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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 Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae] I honestly think the Government has been as proactive as possible. I would have reservations over the amount of praise lavished on the EU deal that was agreed last week. The Minister knows that I acknowledge everybody's work. The Taoiseach travelled to take part in last week's summit and of course he did his best but I would not herald it as a great deal for the Irish. We will have to contribute an awful amount of money so there is an argument to be made there. That said, I believe everybody is trying to do their best. It would be welcome if we stimulated the economy and kept small businesses going while trying to address anomalies within the system for a period of time. It would mean a lot to the people I represent.

I spoke today and yesterday evening about musicians. There are approximately 35,000 musicians in the country about whom there has been very little talk. Their lives have been completely turned upside down and their financial needs are as great as anybody else's. Many of them were not working on 6 March and have not been working since and, as such, have failed to get any Covid money. Those people have been unemployed all of this year. This was to be their time for making money, playing music and entertaining people but, unfortunately, it has not happened. I desperately ask the Minister to help with this issue.

There are imaginative business people in that sector such as the O'Donoghue family in Killarney, County Kerry. That family has been involved in the hospitality sector for decades, more than 60 years, proudly flying the flag for Kerry and entertaining people in the magnificent INEC. They came up with the idea of drive-in concerts and, unfortunately, had to scrap their programme because it was deemed that entertainers should not be on stage. At the same time, drive-in bingo was perfectly acceptable. There should have been no problem if people were acting responsibly on stage and there could have been one-man or one-woman shows. Where is the public health danger in that? It did not make sense.

That innovation and others like it would help to create economic activity and employment. I appreciate that the Tánaiste last week told me that the Government was going to look seriously at the issue. I am naming the INEC in Killarney because it is my own local centre for that type of entertainment but how many more businesses could have that type of drive-in concert? These are employers who are trying to keep their doors open. Could we, as politicians, not help to facilitate that type of drive-in facility where entertainment would be provided? If I thought it would cause public endangerment, never in a million years would I ask the Minister to consider it. I do not want to see one person's life or health endangered but, at the same time, we cannot wrap ourselves in cotton wool forever and consider it unsafe for people to drive a car into a massive car park to watch a concert on stage. My goodness, where is the wrong in that? Where is the public health endangerment? It does not make sense.

I ask the Minister and the Government to consider sensible suggestions such as that one. I rely on the Minister to be commonsensical. He cannot tell me that the Government will look at these kinds of suggestions in the future because we need to look now. We need this to be done before Friday in order that in the short time that is left of our summer, businesses can be given a green light and a helping hand from the Government.

I also want the Minister to do everything he can for the hotel industry. I have been contacted by many employers who are worried about getting people back into the workforce if they have work available. Employers want to ensure that the Government will do everything possible to encourage people, if there is work available for them and as soon as it is safe and appropriate to do so, to come off the pandemic unemployment payment.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell I am sorry to interrupt the Deputy. I am conscious that the remaining time for Second Stage is counting down and Deputy O'Donnell is present. I ask the Deputy to allow Deputy O'Donnell speak.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae If the Acting Chairman is telling me to yield to somebody else, of course I will.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell I appreciate that.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae I am grateful for the time I got.

Deputy Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell I thank Deputy Michael Healy-Rae for giving way. I welcome the July stimulus package of €7.2 billion. I wish to raise a few points that have come up in conversations I have had with business people in Limerick and north Tipperary, particularly relating to the employment wage subsidy scheme. The existing scheme covers proprietary directors, who are people with more than 50% shareholding in a limited company. Many businesses in the SME sector operate such incorporations. Typically, a person to whom that applies starts out as a sole trader before incorporating into a limited company. Proprietary directors are covered under the existing scheme and would be considered an employee of a limited company. I think it was a good measure to keep all employees together, including proprietary directors.

Under the legislation before Members that provides for the employment wage subsidy scheme, proprietary directors do not qualify. That needs to be amended. I know that, under the previous scheme, the Minister looked to correct anomalies where they arose. The general thrust of the scheme is very good.

I hope that guidelines will go up on the Revenue website as quickly as possible. Many employers are asking me about the arrangements for paying staff and the amount they can expect to receive. Ultimately, this matter is all about getting people into employment and keeping them there.

I ask the Minister to look specifically at amending the legislation to include proprietary directors who are effectively the owners of SMEs that happen to be incorporated, as many businesses are. That is something that needs to be corrected and amended. I have been getting a lot of feedback on that matter. The guidelines for the scheme must go up online.

I welcome the fact that the Minister is allowing business losses for a sole trader in 2020 to be put back against 2019. Many businesses will be getting their 2019 accounts ready at the moment and will file returns in October. It would expedite matters if people can throw the losses back to the 2019 tax year. It is likely that people will have overpaid tax last year and would be entitled to a refund that would give their businesses an enormous boost. That is important.

The staycation credit is welcome. The Minister has talked about an application through which people can claim that credit and it should be put in place as quickly as possible to allow people to make those claims. It is a welcome measure. It is good that consumers will pay hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation to stay in them and, together with other areas of hospitality, can claim a credit back. Pub owners are anxious because they want to reopen in a safe fashion and I ask that guidelines for that area will be looked at.

I will turn now to look forward and consider the future of Ireland. The negatives from the pandemic have been difficult on businesses but there have also been positives. There is now a model for working from home and flexible working hours that can work. Using Zoom meetings benefits the climate because people do not have to travel. I welcome the fact that we are looking at that whole area. Decentralisation must now be looked at again in a constructive way. The last effort at decentralisation had a few successful elements but ran aground. It needs to be looked at again and issues like traffic must be considered. Balanced regional development requires 75% growth outside Dublin.

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