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Financial Provisions (Covid-19) (No. 2) Bill 2020: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 996 No. 2
Unrevised

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  3 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall]  I want to point out a particular flaw in the wage subsidy scheme. The subsidy zones are banded such that there is no subsidy provided to employees who are earning less than €151.50. This means that a person earning €150 per week gets no subsidy at all. This creates an incentive for an employer to increases people's hours to bring them up to a wage of €152 per week, in which case they will get back €151.50. There will be significant pressure on employers to increase some people's hours and that may well be done to the disadvantage of other workers, who will lose hours as a result. I ask the Minister to examine the banding under the scheme because employers will undoubtedly be tempted to pay nobody less than the threshold of €151.50.

Regarding employer's PRSI, there is potential for substantial savings and, therefore, substantial losses to the Social Insurance Fund. The Bill is not specific in this regard and it is important that the Minister should provide some information on it. I am not sure it is a good approach to take, especially considering that employer's PRSI in this country is very much out of line with what applies in the rest of Europe. This provision potentially represents a big disadvantage and we need clarification on it.

I am not at all in favour of cutting the VAT rates. It is a very expensive measure to take and it is also a blunt instrument. The decision to cut the standard VAT rate from 23% to 21% will do very little to help anybody. This rate applies to high-end goods and a lot of imported goods and, as such, it is not what we are looking for. The cost of the change, at €400 million, could be much better spent on targeted supports for people in the most affected sectors. The provision is regrettable and I ask the Minister to consider it again.

Deputy Holly Cairns: Information on Holly Cairns Zoom on Holly Cairns While I welcome some aspects of the Bill's in regard to tourism, representatives of the industry in west Cork have pointed out that it does not go far enough to help the sector, which is one of most impacted by the pandemic. Tourism and hospitality is one of the main industries in west Cork and throughout rural Ireland. These small, often family-run, businesses provide vital employment and services in towns and villages, as well as being an outlet that local farms, fishing communities and food producers supply and rely on. The extension of the restart grant to a broader range of SMEs corrects some shortcomings of previous schemes. The specific reference to bed and breakfast accommodation has provided assurances for many businesses. However, the industry needs more ambitious grant funding rather than an extension of the credit guarantee scheme. Tour operators, restaurants, hotels, guest houses and everybody else in the hospitality sector need proper support, not more debt.

The other specific intervention for the tourism and hospitality sector, namely, the stay and spend incentive, is fundamentally flawed. It should be a simple voucher system, not a complex tax rebate that favours those who can afford to spend more and do without that money until it is rebated. People who cannot afford to avail of it and individuals who fall outside the tax net for different reasons are excluded. In addition, the October to April limit on the rebate covers the period when many businesses in the sector are closed. This incentive is of little use to them. Instead, a voucher of €125 should be provided to people to allow them to enjoy and support the hospitality sector in their local area or any of our many wonderful tourist destinations. That would allow for a greater uptake and would not discriminate against anybody. A simple voucher system, applicable for a longer period of the year, would improve the effectiveness of the scheme, enable people to holiday and dine out, and benefit the entire sector. The industry has been calling for a clear intervention for months. Instead of the planned blanket 2% VAT cut, a targeted cut for smaller retailers and the hospitality industry would be more effective.

The measures in the July stimulus to promote rural cycling, which could bring new forms of sustainable tourism to many areas, are beyond disappointing. They amount, in effect, to a planning exercise and the piloting of 20 km of cycleways this year. The plan also refers to the provision of greyways, that is, the use of hard shoulders on regional roads as cycleways or footpaths. Greyway provision seems to be a new policy, which is not referred to in Transport Infrastructure Ireland's, TII's, rural cycleway design document, and it sounds completely unappealing. If the Government is serious about developing cycling facilities and sustainable tourism, we need greenways. TII and accessibility campaigners classify greenways as fully segregated cycleways and paths. The programme for Government promises an integrated national greenway strategy. Greyways are a false start.

This pandemic has shown us all how to look at the world differently. It is very important, now more than ever, that the Government takes a more innovative and ambitious approach to supporting the tourism and hospitality sector in a sustainable way, especially in rural Ireland. The survival of many small, family-run businesses depends on it.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I am sharing time with Deputy Barry.

The wage subsidy scheme is a good scheme in principle, which tries to ensure that people who lost jobs and income as a result of the Covid-19 measures have a road back to employment, retain their relationship with their employment and have some sort of income support to sustain them through the very difficult period of the lockdown, when people, collectively and based on the principle that we are in it together, endured very significant hardship to protect our society from the virus. While it is correct to look to extend that scheme to protect people, the Minister's failure to provide support for particular sectors, namely, those hardest hit by the measures taken to protect us from the pandemic, is destroying the solidarity that existed and threatens to undermine the principle that we are all in it together. This is a very dangerous thing to do when it is very likely that there will be a second wave of infections and further spikes. If there is a second wave and we have to call once again on people to come together and make sacrifices for the common good, the Minister will have done extreme damage to the goodwill of those who are being hung out to dry in the current situation, where he has started to dismantle the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, support scheme without putting anything its place for particular groups.

The Minister can probably guess which groups I am talking about because I have been referring to them repeatedly for weeks. In the case of two of those sectors, I fought very hard to get their representatives in front of the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response, where they presented their case. However, it appears that the Government is just not listening and I do not understand why that is the case. The two groups are, first, people in the arts, music, live entertainment and the events sector and, second, taxi drivers. Both of these groups have been given no roadmap to full recovery of their incomes and they are being savaged by the cuts to the PUP. This morning alone, I had ten emails from taxi drivers who have had their payment cut. I am inundated, as I expect many Deputies are, by correspondence from musicians and others in the arts sector who have had their payments cut. I was able to get their representatives before the committee, where they explained their plight and begged, urged and appealed to the Government to provide them with an income subsidy until such time as the sectors in which they are employed fully recover. The Government has ignored them.

I appeal to the Minister to reconsider, even at this late stage, and to provide them with specific supports. Their requests are very reasonable and he could have met them in this Bill. I tried to submit amendments but encountered difficulties. The Opposition has bent over backwards to accommodate the Government by waiving pre-legislative scrutiny and allowing guillotines on all the Bills that need to be put through.


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