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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 Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív] As the Minister is aware, there is a tax exemption for people over the age of 65. Couples with an annual income of less than €36,000 and single persons with an annual income of €18,000 do not pay tax. Many of those people, however, have paid for their houses, have a little bit of money in the bank and have some to spend. If anyone doubts that, I suggest that the Minister talk to his good colleague, Deputy Ring, who lives in Westport. That is a town that stays open throughout the winter every year, specialising in a market built around the railway station. People over the age of 65 get free travel to Westport, where they stay in good hotels at good rates. That has created great life in the town.

This scheme will not attract pensioners such as these because there is nothing in it for them. There has only ever been one scheme with a reversible tax credit. I was trying to recall which one it was. People who had no tax to pay could get the value of the credit back from the Revenue. It was a simple enough mechanism. Revenue has the bank details of nearly everybody and it is very good at making tax refunds. If someone sends in a tax return to the Revenue and has slightly overpaid because of health expenditure, etc., the Revenue will always repay the overpayment. It is efficient and not overly bureaucratic.

It would be a major boost to this scheme if the Minister included such a process and made a rebate available. Even people with no income tax liability, therefore, could get the value of the tax credit paid into their bank accounts. There is a major market for the very people the Minister is trying to get to spend money, namely, savers with money in the bank and people with no debts. We must remember that those over the age of 65 account for a large proportion of the people with the ready cash needed by businesses in many towns. Westport and other towns in the west will make themselves safe regarding Covid-19. They will organise in a safe way and the same has to be said for Iarnród Éireann. For this reason, the change I propose could be introduced.

These are practical measures that could be taken that would address the little gremlins that get into schemes. To summarise, I ask that the 1 July date be brought back, as otherwise the scheme will be totally lopsided against seasonal businesses, which will, please God, do relatively better in the second half of the year, having had no business until the end of June. The second point is in respect of the proprietary directors and the third concerns making it even better for staycations by allowing all people registered with the Revenue in on the gig.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell I thank Deputy Ó Cuív. In recognition of the political groupings and the manner in which Members have indicated, I call Deputy Michael Healy-Rae, who will be followed by Deputy O'Donnell. Deputy Healy-Rae has up to 20 minutes.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae I will not take that long, but I thank the Acting Chairman for allowing me the opportunity to speak on this important issue. I have not had the opportunity since the Minister's reappointment to wish him the best of luck and success in his role. I know he will be extremely diligent and hardworking, and I always appreciate and respect that very much. The Minister knows that the hospitality sector, including our hoteliers and vintners, was desperately hoping that radical changes would be made in the VAT rate and it would be reduced again. There were calls to bring the rate down to 0% for a period and then increased back to 9%. I was hoping the Government would have looked at that proposal sympathetically because it would have been a great stimulus and would have encouraged people to use the hospitality sector again. Much of that sector is on its knees now.

I must use this opportunity to plead with the Minister, on behalf of the Vintners Federation of Ireland, VFI, which represents our publicans, to ensure that pubs will be allowed to reopen on or before 10 August. The major fear people have is that the pubs will not be allowed to open then either. If the Minister can, I would like him to make a statement on whether it will be possible to allow the pubs to open on or before 10 August.

Returning to the rate of VAT, I honestly do not think it should have been increased from 9%. I lobbied the Government and the Minister hard about this issue in the past and I was hoping this opportunity would have been taken to bring VAT back down to a much lower rate. Unfortunately, that did not happen. There are also anomalies, for example, when we talk about trying to ensure that employers will be able to continue benefiting from the existing employment incentive schemes. I appreciate what the Government is trying to do, but as a person who operates a small business, I fully understand the difficulties small businesses have now. I referred to small businesses but I must also talk about bigger businesses because bigger employers have the same issues as smaller employers, only compounded by having more employees. They are desperate not to lay off people. They want to get everybody back to work and keep employing the people they have because they respect the work of those people and their contribution to businesses over the years. These employers just want to get the wheels rolling and the show on the road again.

There are issues with the fine-tuning of this initiative. The provision setting out the percentage of turnover by which businesses must be down if they are to continue to receive these payments can be misleading. I know of businesses which should be continuing to avail of the scheme in some shape or fashion but cannot do so because of the way the reduction in income is set. The reduction should apply for a period of time.

I am not one of those, like some who sit to my left at times, who believe the money in the Minister's pocket is endless and he can wave his hands and do whatever he likes. I am a realist and live in the real world. I understand the budgetary constraints the Minister operates under. I realise fully what it takes to balance a book, and whether someone is the Minister for Finance or the proprietor of a pub, shop or small manufacturing business, I live in the real world. I am not asking the Minister to do the impossible. I am asking him to do what could be achieved and perhaps to readjust the figures to allow people, for a limited time, to continue to receive the assistance they need regarding employees. Sometimes being in business is like being a farmer. It could be a case of hitting a desperate wall of financial difficulty, and if it were possible to get over the hump, it might be possible to reach greener pastures where better days would be ahead. It is like the situation during the last economic crash. Many businesses went out of operation and we were all terribly sorry to see that happen. A small thing might have sustained those businesses then and got them over that hump. All I hope now is that the Minister and his officials will be able to look sympathetically at the types of cases I am alluding to.

The more businesses that can be opened and the more economic activity we can get going, the better. It is awful to walk around, even in the city of Dublin, and see all the fine businesses still closed. It is upsetting and frightening to think of all those people at home who would rather be gainfully employed in their workplaces. They would give anything to get back to normal and that is all people want.

I am not coming in here knocking and criticising the Minister or his Department for what they have been doing.

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