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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 20-34
 Header Item Redundancy Payments
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Arms Trade
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Industrial Development
 Header Item Departmental Functions
 Header Item Job Losses
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Enterprise Support Services
 Header Item Job Creation
 Header Item Enterprise Support Services
 Header Item Health and Safety Inspections
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 999 No. 4
Unrevised

First Page Previous Page Page of 58 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 20-34

Redundancy Payments

 20. Deputy Louise O'Reilly Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he has had any further engagement with the workers of a company (details supplied) and their trade union representatives regarding the ongoing pursuit of the workers to receive their redundancy rights and entitlements. [30364/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Damien English): Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English This is a very difficult situation that the workers and their families have had to face.

I, along with the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister Troy, have met with Debenhams employees and their union, Mandate, on a number of occasions to hear their views and concerns about the liquidation of Debenhams Ireland. The Government wants the best outcome possible for the workers, within the legal framework. I would urge all parties to reflect and resume engagement towards a fair resolution.

Debenhams is insolvent and the liquidation is proceeding under the supervision of the High Court. The Government cannot intervene with a liquidator, who has a statutory duty to realise assets and distribute to creditors in accordance with the law. Equally the Government has no statutory power to intervene in a court-supervised liquidation, that is subject to oversight of the High Court. It remains necessary to wait for confirmation of the position from the liquidator in terms of payments to employees and other creditors, and ultimately the conclusion of the High Court on the liquidation.

In the meantime, the State guarantees statutory employment rights to workers, including statutory redundancy. As of the 12th of October, the Department of Social Protection has received 1,497 claims, with 729 under the Redundancy Payments Scheme and 768 under the Insolvency Payments Scheme.

By Friday 16th October, 402 redundancy payments will have been made and 251 payments will be made under the Insolvency Payments Scheme.

Minister Troy and I are working with officials on a range of issues currently being considered in the context of Debenhams. We will be meeting the social partners to discuss the matter shortly and we have been in contact about this. The issues are complex and there is no obvious solution. Nevertheless, work on this has been prioritised and continues.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 21. Deputy Catherine Connolly Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the status of the newly opened Microfinance Ireland fund pursuant to the Microenterprise Loan Fund (Amendment) Act 2020; the number of applications received; the number and value of loans approved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25976/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Robert Troy): Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy The Microenterprise Loan Fund operated by Microfinance Ireland assists businesses with fewer than ten employees. It provides much-needed funding to help microenterprises meet payments for stock, working capital requirements and other overhead expenses through the provision of low-cost loans.

Microfinance Ireland provides finance to microenterprises by filling a gap in the market by lending to business that cannot obtain loans from other commercial lenders. It lends to businesses that do not meet the conventional risk criteria applied by commercial lenders and applies interest rate charges for its lending which are not reflective of its credit risk.

With the arrival of COVID-19 in Ireland and the subsequent impact on businesses across the country, Microfinance Ireland introduced the COVID-19 Loan Scheme to provide loans to microenterprises directly impacted by the effects of the virus.

The Microfinance Ireland COVID-19 Loan Scheme assists businesses which have been impacted negatively by COVID-19 with loans of up to €25,000. The first six months are repayment and interest free. Repayments commence in month seven for the remaining period of the loan. A Government rebate is available for the interest paid in the following six months (months 7-12 of the loan). A rate of 4.5% for the remaining period of the loan is applied. This reduced rate is available to all micro-enterprises where the application is made through the Local Enterprise Network or referred by a bank or Local Development Committees. The rate for direct applications to Microfinance Ireland is 5.5%.

The Microfinance Ireland COVID-19 Loan Scheme has seen a very strong uptake with 1,015 applications received, and €18.68 million in loans approved to 687 businesses under phase 1.

Following implementation of the Microenterprise Loan Fund (Amendment) Act 2020, which made additional capital available to Microfinance Ireland, I was pleased to announce the launch of phase 2 of the scheme on the 31st of August. Since the launch of phase 2, 256 applications have been received, of which 97 have been approved for a value of €1.9 million, with a further 96 applications in progress.

The total value of loans approved under the Microfinance Ireland COVID-19 Loan Scheme is €20.58 million which represents more than three years of normal lending volumes for Microfinance Ireland in a period of just over six and a half months.

Importantly, with 77% of its lending to businesses outside Dublin, Microfinance Ireland provides an essential support for businesses who are hoping to resume or boost their economic activity over the coming weeks and months in every county in Ireland.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 22. Deputy Richard Bruton Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he is satisfied that there are adequate frameworks in place to assist enterprises to undertake restructuring necessitated by Covid-19 or otherwise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29713/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Damien English): Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English The pandemic has caused untold damage to peoples’ lives and livelihoods. I know that many businesses have been severely impacted by the restrictions needed to ensure public health safety during the pandemic. Our response to COVID-19 will continue to support those businesses affected.

Budget 2021 provides a significant package of tax and expenditure measures to build the resilience of the economy and to help vulnerable but viable businesses across all sectors to restructure and transform their businesses and build resilience for the recovery.

The measures in the Budget are in addition to those announced in the July Stimulus, which was a substantial financial package to stimulate our economy worth more than €5 billion, with an additional €2 billion in loan guarantees for the new Credit Guarantee Scheme.

As of 9th October, 45,505 businesses had applied for the Restart Grant, with €155.2m approved. As of 9th October, 54,938 had applied for the Restart Grant Plus, with €273.4m approved.

As part of Budget 2021, the Exchequer allocation for our Department will increase by €252m and we are allocating €50 million to Enterprise Ireland.

In addition to the schemes and programmes available from my own Department, there are also a range of other measures announced in Budget 21 for enterprise and the SME sector. These include the introduction of the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) for businesses temporarily closed or who have significantly reduced turnover as a result of public health restrictions; the extension of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme; reduced VAT rate for the hospitality and tourism sector; extension of the Commercial Rates waiver and the extension of the tax debt warehousing scheme for employers and self-employed. These are all major elements in the overall package of assistance available for businesses.

I can assure the Deputy that Enterprise Ireland, Local Enterprise Office (LEO) and Údarás na Gaeltachta continue to be available to eligible firms to help with strategies, access to finance, online trading activity, reconfigure business models, cut costs, innovate, diversify markets and supply chains and to improve competitiveness.

The recently established SME Growth Taskforce meets for the second time tomorrow and will input to the National Economic Plan next month. The Taskforce and the National Economic Plan will further explore how to help SMEs at this difficult time.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 23. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the steps taken to support the conferencing and events industry to recover from the closure of its livelihood owing to restrictions imposed due to the pandemic; and when he will announce a roadmap to recovery for the industry. [30086/20]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I recognise that the events and exhibition sector is a critical part of the ecosystem for business and commerce in the country, enabling buyers and sellers to meet and develop their businesses.

  I am acutely aware of the difficulties the sector has faced in recent months due to the impact of social distancing requirements.

  My Department officials are in continuous engagement with the sector and Minister of State Robert Troy TD in my Department is also in ongoing contact with sector representatives.

  I am pleased the Government's COVID-19 published in September, 'Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19' specifically deals with this category of organised events and we will continue to work with the sector to progress the development of agreed protocols to enable the hosting of trade events in the near future.

  My Department and its agencies have been focussed on coming up with solutions to help businesses overcome the challenges presented by the unprecedented difficulties caused by COVID-19. In that context I welcome contact with the sector regarding their challenges and suggestions.

  Details of the wide range of supports available are noted on my Department’s website at https://dbei.gov.ie/en/What-We-Do/Supports-for-SMEs/COVID-19-supports/.

  In the wider context of the Government’s Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19, the operation and reopening of Ireland will be guided by the need to manage risk and repairing the damage that COVID-19 has inflicted on society, and the implementation of appropriate measures to do so across business and society as the situation evolves.

  Budget 2021, announced earlier this week, together with the measures we announced as part of the July Stimulus Package, provides a substantial financial package to stimulate our economy and to help businesses to open, to help those already open to stay open, to get staff back to work and for those who cannot go back to their old jobs, there are new opportunities.

  The range of measures in place to assist businesses include direct grants to support viable businesses and jobs, including new hire. We have extended the wage subsidy scheme and we are giving companies extra assistance through an enhanced Restart Plus Grant Scheme, rates waivers and reductions in VAT.

  We are providing more and cheaper loan finance through MicroFinance Ireland, SBCI and the new €2bn Credit Guarantee Scheme. I announced the reopening of MFI lending on 31st August and I launched the €2bn Credit Guarantee Scheme on 7th September.   

  I am working with my colleagues across Government to assist businesses impacted by Covid-19 and I will continue to keep the supports provided for enterprise under review with the goal of setting our country towards economic recovery.

  My colleague, Minister Catherine Martin T.D., Minister for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht, may be able to provide more specific details on a roadmap to recovery for the events industry as she intends to establish a dedicated Taskforce for the Arts and Culture Sector, for which she has lead responsibility.

Arms Trade

 24. Deputy John Brady Information on John Brady Zoom on John Brady asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the number of arms export licences granted per year since 2015; the value of licensed arms exports per year; and the breakdown of the type of arms exported and the destinations of arms exports from Ireland. [29079/20]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar My Department actively participates in global efforts to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, to support regional security, to prevent terrorism and to protect human rights. To this end, the Department operates the highest standards of export controls, in accordance with international law and best practice.

  My Department is responsible for administering controls on the export of Military equipment from Ireland, in accordance with the European Council Common Position 2008/944/CFSP defining common rules governing control of exports of military technology and equipment. The list of Military equipment subject to these controls is set out in the Common Military List of the European Union.

  All applications for export licences in respect of Military equipment are subject to rigorous scrutiny by my officials, on a case-by-case basis. Each application is reviewed against the eight assessment criteria set out in Article 2 of the European Council Common Position.

  The application is also reviewed against any EU Restrictive Measures, such as trade sanctions or arms embargoes, that may be in place in respect of the destination country.

  My officials also seek observations from the Department of Foreign Affairs on any foreign policy concerns, including human rights considerations, that may arise with the proposed export.

  In keeping with the commitment in the Programme for Government, I am committed to the maximum openness and transparency in the operation of Ireland’s export controls. On 24th August 2020, I published the Annual Report under the Control of Exports Act 2008, in respect of activities under the act during 2019.

  In 2019 my Department issued 101 Military Export Licences, with a total value of €42.3 million. These licences were issued in respect of exports to the following countries:

  Australia, Canada, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Kosovo, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, South Korea/Republic of Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom and the United States.

  The United States accounted for €32 million of the total of €42.3 million value of licences issued.

  These licences related to,

  - Personal Firearms for hunting, sporting and recreational activities,

  - Explosives for commercial mining and quarrying,

  - Aircraft and related equipment and components,

  - Ground vehicles and components,

  - Electronic control systems, and

  - Software.

  A more detailed breakdown of licences issued by category of the Common Military List of the European Union is provided in the Annual Report for 2019.

  In 2018 my Department issued 96 licences, with a value of €37.3 million; in 2017, 118 licences with a value of €24.9 million; in 2016, 128 licences with a value of €62.8 million; and in 2015, 81 licences with a value of €42.6 million.

  The destination countries and the categories of goods for each of these years is available in the corresponding Annual Reports under the Control of Exports Act 2008, published on my Department's website.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 25. Deputy Paul Murphy Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar his views on the level of discretion afforded to employers at the different levels of the Living with Covid-19 plan in deciding if work on site is necessary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30562/20]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The Living with COVID-19 Plan is the Government’s roadmap for living with the next phase of the pandemic. It has three broad strands which are, Staying Healthy, Keeping our Businesses Strong and Keeping our Communities Resilient. The Plan sets a Restrictive Measures Framework composed of five levels which recognises the need for an incremental approach which takes account of the societal and economic impacts of the response to infection outbreaks.

The application of public health advice measures to suppress the transmission of COVID-19 is intended to minimise the risks to public health while striking the right balance in prioritising other activities and essential services.

The Living with Covid-19 plan sets out how businesses should operate at each level of the Restrictive Measures Framework. The current advice under level 3 is that employees should work from home unless it is absolutely necessary to attend in person. It is essential that employers do everything possible to ensure that this is the case.

In instances where employees have returned to the physical workplace the employer must ensure that the public health measures set out in the Return to Work Safely Protocol are being fully adhered to. The Protocol operates in parallel with existing workplace health and safety statutory requirements and sets out in very clear terms for employers and employees, in all business sectors, the steps that they must take on an ongoing basis to mitigate against the transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace.

The Workplace Contact Unit of the Health and Safety Authority can be contacted in confidence by anyone with concerns regarding workplace health and safety matters, including compliance with the Return to Work Safely Protocol, by phone (1890 289 389) or email (wcu@hsa.ie) and the matter will receive the appropriate attention.

Industrial Development

 26. Deputy Brian Stanley Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will consider the establishment of a similar-styled body to the Industrial Development Authority to focus specifically on microbusinesses, workers' co-operatives and small and medium-sized enterprises. [29988/20]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Our enterprise policy gives significant attention to ensuring that our enterprises enjoy a supportive business environment through constructive framework conditions as well as through direct financial and soft supports.

Balancing our enterprise support direction as between FDI, export only businesses and non-exporting indigenous firms, is however an important policy consideration and one which has been touched upon by the OECD in its 2019 report on entrepreneurship and SME policy in Ireland.

Enterprise Ireland’s remit is to assist and support the indigenous sector albeit with a specific focus on helping companies to innovate, compete and diversify and ultimately trade globally. Companies supported by Enterprise Ireland now, directly and indirectly, account for more than 375,000 jobs in the Irish economy. EI client companies total spend in the Irish economy in 2019 was €28.12 billion delivering huge economic impact across every region and County in Ireland.

The network of Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) was established in 2014 and has become an important and effective channel to provide information and advisory support to indigenous local businesses. The LEO network is a unique business support delivery mechanism, unrivalled in its success amongst comparable small and micro business support mechanisms in the EU. In 2019, the LEOs, within allocated resources at that time, dealt with 7,400 client companies, supporting over 36,000 jobs. The LEO budget has been increased from €27.5 million to €70.5 million since the onset of the pandemic to help microenterprises in business continuity planning and in establishing an on line presence.

Significant additional resources have also been provided to our Agencies in Budget 2021.

The OECD report refers to 250,000 active enterprises in Ireland of which 92% are microenterprises. Such a high number presents challenges in terms of the State’s engagement with and support of enterprises in addition to ensuring compliance with the EU's state aid rules.

In terms of expanding the eligible entities, the LEOs have already started on this route with last year’s Productivity Fund which targeted an expanded cohort of enterprises (for employees up to 50) which would customarily not have qualified for funding as well as in the provision of Business Continuity Vouchers through the LEOs for small businesses with employment up to 50. Enterprise Ireland is also working with a broader base of non-exporting SMEs, such as through the Retail On-line Scheme and through its Covid 19 Sustaining Enterprise Fund.

In that regard, legislative powers are available under Section 7 (1) (i) of the Industrial Development (Enterprise Ireland) Act 1998 to require Enterprise Ireland and the LEOs to administer any schemes, grants and other financial facilities requiring the disbursement of European Union and such other funds as may from time to time be authorised by the Minister with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance. These powers have been used extensively in tackling the dual challenges of Brexit and Covid-19.

Whatever overarching institutional framework we have for developing micro businesses and SMEs, it is important that a benign environment is in place for SMEs to start up, scale up, to access international markets and to enable SMEs to become more productive and ready for the transition to a digital and green economy.

In that context, I have established the SME Growth Taskforce in follow up to a commitment in the Programme for Government in order to design a National SME Growth Plan that will map out an ambitious long-term strategic blueprint for SMEs and entrepreneurs beyond COVID-19.

The Task Force will also examine the recommendations in the 2019 OECD Report including the strategic framework and current delivery system for SME supports and entrepreneurship policy in Ireland. This new Taskforce is composed of a broad range of business people with expertise in a range of sectors, as well as SME representative groups and other individuals uniquely positioned to contribute to a long-term vision for the SME sector and how best it can be supported. I hope to receive recommendations from the task force in the coming weeks.

On the question of workers cooperatives, my Department is well advanced in the preparation of a General Scheme of a Co-operative Societies Bill. The purpose of the Bill is to consolidate the existing Industrial and Provident Societies legislation and to ensure that a modernised and effective legislative framework suitable for the diverse range of organisations using the co-operative model in Ireland is in place. The General Scheme will provide co-operative societies with a distinct legislative identity reflecting the co-operative ethos, including, among other things, a definition of a “worker co-operative society” and overall will modernise the legislative framework in this area.

Departmental Functions

 27. Deputy Dara Calleary Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if an early warning system for large-scale redundancies is in operation within his Department; and the way in which it operates. [25949/20]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar My Department operates an early warning system through which the enterprise agencies (Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland) notify the Department when they become aware of any significant issue arising for client companies that could impact their business in Ireland.

It should be noted that there is no obligation, legal or otherwise, on client companies to provide an Early Warning Report (EWR) to the enterprise agencies. However, both IDA and EI work hard to maintain close working relationships and strong channels of communication with their client companies which facilitates the operation of this system.

Once received, the EWR is treated as highly confidential and circulated to myself and a small list of individuals in my Department and the Department of the Taoiseach. The report may also be shared, when necessary, with officials from other Departments.

While there is no obligation on companies to provide EWRs to the enterprise agencies, employers are legally obliged to notify the Minister for of Employment Affairs and Social Protection of proposed collective redundancies.

Job Losses

 28. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will visit Ballinasloe, County Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29715/20]

 61. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the steps he is taking to replace the job losses at a company (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29716/20]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I propose to take Questions Nos. 28 and 61 together.

The decision by Aptar that it is to close its facility in Ballinasloe is deeply disappointing. My primary concern, as always in these situations, is for the workers and families who have been impacted by this decision. Many of these workers have been with the company for many years. The Government will make every State support available to those affected in order to help them transition and find new employment opportunities.

The IDA have worked hard to sustain and support the firm’s presence here and have had close and regular contact with management, both at a local and corporate level. The IDA also provided support to employee representatives as they put together a plan for efficiency savings that could be made at the Ballinasloe plant.

Now that the decision has been taken to close the facility, the IDA is working closely with the company to market the plant to potential investors. The IDA has introduced a number of companies who are interested in the Ballinasloe facility to Aptar management team and has also arranged visits to the site.

Both the IDA and Enterprise Ireland will use the employee skills audit that has been carried out in their efforts to attract new investment to Ballinasloe. The IDA Regional team has also connected employees of Aptar with the local Intreo office as well as the Education and Training Board, Local Enterprise Office, Regional Skills Forum West and Galway Mervue Roscommon Training Centre.

My Department and its Agencies have been working hard, over a sustained period, to support job creation in the regions. This has included setting ambitious targets to ensure that employment and investment are distributed as evenly as possible across the country. County Galway has traditionally been a strong performer in terms of FDI and the IDA continues to draw the attention of clients looking to invest or expand in the County, including Ballinasloe. Last year, there were over 21,000 people employed in IDA-supported firms in Galway. This is almost double the number employed in 2010 (11,235). While the period ahead may prove more challenging, securing new foreign direct investment for our regions will be a key priority.

Wider enterprise efforts are also underway to generate new growth in Galway and the surrounding area. For example, regional stakeholders – including Enterprise Ireland, the LEOs and the Higher and Further Education Institutes – are working together on implementation of the Regional Enterprise Plan for the West. This is aimed at strengthening the environment for job creation in the region and Ballinasloe will also benefit from this.

Another important initiative in this context is the Regional Enterprise Development Fund, through which over €16.7m in funding for the West – over three competitive calls – has been approved for collaborative regional enterprise projects. The region has had particular recent success, with five Galway-based projects being awarded a total of €9.6m. These projects are currently being developed and their completion will enhance the attractiveness of the area for further investment and job creation.

While the announcement of job losses at Aptar is very disappointing, I want to assure you that the Government and its agencies are working to create employment opportunities in the West and across all of our regions.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 29. Deputy Catherine Connolly Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar his views on a report (details supplied); the analysis undertaken by his Department regarding the disproportionate effect on levels of employment as a result of Covid-19 in the north west region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25980/20]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The Government’s July Stimulus introduced a €7 billion package of supports designed to help businesses across all regions to open, to help those already open to remain open, to get staff back to work and, for those who cannot go back to their old jobs, to secure new opportunities. The Stimulus includes extension of the wage subsidy scheme, pandemic unemployment payment for the self-employed, grants, low cost loans, write off of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities.

As part of this stimulus, we are providing more and cheaper loan finance through MicroFinance Ireland, SBCI and the new €2 billion Credit Guarantee Scheme. The full range of Enterprise Ireland, Local Enterprise Office and Údarás na Gaeltachta grant and advisory supports also continue to be available to help with strategies to access finance, to commence or ramp up online trading activity, to reconfigure business models, cut costs, innovate, diversify markets and supply chains and generally to improve competitiveness.

The Deputy will be aware that my Department’s Regional Enterprise Plans play a central role in supporting the delivery of balanced regional development and in ensuring that employment growth is spread across all regions. The Plans are also maintained as ‘live’ agendas which aim to be agile and responsive to both new opportunities and new challenges, for example Brexit, Climate Action and COVID-19. My predecessor as Minister, Heather Humphreys TD, met the Chairs of the Regional Committees in June last and invited them to identify and submit proposals to my Department that would help address the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in their region.

The Regional Steering Committees for the North West, North East and West Regional Enterprise Plans have met in recent months to consider the range of COVID-19 and wider economic challenges for their regions and issues arising in relation to vulnerable jobs and sectors and are currently developing options for additional measures that may be taken for their respective regions.

These efforts are also being supported by several Government funding streams, such as the Regional Enterprise Development Fund, introduced in 2017 to sustain and add employment- the North West has secured total funding of €5.6 million, the North East €10.2 million and the West €16.7 million. The Border Enterprise Development Fund has also approved funding of €17 million for enterprise ecosystem strengthening projects across the Border region, aimed at mitigating the challenges posed by Brexit.

Enterprise Support Services

 30. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan Information on Jim O'Callaghan Zoom on Jim O'Callaghan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the targeted policy measures being taken by his Department to help young persons secure employment or start businesses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25951/20]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) are the “first-stop-shop” for providing advice and guidance, financial assistance and other supports to anyone wishing to start or grow their own business. In the first instance, the LEOs provide a ‘signposting’ service in relation to all relevant State supports available through agencies such as Revenue, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Education and Training Boards, the Credit Review Office and Microfinance Ireland. The LEOs can also offer advice and guidance in areas such as Local Authority Rates, Public Procurement and other regulations affecting business. Throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic the 31 LEOs nationwide have continued to provide their services to the business community.

  The LEOs can offer direct grant aid to microenterprises (10 employees or fewer) in the manufacturing and internationally traded services sectors which, over time, have the potential to develop into strong export entities. Subject to certain eligibility criteria, the LEOs can provide financial assistance within three main categories:

  - Priming grants for businesses within the first 18 months of start-up;

  - Business Expansion grants for expansion projects designed to assist the business in its growth phase after the initial 18-month start-up period;

  - Feasibility/Innovation grants to support the researching of market demand for a product or service and examining its sustainability;

  However, it should be noted that the LEOs do not provide direct grant-aid to areas such as retail, personal services, local professional services, construction/local building services, as it may give rise to the displacement of existing businesses.

  The ‘Supporting SMEs’ Online Tool is a cross-governmental initiative to help start-ups navigate the range of Government business supports for which they could be eligible. The tool is available at www.supportingsmes.ie. By answering the eight questions in the Online Tool, a small business will be able to discover which Government business supports are available to them from any Government Department that offers them. They can obtain information on the assistance available for accessing finance and credit and it will direct them to their nearest Local Enterprise Office for further queries and applications.

  For Start-ups or expanding businesses, the LEOs can offer ‘soft’ support in the form of training, such as the "Start Your Own Business programme", guides clients through the various aspects of business and business planning. The objective is to assist clients in assessing their idea, its viability and to decide if they should proceed or take a step back. Modules include:

  - Starting up / getting started

  - Identifying, understanding and researching your target market

  - Tax, law and insurance

  - Financial planning (pricing, costing)

  - Sources of funding

  - Promoting your business

  - Sales and service

  - Basic bookkeeping

  - Developing your Business Plan

  They can also enrol in the "Mentor Programme" which is designed to match up the knowledge, skills, insights and entrepreneurial capability of experienced business practitioners with small business owner/ managers who need practical and strategic one to one advice and guidance.

  Anyone with a viable business proposal can also use their Local Enterprise Office to make an application to Microfinance Ireland, which offers support in the form of loans of up to €25,000 to start-ups with viable business propositions that do not meet the conventional risk criteria applied by the banks.

  In addition, the 31 Local Enterprise Offices strongly promote entrepreneurship amongst young people, both the Student Enterprise Programme, which helps students to develop skills associated with running an enterprise and Ireland's Best Young Entrepreneur competition (IBYE), in which up to 450 young entrepreneurs are invited by the LEOs to attend free regional ‘Entrepreneur Bootcamps’ to help them develop their businesses and new venture ideas, they then go on to compete for funding of between €3,000 and €50,000, offer training and funding to open the door to entrepreneurship amongst young people.

  In relation to activation and upskilling measures to help the unemployed, my colleagues Minister Heather Humphreys and Minister Simon Harris can provide the Deputy with a full response on the new measures announced as part of this week's budget.

Job Creation

 31. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the steps he will take to support job creation in locations outside the cities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29718/20]

 53. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the steps he will take to support job creation in regional towns; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29717/20]

 63. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the steps he will take to support existing levels of employment in regional towns; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29719/20]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I propose to take Questions Nos. 31, 53 and 63 together.

I can assure the Deputy that jobs and enterprise in the regions is a priority of Government. I want to see a situation where all towns, counties and regions across the country are enabled to realise their potential as contributors to economic recovery and growth, and thereby reduce regional disparities.

The Deputy will be aware that my Department’s nine Regional Enterprise Plans to 2020 which were launched by my Department in early 2019 play a central role in supporting the delivery of balanced regional enterprise development and in ensuring that employment growth is spread across all regions. The Plans are maintained as ‘live’ agendas which aim to be agile and responsive to both new opportunities and new challenges, for example: Brexit, Climate Action, Digital Economy, and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic economic impacts.

The principle behind the Plans is collaboration between regional stakeholders on initiatives that can help to realise the region’s enterprise development potential. These stakeholders include: Local Authorities, the LEOs, the enterprise agencies, the Regional Skills Forum, tourism bodies, private sector ‘enterprise champions’, the Higher Education Institutes and others.

The Plans have a strong relevance for rural Ireland with actions focused on areas such as skills development, tourism, the food sector, agri-tech, the marine and maritime, regional enterprise co-working and remote working spaces, talent retention, and place-making.

At the end of June this year my predecessor as Minister, Heather Humphreys TD met with the Chairpersons of the nine Regional Enterprise Plan Committees on a conference call and invited them to work with their Committees to identify proposals that would help to address economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in their region. These groups have met in virtual format and are reporting back to my Department with a view to contributing to the development of the National Economic Plan.

It is worth noting that the Government has put several funding streams and supports in place to support regional development and job creation. For example, the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund will provide investment of €1 billion into rural areas over the period 2019-2027 which will support projects that will have a transformational effect on towns, villages and rural areas across Ireland and further support job creation. In addition, under my own Department’s regional funding streams, over €100m in funding has been provided under the Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF) for projects across every region and over €980k awarded under the Regional Technology Clustering Fund.

The Deputy will also be aware of the Government’s July Stimulus which introduced a €7 billion package of supports, designed to help businesses across all regions to open, to help those already open to remain open, to get staff back to work and for those who cannot go back to their old jobs, to secure new opportunities.

I can also advise the Deputy that my colleague, Minister Heather Humphreys T.D., Minister for Community, Rural Development and the Islands is currently developing the next phase of rural development policy, which will set out measures to support the economic and social needs of rural areas over the period 2020-2025, including actions to support employment in rural areas. As was the case with the Action Plan for Rural Development 2017-2019 which was published in 2017, the new policy will reflect a whole-of-Government commitment to rural Ireland.

The Department of Community, Rural Development and the Islands also contributes directly to job creation in rural areas through programmes such the Town and Village Renewal Scheme, the Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme and LEADER.

It is important to note that over the last five years, Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland have focused on supporting enterprise growth and job creation throughout the regions. 65% of new jobs created by Enterprise Ireland client companies in 2019 were outside the Dublin region, while regional investment increased by 50% over the past five years of IDA Ireland’s strategy “Winning - Foreign Direct Investment 2015-2019”.

Guided by the Regional Enterprise Plans, and with all regional stakeholders working together, the regions are well positioned to realise their enterprise potential and see better quality, sustainable jobs and investment.

Enterprise Support Services

 32. Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if a programme of financial assistance will be made available for the development of digital hubs in smaller towns to assist in job creation at local level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30590/20]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar On 12 August 2020, I launched a new €12 million Enterprise Centre Fund, which will be administered by Enterprise Ireland, to help enterprise centres impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The objective of this Fund is to provide financial support to eligible enterprise centres who have been impacted by COVID-19 for the implementation of a 6 to 12-month Recovery Plan. This plan should have the objective of strengthening the underlying viability of these centres to enable them to continue to deliver value added supports to their client companies and digital workspaces.

These facilities provide affordable physical workspace for businesses across the country and deliver training and soft supports to their tenants and also other companies in their locality and regional area.

As such, these facilities are key infrastructures in the ecosystem for supporting entrepreneurship, start-ups and remote working.

To date, the Government has invested significantly in the development of remote working and co-working centres/ehubs in every region in Ireland through the three calls of the Regional Enterprise Development Fund and the Border Enterprise Development Fund. The total funding committed to the full range of projects amounts to €117 million to support 79 projects in total.

Many of these projects will lead to additional co-working spaces in every region as they are progressed and completed. Based on Enterprise Ireland’s analysis, approximately 3,200 co-working/incubation spaces are being developed across 45 of the projects supported under Regional Enterprise Development Fund and Border Enterprise Development Fund.

Health and Safety Inspections

 33. Deputy Pearse Doherty Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the number of Health and Safety Authority, HSA, inspections of meat and food processing plants that have been carried out for compliance with Covid-19 regulations since March 2020; if he will provide a breakdown of these; if the workplace was compliant or not; the number that were unannounced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30093/20]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The Health and Safety Authority, in its role of checking compliance with the Return to Work Safely Protocol since 18th May, is undertaking inspections across a wide range of workplaces and industry sectors, including meat processing plants (MPPs).

To-date the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has completed 98 inspections and investigations (13 of which were revisits) of Meat & Food Processing Facilities since the 18th   May 2020, which include those connected with COVID-19 outbreaks. Of the total number of inspections carried out, 30 were announced. The announced inspections occurred for the facilities that were the focus of the National Outbreak Control Team for meat processing plants, where significant COVID-19 outbreaks had occurred. In addition, other inspectorates, including inspectors from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM) have been carrying COVID-19 inspections at meat processing facilities in support of the Health and Safety Authority, DAFM has a ‘permanent presence’ at 49 meat processing plants.

  The table below shows the number of COVID-19 compliance checks per NACE code for (Meat & Food processing) by the HSA and the percentage level of compliance with the main provisions contained in the Protocol namely;

  - Covid Plan in place

  - Covid training provided

  - Covid control measures in place

  - Lead worker representative in place

NACE Code Total No. Covid Checks Plan % Training % Control Measures % Lead Worker %
1011-Processing and preserving of meat 72 96 95 99 71
1012-Processing and preserving of Poultry meat 5 100 100 100 60
1013- Production of meat and Poultry meat products 21 95 95 95 95


  Table 2 below shows the number of inspections and revisits carried out by the HSA per County for the food processing and meat processing plants between 18th May and 8th October 2020.
County Inspections Revisits
Carlow
2
1
Cavan
3
0
Cork
18
4
Donegal
2
0
Kildare
7
1
Dublin
3
0
Galway
1
0
Kilkenny
1
0
Laois
2
0
Longford
2
1
Monaghan
4
0
Meath
6
0
Mayo
5
1
Waterford
4
0
Tipperary
10
2
Roscommon
4
1
Westmeath
3
2
Offaly
2
0
Wexford
5
0
TOTAL
85
13


  In addition, the HSA is a member of the National Outbreak Control Team dealing with the COVID-19 outbreaks at Meat Process Facilities. Local outbreak control teams have been working with the employers and employees of affected facilities to control and reduce the spread of infection. These teams are led by HSE Public Health departments and are also multi-agency, with representatives from environmental health, occupational health, and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and have had good engagement from and co-operation with plant management in responding to outbreaks. Arising from the Authority’s involvement with the outbreak control teams, a number of inspections have been carried out jointly with public health experts from the Health Service Executive. The Authority will continue to support and work with public health experts in dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks in the meat plants and food processing businesses.

  Inspections involved engagement with on-site personnel including management, health and safety advisors, COVID-19 Lead Worker Representatives, safety representatives and DAFM officials. Inspectors also liaised pre- and post-inspection with the Chair of the relevant local OCT to ensure effective planning and feedback.

  There is positive cross-Agency/Departmental co-operation regarding meat plants and I am advised that improvements have been forthcoming in the sector.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 34. Deputy Peadar Tóibín Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if a grant to cover the fixed costs of enterprises that have been forced to close due to the Covid-19 pandemic will be provided. [29969/20]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar As part of Budget 2021, we announced on Tuesday the new COVID Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) to provide targeted support for businesses. The scheme is designed to assist those businesses whose trade has been significantly impacted or temporarily closed as a result of the restrictions as set out in the Government’s ‘Living with COVID-19’ Plan. The scheme will generally operate when Level 3 or higher is in place and will cease when restrictions are lifted.

  The Government will make a payment to eligible businesses, based on their 2019 average weekly turnover, to provide support at a difficult time and will be worth up to €5,000 per week.

  The scheme will apply to business premises where the Government restrictions directly prohibit or restrict access by customers.

The scheme will be effective from 13th October until 31st March 2021, and the first payments will be made to affected businesses by mid-November.

  On 23rd July 2020 I announced that in order to further support enterprises as the economy reopens and resumes activity, additional grant funding of €300m would be provided to businesses through an enhanced Restart Grant Plus scheme. The Restart Grant Plus scheme was designed primarily to help businesses which haven’t reopened yet and those struggling to do so. The Government carefully assessed the immediate needs of businesses and responded with a package of scale and speed to meet their most crucial needs.

  This additional €300m provided in the July Jobs Stimulus package allowed further categories of businesses to benefit in that businesses impacted by a 25% reduction in turnover due to COVID-19 restrictions or downturn in trade will be eligible provided they commit to reopening and to hiring and sustaining employment.

  Businesses that had to close their premises or had a serious downturn in business because their premises were not safe for employees and customers would have suffered significant losses during the early stages of the pandemic but would also have incurred ongoing costs and had additional costs associated with reopening and adapting their premises to make them suitable for workers and customers.

  The grant is a contribution towards the cost of re-opening or keeping a business operational and re-connecting with employees and customers. The grant could be used to defray ongoing fixed costs, e.g. utilities, insurance, refurbishment or for restocking and measures to ensure employee and customer safety.

  The closing date for the Restart Grant Plus scheme has also been extended to 31st October 2020 in order to make the scheme accessible to as many businesses as possible and particularly to those who have endured further restrictions in accordance with the Government’s Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19. Further information on top-up amounts and application forms are available on the websites of all Local Authorities.

  The Restart Grant Plus is just one part of the wider range of schemes available to firms of all sizes, which includes low-cost loans, write-off of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities, all of which will help to improve cashflow amongst SMEs.

  Since the onset of COVID-19, my Department has worked to ensure that there are appropriate responses is in place to assist businesses that have been impacted by the economic disruptions arising as a result of the pandemic.

  My Department has worked with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to develop three Government-guaranteed loan schemes operated by the SBCI and delivered through participating finance providers.

  Each of these schemes provides support to COVID-19-impacted businesses depending on their needs:

COVID-19 Working Capital Scheme:

  This scheme makes available working capital loans ranging from €25,000 to €1.5m to eligible businesses exposed to COVID-19-related impacts. Loans of under €500,000 are available unsecured. Loans under this scheme are available for terms of up three years to help businesses to innovate, change or adapt in response to the pandemic. These innovations may include adjustments to ensure that a business can continue to operate safely.

COVID-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme:

  This scheme makes up to €2 billion in lending available to eligible businesses. Loans under the Scheme range from €10,000 to €1m. Loans of up to €250,000 under the Scheme are available unsecured (except where this is a requirement of the product feature, as in the case of asset finance, invoice discount facilities, etc). Its focus is to provide additional liquidity to businesses in a wide range of sectors including primary producers and small mid-caps (employing up to 500). Loans under this scheme are for terms of up to five-and-a-half years. Resulting from the 80 percent Government guarantee, businesses will be able to avail of loans at reduced interest rates.

Future Growth Loan Scheme:

  This scheme has recently been expanded and now makes up to €800m in lending available to eligible businesses to support long-term, strategic investment, including in response to COVID-19. Loans under the scheme range from €25,000 to €3m and are for terms of 7-10 years. Loans of under €500,000 are available unsecured.

  Micro-enterprises that have been negatively affected by the onset of COVID-19 may also be eligible for lending from MicroFinance Ireland under its own COVID-19 loan scheme:

 MicroFinance Ireland COVID-19 Business Loan:

  Loans under this scheme range from €5,000 to €25,000 and are available with zero repayments and zero interest for the first six months, with the equivalent of an additional six months interest-free subject to certain terms and conditions. Loan terms are typically up to three years.

  All COVID-19 Business Schemes are under constant review in terms of the evolving situation and will be adapted as circumstances dictate. I can assure the Deputy that I will continue to work with my colleagues across Government and all stakeholders to examine how best to further assist businesses impacted by COVID-19 in the context of Budget 2021 and later as part of the forthcoming National Economic Plan.

  For a full list of assistance for business please see https://dbei.gov.ie/en/What-We-Do/Supports-for-SMEs/COVID-19-supports/.


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