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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

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten] I welcome the €10 million provided in the business continuity fund for the coach operator industry. However, I believe it is insufficient. As the Minister knows, coach operators have lost out on tourism this year. Many operators are involved in private school transport and have also lost that income. The private hire market has completely collapsed. There are over 1,700 operators in the country, employing 11,500 people. The business continuity fund is equivalent to €870 for each of those employees. That is insufficient to deal with the specific problem the industry faces. If we are talking about more sustainable transport, these particular operators are the key because they make approximately 75 million passenger journeys per year. I ask the Minister to look again at that issue.

I want the Minister to address another issue that is not dealt with in this legislation, which is disappointing. The Government is now actively encouraging people and families not to go on holidays abroad regardless of whether the destination country is on the green list. The difficulty is that, in many cases, families have already paid for their holidays and there is no mechanism in place for them to receive a refund. The Government is not intervening but is instead giving the insurance industry a free pass on this matter. Ordinary working families who do not take the holidays they have booked are losing approximately €1 million a day in lost holiday fees. The vast majority of people to whom I have spoken want to stay at home but will end up losing the money they have already paid for their family holiday. It would surely make far more sense for the Government to provide those people with a voucher to remain at home and holiday in Ireland in lieu of travelling abroad with the associated risk of bringing back Covid-19. The vast majority of families to whom I have spoken would like to remain at home but cannot afford to do so.

I will turn to the tourism sector and the new support package being introduced. I welcome that investment is being made in the tourism sector and the scheme involves some innovation. That said, a tax credit scheme is not the way to go because we need to be encouraging retired people in particular to travel in the off-peak season. Retired people have time on their hands whereas, sadly, many of us with young families will not get the opportunity to travel. Of course, retired people are not paying tax in many cases and will not be able to avail of this particular incentive. Some operators might increase the cost of services or accommodation to leverage this money while some of the people who might wish to avail of the scheme will not be able to get the benefit of tax relief. A mechanism must be put in place to facilitate older people.

There also needs to be a mechanism put in place that does not discriminate against my part of the country. Fáilte Ireland has made a substantial investment in marketing Ireland's Hidden Heartlands about which the Minister and I have spoken at length. The Minister knows my neck of the woods very well and deep in his heart he is, in principle, in favour of promoting the area. This scheme discriminates against my region. There is a nasty little clause that Merrion Street has included in the legislation to the effect that a property must be registered with Fáilte Ireland to qualify for the scheme. That is great for someone who is from Kerry or represents that county. There are 155 premises registered with Fáilte Ireland that provide bed and breakfast accommodation in County Kerry. There are 15 in County Westmeath, ten in County Roscommon, nine in County Offaly, three in County Longford and five in County Laois. Where will people go? They will not visit the Hidden Heartlands, a part of the country that has had its guts pulled out as a result of the just transition.

Fáilte Ireland has spent a substantial amount of money marketing our region. We can easily provide social distancing because we do not have the large populations that other areas have. The amenities and recreational facilities are in place and thanks to the announcement made today by two Ministers, Deputies Eamon Ryan and Catherine Martin, further investment will be made in greenways in our region. That is very welcome but we do not have Fáilte Ireland accredited accommodation. There is accommodation available but it is not accredited by Fáilte Ireland. Surely if a business is registered for VAT, has a tax clearance certificate and is providing holiday accommodation and food, it should be eligible for the scheme. Why do businesses have to be registered and pay a fee to Fáilte Ireland in order to avail of the scheme? My understanding is that the push is coming from Merrion Street and not Fáilte Ireland on this matter.

The situation now is that I can bring my family on holidays, we can buy a burger and chips and claim tax relief on that expenditure but if I go with Airbnb or self-catering accommodation that is not registered with Fáilte Ireland, I cannot claim that relief. Surely the sector of the economy that we need to be supporting is the one that is dependent on tourism, particularly in our region which has a fledgling tourism sector that is starting to take off. There was a big announcement on the Hidden Heartlands two years ago and many businesses have invested in upgrading their accommodation and converting farmhouses to accommodate families. Investment has also been made in infrastructure but if the businesses in question do not come with the Fáilte Ireland stamp, their customers cannot avail of this tax relief.

I plead with the Minister to take action if he is serious about promoting balanced regional development, ensuring we have tourism in the Hidden Heartlands in the middle of Ireland and encouraging and incentivising businesses to establish in the tourism sector in the region. That will be the future for Bord na Móna employees, particularly seasonal ones. A detailed application to the just transition fund has been submitted by some of these employees in counties Longford and Roscommon. I hope it will be accepted by the Government but what would be the point in doing that if we do not facilitate people to come and stay in our region because we do not have a rubber stamp of approval from Fáilte Ireland? I plead with the Minister to consider this matter before we deal with Report Stage.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I thank Deputy Naughten. I will move now to the Rural Independent Group.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on the Financial Provisions (Covid-19) (No. 2) Bill 2020. I welcome many of the measures in the July stimulus package but, unfortunately, it simply does not go far enough in many areas. It has all the hallmarks of a departmental document without the understanding of what makes people tick in rural and urban areas all over Ireland. The purpose of stay and spend incentives is to incentivise taxpayers to support registered providers of accommodation and food during the off-peak season, thus providing support for an industry that has been devastated by Covid-19. It is certainly well-intentioned but I have concerns about it.

From the point of view of the industry, any increase in consumer demand is welcome but the scheme is likely to bring about a significant increase in administration. Self-employed people are weary of, and over-burdened by, administration. They have probably had a break from administration during the pandemic but they have not had a break from anything else. I anticipate a problem with splitting receipts so that everyone can claim relief on their own portion of the total bill.

There is already reduced capacity and increased requirements for cleaning and hygiene at this time. Many in the industry have sounded warnings and this is a nonsensical kind of a set-up.

There is disappointment that the Government decided not to further reduce the VAT rate. The reduction is minuscule. Reducing VAT is a simple way to allow people to spend their money and not reducing it further is a missed opportunity.

This is the first time I have addressed the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, since his reappointment and I wish him well in the role. I previously offered congratulations to the new Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, but I wish Deputy Donohoe well in his continuing ministerial role. I will be forthright and make objections when I see things that require me to do that.

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