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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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  4 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara] We are wearing masks, I believe, as a statement. The Minister for Finance should look around this auditorium now. This is costing hundreds of thousands of euro. Is this value for money or is it an example to ordinary working people whom we are telling to get on with their lives because we have to live with this virus? We have no choice; we must move forward and get on with our lives.

I want to focus on the temporary wage subsidy scheme. The Minister and I discussed this in Leinster House when he was a Minister in the previous Government. We agreed that it was not perfect and needed to be tweaked, but that those tweaks would be carried out. In particular, seasonal workers in seasonal businesses could not avail of the temporary wage subsidy scheme because those employees were not in employment at the end of February. I welcome that the scheme is being tweaked to allow for people returning from maternity leave and other forms of leave to go back to work. Irrespective of whether the Government had tweaked it, that would have happened because they would have won a discrimination case against the Government.

However, there is still nothing for seasonal workers going back to work.

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe The Deputy should read the Bill.

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara I read the Bill. Now they can go back to work if the employer sustains a 70% loss between 1 July and 31 December 2020. Those seasonal businesses could have lost, as they did lose, the entirety of the first half of the year's business. If they do not lose more than 30% of the second half of the year, they are not entitled to access the employment wage subsidy scheme. That means that unless those seasonal businesses lose more than 65% of their business over the entire 12 months, they are not entitled to the employment wage subsidy scheme, as the temporary wage subsidy scheme has become. I have read the Bill and I invite the Minister to tell me I am wrong in that. I invite him to tell me that a business does not have to lose more than 30% of its normal income crucially from 1 July so that any losses it has incurred up to 1 July will not qualify it. I invite the Minister to tell me I am wrong.

Many of those seasonal enterprises are bars and restaurants. I invite the Minister to compare how those small family-run firms are being treated with how the meat plants are being treated. I see Deputy O'Donoghue here. Representatives from the meat plants informed the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response that they had availed of the temporary wage subsidy scheme. Good for them. Of course, they availed of it. They avail of everything because they screw everybody. I know the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is new to the job. I had to check this yesterday in a different context. Apparently "screw" is not unparliamentary language. They screwed their workers. They did not allow them sick pay. People were showing up even though they had symptoms because they were afraid not to show up for work.

They screwed the farmers in what they paid them because they dropped the price of beef well below the cost of production. Up to recently they were killing up to 95% of the numbers they killed last year according to Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine figures. Despite all of that, they were availing of the temporary wage subsidy scheme, but small seasonal businesses up and down the west coast could not avail of the scheme. In this Bill the Minister proposes to lock them out for the remainder of the year by failing to take into account the losses they incurred in the first half of 2020. They incurred those losses because the Government shut them, and rightly so. I do not take issue with that. The Government told them they had to close their doors in the national interest, and most of them did it without question. However, now when it is time to look at the bigger picture, they are being forgotten yet again.

There was considerable criticism of the Government of which the Minister for Finance was a member up to a few weeks ago over its complete inability to understand the economy outside Dublin or the importance of seasonal work in the tourism sector, in particular throughout the west of Ireland, and to understand farmers. I invite the Minister to look beyond the M50 and allow seasonal businesses access to the employment wage subsidy scheme, as it is called. If they are required to demonstrate a loss of more than 30% in the second half of this year, effectively they are required to demonstrate a loss of more than 65% over the entire year.

I have read the Bill and I do not need to be patronised about reading Bills. I read it as I read all Bills, as I read the statutory instrument that made general guidance in respect of the population a law in respect of those who are in receipt of social welfare payments, be they the pandemic unemployment payment or jobseeker's allowance.

Of course, we are frequently talking about the same group of people. We are talking about people who were put out of work in the national interest. Many of them were put out of work by the actions of the Government, actions that were necessary. Now it is time to do what is necessary to get those people back up and running. A man who was in my class in school brought his horses to the gate of Leinster House. He is an incredibly hard-working man who built up a business that is reliant on foreign tourism which has been shut down by the Government. I believe the Minister is the chairman of the Eurogroup. Ireland is unique in Europe in how we have shut down travel. That man no longer has a business. He rang me yesterday to ask what was in the stimulus package for him because he could not see anything. I listened to him and said, "No, Seán. There's nothing in it for you. Sorry." He will be able to demonstrate 30% losses for the rest of the year, but many businesses will not. Those businesses that will not have 30% losses for the rest of the year would have losses in excess of 50% over the year. I ask the Minister to include them in a spirit of fairness and solidarity to get this country up and running again, not just the part of the country the Minister and the Cabinet represent, but the rest of the country that deserves the same chances.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly The Deputy might in due course refer to me the dictionary that shows me that the word "screw" is not unparliamentary language. I have a particular interest in dictionaries.

Deputy Marian Harkin: Information on Marian Harkin Zoom on Marian Harkin The measures the Minister announced in the July stimulus are positive. I think I heard him describe the package as the next stage in the Government's response to Covid-19 and in that context those measures are welcome. There are some omissions and missed opportunities, but there are many positives. The plan in its entirety has been described as lacking in scale and ambition by SME Recovery Ireland and there is more than a grain of truth in that statement. This seems like a holding measure, steadying the ship in turbulent waters, putting down an anchor, but not really moving forward. While stability matters, there is an understandable sense of frustration over some missed opportunities.

Let us consider some of the detail. The extension of the wage subsidy scheme and pandemic unemployment payment is very important and good news for many people. The extension of the wage subsidy scheme to the end of March 2021 and its extension to new and seasonal staff are positive, notwithstanding the excellent point my colleague, Deputy McNamara, made, which the Minister should take into consideration.

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