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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 Carol Nolan: Information on Carol Nolan Zoom on Carol Nolan] The think tank also notes that access to finance is not an issue for euro area countries at this stage, thanks in large part to the massive intervention by the European Central Bank since mid-March but that were access to finance to become a real problem for some countries, SURE would then become too small. I raise this particular aspect because of my concern that our capacity in Ireland to access finance certainly will become more of an issue in the months and years ahead. I refer here to the rather sizeable elephant in the room, namely, the scale of our national debt. We know from the Oireachtas's Parliamentary Budget Office that Ireland's debt-to-GDP ratio is currently 59%, which is below the EU average and the 60% threshold set by the Stability and Growth Pact. However, using a more appropriate measure of economic activity for Ireland, we see that the debt-to-GNI ratio is 100.2%, which is significantly higher than the EU average. I have concerns that because we are now part of the voluntary guarantee aspect of the SURE scheme, any future exposure might make life very difficult for us.

I will conclude by referring to the VAT rate of 13.5% applying to some sectors, which was increased some time ago from 9%. Will that rate be lowered given that businesses in the tourism sector are really struggling? Many hairdressing businesses are trying to get back on their feet and rebuild their business after a significant period of unprecedented disruption. Will a lower rate be sought in their case? I understand the Government does not have the power to reduce the VAT rate, but will it seek to have it lowered for the sectors that need it? I would be grateful if the Minister could answer those questions.

Deputy Michael Moynihan: Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this legislation. There are some aspects of it which serve to underpin the funding coming from Europe and by way of the July stimulus package that was announced in the past few days. Looking at the overall context, we are in a very difficult position post pandemic. The period from the early days of the lockdown in March through to the present time has seen many sectors of our society very hard hit by the crisis. The carnage and chaos in the business community are there for all to see. I know every Deputy in the House will be talking to people in business and in communities who are under severe pressure.

It is very important that we look at how the pandemic has changed people's lives and made many changes to society. As is always the case, the public is ahead of the political curve in this regard. We have seen the changes people have made to the way they live their lives. Working remotely, or smart working as some people call it, has taken on a life of its own and has completely changed many aspects of life for people. There are many lessons we have to learn from Covid, including the public health issues and all of that, and from the changes in society arising from the crisis. We should be very grateful to the Irish people for the way they bought into all the draconian measures that were introduced, from the very start of the lockdown period in March and April. They put the greater good ahead of their own immediate concerns and their family lives. Many people have suffered and lost loved ones through Covid and that will leave a scar. In my opinion, it will have an impact for generations to come, not just for the people who experienced it and were traumatised by it. I have heard of many people who went through very difficult experiences during this time.

We need to look at what has happened in society in recent months and recognise the extreme lessons that can be taken from it. Things are different from how they were prior to the pandemic. This time last year, if people in this House talked about working from home, it was seen as an aspiration that rural Deputies had in their minds. It was considered flimflam and something people did not take seriously. I say this with the greatest respect but city people thought it was an aspiration that was out of touch with reality and that everything would have to be as it was, with society having grown through urbanisation over the past decades. The view was that everything had to be in the large cities. If the people who are making decisions, whether they are from large urban centres or not, reflect carefully on what has happened, we will be able to build a better Ireland out of it.

We have to look at a continuation of remote working. Going back ten or 15 years, when a programme of decentralisation was announced, it was scoffed at and begrudged, with some media people saying the plan was drawn up on the back of a cigarette packet. I would challenge all those who were very critical of the programme because, in fact, it had an enormous impact where it was carried through and brought to fruition. In the instances where it was effected properly, it had a huge impact on the Departments and agencies in question and an enormous economic impact on the communities to which those services were decentralised. The Minister must take a very bold approach in looking again at the decentralisation of workers out of the large urban centres.

We in rural Ireland have an awful lot going for us. At the height of the pandemic, many people were looking energetically at the prospect of rural Ireland being a place where they could live and work and, in addition, better protect their families going forward, because rural communities are less vulnerable to infection than those in large urban centres as a consequence of there not being too many people together in the one spot. We have to look at the positives of living in rural areas and be unashamedly demanding that society take on board what we have to offer. We must make no apologies in any way, shape or form for the fantastic facilities we have in rural communities. In fact, we must build on them. Where policymakers or others are looking down their noses at country folk, we must seek to take that attitude away and dispel it once and for all. We have a massive amount to offer, from the cradle to the grave, and we must ensure that decentralisation is put back on the table and that people are taken out of the large urban centres.

Before the pandemic, and especially in the period prior to the election, many people were talking about the trains being full going into Dublin. People were commuting on a daily or weekly basis from Cork, Limerick Junction and everywhere else and we heard about how the early morning Cork train was full at Thurles or even before it. That is not living. We have proved that the work people were doing in the cities can be done very well and, in some cases, even better when it is done in rural communities. We have fantastic education facilities and better communities than anywhere else. That really needs to be acknowledged and we need to look at how we can make things better for those communities into the future.

The provisions in the July stimulus are desperately important because many businesses, particularly in the service and tourism industries, have been shattered by the pandemic. We have seen how bus contractors, for example, have lost their livelihood. I have been talking to many people who would have worked on bus tours during the summer months. All of that has changed. We have to be realistic about what we can rebuild. We must look to rebuild sustainable communities throughout the State. We need to challenge the sometimes nonsensical approach - I have to use that word - people in Departments take to issues concerning rural Ireland. There is no shadow of a doubt that such an attitude is there. A type of dismissive approach to rural communities is inherent in some Departments. Rural communities have the ability to contribute enormously to Irish society and we have to make sure that policymakers, whether politicians or senior people in Departments, recognise what we have to offer and that many workers from rural areas can give a better service to people if they are allowed to work from home.

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