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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 Ruairí Ó Murchú: Information on Ruairí Ó Murchú Zoom on Ruairí Ó Murchú]  It has been stated that the stay and spend scheme is a yellow pack version of Sinn Féin's voucher scheme to give everybody a voucher. That scheme could have easily been delivered through Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection offices or An Post and it would have allowed all people to go out and spend, be it on a meal or a short stay somewhere. We would have been able to give the tourism and hospitality sector, which has been absolutely hammered, a real stimulus and lift. It would have secured jobs and businesses. Instead, we are discussing a scenario in which people who have money and can afford to spend will spend, and those who are more organised will take a photograph of their receipts and get a return on them a year later. Not many people are going to go for a meal or are going to take a trip and so forth on the basis of a pay off they may get a year later. In that sense I fail to see how it will not be an absolute failure.

We welcome the reduction in VAT from 23% to 21%. However, as has been said by other Members, the failure in this regard relates to the hospitality sector. I have spoken about the damage that has been done and the dangers that lie ahead for businesses. We could have considered a reduction in VAT from 13.5% to 9%, which would have been a real stimulus. It was a lost opportunity and the Government must examine it. I accept that this is only one of the many steps in the stimulus programmes, but we must constantly recheck. Like everybody else, we are pointing out some of the flaws and the Government will discover them itself. At that point it will have to follow the feedback loop and improve the system to ensure we secure as many jobs and businesses as possible.

We also welcome the TWSS, even it becoming the EWSS, and the fact that there will be continuity of financing for businesses to maintain jobs. There are weaknesses in the fact that it does not secure low-paid workers to the same degree. We believe a little tweaking is necessary in that regard.

The help-to-buy scheme has major problems. As has often been the case previously, this may just be moneys that end up with developers as an unintended consequence. If the Government is determined to follow through on this, it will have to check this soon. We knew long before the election that housing is a major problem across the State. The only way to deal with it is through the State taking an active part in building affordable housing, affordable cost rental and public housing on public lands.

I welcome some of the measures relating to the self-employed such as enhanced and accelerated tax relief for people who may have lost money. This is very necessary. These people had profitable operations or businesses and they have suffered badly during this period. We must give them the necessary supports, but we must also ensure a large quotient of people fall into this bracket because my fear is that there is a large number of such people. We have already heard about people who work not only in the tourism sector but also in arts and entertainment. We must facilitate them with continued payments which are not necessarily cut and which allow them to conduct occasional gigs and the like, although they will have limited options in that regard.

We just need to tweak some of the positives in this Bill and remove the negatives.

Deputy Violet-Anne Wynne: Information on Violet-Anne Wynne Zoom on Violet-Anne Wynne My party and I agree with some parts of this Bill. We also feel that some aspects do not go far enough to support the hard-working low and middle income workers and families across the State. While I strongly agree with any reduction in the higher rate of VAT, I question the omission of a reduction in the lower rate of VAT focused on the tourism and hospitality sector. My home county of Clare is all too aware of how this pandemic has affected the tourism industry. We have seen the almost total collapse of Shannon Airport, the closure of Shannon Heritage sites, with some of them yet to reopen, and a decline across the hospitality sector in the county. The best option to support these struggling businesses would be to lower the VAT rate for the sector to make services more cost friendly at the point of use. For that reason we will table an amendment to the Bill to provide for the reduction of the lower rate, which will provide immediate liquidity supports to an industry that is on its knees. I strongly urge all parties and groups to support it.

On reading the July stimulus, I was baffled by the omission of 700,000 citizens from the scheme, especially considering that Sinn Féin proposed a voucher scheme a number of weeks ago that would have put money directly into the pocket of every citizen, which could then be injected back into the local economy. These vouchers would have given every person a helping hand, regardless of income and circumstances. The Government has taken the Sinn Féin proposal and made it as regressive as possible. Its proposal will require struggling families, who have had to defer mortgage repayments and other debts this year, to pay upfront for services and they may be able reclaim it in January. Can anybody see how this will benefit ordinary working families or how it would even be possible? How will families who are struggling be able to afford to avail of this scheme? Quite simply, they cannot. They will not be able to front-load the cost and that means businesses will not benefit from it. Have these points been thought through?

I am also at a loss for words when it comes to the proposal to extend the help-to-buy scheme. This scheme has never helped low and middle income earners to get on the property ladder. I constantly hear from frustrated people in Clare who are in steady employment, for example, in the pharma-tech industry, and who are unable to get a decent mortgage to buy a second-hand property. On the other hand, I also hear about people earning in excess of €100,000 being able to avail of a cash rebate of up to €20,000 on a new build. Where is the fairness in this model?

This Bill falls short due to its lack of supports for low and middle income workers, such as musicians, bus and coach operators, taxi drivers and students who are reliant on work in the tourism sector. This is a missed opportunity to put in place a package of supports for the most vulnerable in society who need a helping hand.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan I am glad to have the opportunity to comment on this important Bill. Over the years I have spoken on many finance Bills and budgets. I do not know if one learns with the passage of time or not, but I am struck by two issues. Comparisons have been made between the current situation and the economic collapse, as if the two were the same and the same remedy should apply. Some Members still reiterate that there were options ten or 12 years ago. There were no options then. We were destitute and the country was bankrupt. There were no banks and no place to go. We had to beg, borrow and plead with our colleagues across the globe to restart the economy. There were no options whatsoever. However, at that time a series of Members stood up in the House day after day and castigated the Government for the policies it adopted. They swore that they would fail, that it would be sooner rather than later and that a huge price was going to be paid. A huge price was going to be paid anyway and there were no options. We had nowhere to go to borrow anything.

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