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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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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Marian Harkin: Information on Marian Harkin Zoom on Marian Harkin] The €200 million in grant aid for retraining for those who have become unemployed is also a positive move. There have, however, also been missed opportunities. There is a real concern that those earning less than €151.50 will not get Government support. Will the Minister explain his rationale for excluding these low earners?

I expressed my views on the PUP to the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, last night. We subsequently voted through a section which means that those receiving the payment should be actively looking for work. Does that mean that a person working in a bar that remains closed must actively seek work?

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara Hear, hear.

Deputy Marian Harkin: Information on Marian Harkin Zoom on Marian Harkin Must musicians and the thousands employed in the arts and creative industries actively seek work, even though these sectors are in lockdown? Do those who own coaches, minibuses or any other vehicles used to transport mainly foreign tourists around the country need to actively look for work? Apart from anything else, this would have significant displacement effects on some sectors that are struggling to find a way to survive with Covid. These are sectors in which people are using their imagination, ingenuity and creativity to get back into the labour market in their own sectors. Are we telling these people that their sectors are closed and that we do not know when they will open but that training and courses are available to help them upskill in totally different sectors? That is inherently unfair, unjust and discriminatory.

Apart from anything else, it will not work. As I said, it will damage, devalue and demoralise certain sectors. I could understand looking at such options in six to nine months' time when we have a better sense of how the economy will stabilise but to do so now is a real blow to many. I specifically mentioned those who work in or own pubs and those in the music industry and coach tourism sector but other sectors are also affected. This should not be pursued for now.

I am pleased to see increases in the amounts available under the restart grants for businesses and an increase in their scope so they are no longer tied to paying rates. I have many times asked the Minister for Finance and other Ministers to increase the grant aid available to businesses that are trying to restart. The Minister's stimulus package will come as a relief to many businesses. Many just need a little bit of hope that, if they try again and restart, they will be given some real and substantial help. The economics must be right but we all know that, for entrepreneurs and small businesses, hope and belief are just as important.

The Minister's decision to allow people to warehouse tax debt without being charged interest on those debts for 12 months after the initial period of Covid-19 restrictions is also a glimmer of hope. People know that Revenue is not waiting to pounce and that gives them a little bit of hope.

I probably do not know enough about the area but it seems to me that more targeted interventions might have been better than the reduction in the VAT rate from 23% to 21%. If VAT was to be reduced, the one area that should have been looked at was the tourism and hospitality sector.

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara Hear, hear.

Deputy Marian Harkin: Information on Marian Harkin Zoom on Marian Harkin The VAT rate for this sector should have been reduced from 13.5% to 9% or lower. My colleagues spoke about the regions. This cut will have a huge impact on tourism businesses but it will have a much bigger impact in the Border regions, counties such as Sligo, Leitrim, Donegal and Cavan. In many areas of these counties, the Border is only a few hundred yards away, beyond which the VAT rate has been reduced to 5%. That will make a real difference to many Border towns and to many resorts dotted along the Border. It will have a great impact on a tourism economy that is struggling and which relies on Irish people and people travelling across the Border. It is, therefore, a double whammy. Irish people living along the Border will get better value on the other side because of the lower VAT rate and may therefore be inclined to travel. That is fine but equally those who traditionally come across the Border to Donegal, Leitrim and Sligo in very significant numbers may look again because they know they can get better value at home. Many tourism providers in those Border resorts are desperately hoping for a decent August and are very disappointed that the VAT rate remains as is.

I have two final points. The stay and spend initiative is great but there is something I do not understand. Nobody seems to have seen that it is discriminatory as some people can never avail of it. An initiative like this should be universally available. It would be greatly appreciated. I think of my own mother, who will go mad when she hears I referenced her. She receives an old age pension and is on a fixed income. If she knew she had vouchers worth €125 she would love to spend them. It is the only way many of those on a fixed income could afford to go out for a meal, to go out for a day or to spend a night away somewhere. A 20% discount would give them that incentive. The Minister must find a way to extend this to everybody. They will appreciate it, they will spend it and they will think it is a good Government initiative.

My final point relates to something which is not dealt with in the July stimulus package. I ask the Minister and the Government to urgently find some way to support Aer Lingus. As far as I know, Aer Lingus is one of only a few airlines, if not the only airline, in western Europe not to have received government aid. I am deeply concerned that IAG could shut Aer Lingus down and liquidate the company. This would result in the loss of jobs, connectivity, the iconic Aer Lingus brand and competition within the aviation sector. It would desolate the workforce. It is simply unthinkable. I ask that the Minister and Government look at putting in place some form of state aid package to maintain Aer Lingus as a viable company.

Deputy James O'Connor: Information on James O'Connor Zoom on James O'Connor This Bill is a key part of the July stimulus package. The State is investing in key projects and supporting workers and businesses on an historic scale. The size of the response underlines our commitment to protecting jobs and communities. The State will spend €87 billion in 2020 to provide more services to citizens than ever before. The stimulus package contains more than 50 measures and is worth over €5.2 billion, or €7.4 billion if the credit guarantee scheme which passed through the House last week is included. As part of the package, a further €500 million will be injected to bring capital spending in 2020 up to €9.4 billion, which is another historic record.

The fundamental objectives of the measures contained in this Bill are to boost economic activity, to back businesses and to get as many people as possible back to work. The introduction of the employment wage subsidy scheme is a welcome move. It will ensure that we can continue to have as many people as possible returning to work. It reinforces the key relationship between employers and employees. I have walked the main streets of towns in east Cork and have spoken to many business people. No business owner wants to shut down his or her business permanently. No employee wants to remain out of work. Both want to be able to do an honest day's work and to get on with their lives.


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