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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 Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath] The Government does not get what makes people tick. There is bureaucracy.

From a consumer point of view, while the spend-and-stay initiative is well intentioned in its aim to promote business in the off-peak season, the exclusion of pensioners is very disappointing. In recent years, members of many active retirement associations have taken trips to Killarney and to hotels in many areas. They are wonderful organisations for people who are retired. Those people should have been looked after. People come to Dublin for day trips, go for weekend trips to Killarney and attend country music events. They love such trips.

Those aged over 66 years have been victimised throughout the pandemic. Many are working, yet cannot claim any payments because they are only eligible for pensions. All they wanted was a top-up so the pension payment would be the same as the PUP. That would have recognised the fact that they built this country, reared their families and paid their taxes and PRSI. Some pensioners have worked for 40 years or longer, and should have got something.

I discussed the music entertainment industry yesterday. There has been an abject failure in this regard. Social welfare provisions did not deal with that. This industry is part of our heritage, dúchas and culture. Musicians are adored and admired and, above all, they are self-made people. They had jobs and decided to go it alone. They had the profession, trade and skill set, which are very important, and then had to become self-employed and get vans and very costly equipment. Some of the bigger bands had an entourage, including sound engineers.

The industry has been wiped out. Those working in it have been told by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to get work elsewhere. Are we going to wipe away that part of our culture and an industry that is loved by ordinary people of all ages from the cradle to the grave? Those in the industry have been left in an awful situation. They are being discriminated against when it comes to the pandemic unemployment payment. The Minister will have to do something because we will lose part of our culture like snow off a ditch. Cad a dhéanfaimid feasta gan adhmad? Cad a dhéanfaimid feasta gan amhráin a chanadh agus an fhidil a sheinm? Is mór an trua é.

It is an awful pity. The Minister does not seem to understand the situation. The permanent government does not understand what makes people tick and how they want to live. Those in the entertainment sector have been placed on a reduced payment of €203 per week. This is the Minister's area, given that he holds the purse strings.

What is happening with the pubs is a joke. People who buy a €9 sandwich or meal can go to a pub. Sandwiches are supposed to prevent a Covid infection. It is a total farce. The pubs have been blackguarded. I know dozens of people aged 66 years and older who could not get payments and were shut down by the Government. Worse than that, they were told their businesses could reopen last Monday week but were not allowed to do so. The time limit for the decision was too short. People did not get enough lead-in notice and had to pay for stock and everything else. They have been dealt a body blow. It is ridiculous.

In terms of employment wage subsidies, I welcome that people can claim this year's tax against last year's tax. I support PAYE workers. They had the choice to opt for payment based on their income in 2019 or 2020, but the self-employed did not. Their payments were based on figures for 2018 or 2019. The system should be fair and balanced for everybody. The stimulus package was a missed opportunity. Our businesses are floundering.

The tourism and hospitality industries are floundering. Today, I raised the issue of Clarecastle and the fabulous Swiss Cottage in Cahir. OPW sites are locked up. Surely we can let people into the environs and courtyards of a splendid castle. There are hundreds of people in Cahir every Sunday. It is a beautiful town. The hotels and shops want footfall. The gates are dúnta and there are padlocks on them. Staff must be protected and safe, but the courtyards and open areas and environs of the buildings must be opened. It is not fair that other sites in Tipperary, such as the Rock of Cashel, are open while those in Cahir are not. It is discrimination and it is not fair.

Deputy Richard O'Donoghue: Information on Richard O'Donoghue Zoom on Richard O'Donoghue I congratulate the Minister on his new position and welcome the stimulus package, even though it does not cover everything that I need. It is to be hoped amendments can be introduced so that it can work for all of the people in Ireland.

Publicans were told that they could open two weeks ago. They stocked their bars and sanitised their pubs in preparation for opening. The Government then made a decision not to allow them to open. Publicans who have closed their businesses are in receipt of the Covid payment. In rural areas, it is often the case that only family members work in pubs. Publicans across the country have contacted me this week to tell me that one person working in a pub is getting the Covid payment but that person's partner had the payment reduced to €203. People are being penalised despite the fact that publicans have spent money on getting their pubs ready, sanitising everything and putting massive work into premises. We have to get this right.

Opening rural pubs is very simple. External catering can be brought into public houses. One can get soup and a sandwich from any bar during the tourism season. Pubs do not need kitchens for that type of system. External caterers provide food from vat units and fridges. They only heat up sandwiches. Our rural pubs could open if a small bit of common sense was introduced.

All I am asking is for our rural pubs to open up because people are travelling ten or 15 miles to towns and villages. People who are being dropped off for a drink need to get somebody to collect them, which adds to their journey. They are not supporting their local areas. Some pubs are open because they serve food and others are afraid they will find it very difficult to get their customer base back. If this happens, rural pubs will close anyway.

Bus companies have told me they invested in new tour buses at cost of hundreds of thousands of euro at the start of the year. New buses are now parked in yards, but they have to be paid for. They have 201 licence plates, but will not be used until at least 2021. These buses have very few kilometres on the clock because they have been parked in yards, and must be re-registered. Buses are paid for based on a five-year turnaround so that we have good quality buses for tours. We have to do something for bus companies or reimburse them for the losses they will incur for the buses they have bought.

Dromcollogher respite care centre was the first centre for the elderly built in Ireland. It is a 20-bed unit that provides breaks for families for one or two weeks a year. It has been closed since March. It has had 7,000 admissions since 2002. It serves Limerick, north Cork and north Kerry. It operates under the regulations governing nursing homes. It is not a nursing home; it is a respite centre. Legislation is preventing it from reopening. Fewer people want to go to the centre, but it is not allowed to open because its regulation falls under the nursing homes legislation. We have to work to change that.

We need to build more and extend rest homes. Unless we can do so, they will never be able to reopen under the current legislation. There needs to be investment in these homes which help people to stay at home and have one or two weeks of respite.

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