental group comprising key Departments that are likely to have an interest in the screening of Investments. A range of bilateral consultations on Investment Screening have also been held with key stakeholders and Government agencies, and the models employed in range of other countries are being examined by officials.

Any formal screening mechanism would need to be designed and tailored so that is appropriate to Ireland’s needs while also meeting our obligations under the EU Regulation. In particular, any mechanism would need to balance Ireland’s continued attractiveness as a location for inward investment, with a robust, but proportionate Investment Screening Mechanism that protects security and public order.

A proposal to introduce a screening mechanism would require a Government decision and would also require the introduction of domestic legislation in this regard. As noted, it is intended to bring proposals in this regard before a new Government, when formed, outlining the policy options and the legislative requirements needed to introduce any formal Screening mechanism.

In the meantime, to further build on our analysis and research, and to ensure that the policy options presented to Government are as comprehensive as possible, my Department undertook a public consultation on Investment Screening. This consultation affords an opportunity to all interested stakeholders to contribute to the development of policy in this area. This closing date for submissions has just passed and officials are currently reviewing the content received.


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