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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 35-49
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Aer Lingus
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Budget 2021
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Foreign Direct Investment
 Header Item Economic Policy
 Header Item Enterprise Support Services
 Header Item Departmental Reviews
 Header Item Remote Working
 Header Item Redundancy Payments
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Pharmaceutical Sector
 Header Item Industrial Disputes

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. 35-49

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 35. Deputy Niamh Smyth Information on Niamh Smyth Zoom on Niamh Smyth asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the supports for sectors most affected by Covid-19 in particular the hospitality sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30564/20]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Budget 2021, together with the measures we announced as part of the July Stimulus, provide a substantial financial package to stimulate our economy and to help businesses to open.

In July, the Government introduced the €7bn July Stimulus of supports for firms of all sizes, which includes the wage subsidy scheme, the pandemic unemployment payment for the self-employed, grants, low-cost loans, write-off of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities, all of which will help to improve cashflow amongst SMEs to assist with restructuring as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The range of measures in place to assist businesses include direct grants to support viable businesses and jobs, including new hire and restructuring. The wage subsidy scheme has been extended into 2021 and will be open to firms that do not currently participate. It will also be open to workers like seasonal workers who were not previously included. From 1st September, the six-month reduction in the VAT came into effect, going down from 23% to 21%.

This week's Budget contains targeted actions to help business where they are hurting most. The 9% VAT rate will help hotels, pubs, restaurants and other businesses in the entertainment, tourism and hospitality sectors. The extension of the commercial rates holiday will help reduce the fixed cost of doing business. The new CRSS programme will provide closed or effectively closed business a payment based on their turnover up to €5,000 per week. This will make a really big difference and will be paid in addition to the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS).

SMEs may be eligible for the Government's new Restart Grant Plus Scheme. Those businesses that accessed funding through the previous round of the scheme are eligible to apply for a second payment or a top-up due to the Level 3 restrictions to a total combined value of the revised maximum grant level through their local authority.

We are providing more and cheaper loan finance through MicroFinance Ireland, SBCI and the new €2bn Credit Guarantee Scheme.

The full range of Enterprise Ireland, Local Enterprise Office (LEO) and Údarás na Gaeltachta grant and advisory supports continue to be available to eligible firms to help with strategies to access to finance, commence or ramp-up online trading activity, reconfigure business models, cut costs, innovate, diversify markets and supply chains and to improve competitiveness.

I continue to work with my colleagues across Government to assist businesses impacted by COVID-19 and to help businesses get Brexit ready.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 36. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the reason the closing date for the original restart grant was brought forward three weeks without warning; if in view of the severity of the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, he will ensure that all eligible businesses will be paid both the restart grant and the restart plus grant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30262/20]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The Restart grant scheme was launched on 22nd May and was live on all local authority websites from 29 May. It was advertised extensively both nationally and locally as well as across social media. By mid-June, almost 30,000 applications were received nationally. By the end of July, some 45,000 applications had been received.

The Scheme was initially intended to provide grants in tandem with the phased re-opening of the economy as per the Government’s Roadmap. As the Roadmap was accelerated, so too was the scheme as it was made available to all eligible businesses and sectors.

The numbers of applications nationally had begun to taper off at the same time as the Government was considering introducing an expanded Restart Scheme with higher grant levels. Under the expanded scheme, the minimum grant is €4,000 (up from €2,000) and the new maximum grant is €25,000 (up from €10,000). The new scheme also has different criteria to the old scheme.

As the Government decided to introduce the higher grant levels, to the benefit of a much larger group of businesses, it was decided to end the original scheme. It would not make sense to run two similar schemes, with different criteria and grant levels, as it would only cause confusion for applicants and those administering the scheme alike.

In terms of eligible businesses which for any reason did not apply for the first phase of the scheme prior to its closure, applications can now be made to their Local Authority in respect of both schemes.

Applicants who received a grant under the first Restart Scheme can apply again for a second grant by submitting a Declaration Form to their Local Authority. Further information can be obtained on the websites of all Local Authorities.

The closing date for the Restart Grant Plus scheme has 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.

All COVID-19 Business Schemes are under constant review in terms of the evolving situation and will be adapted as circumstances dictate and 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.

Aer Lingus

 37. 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 his attention has been drawn to the flagrant breaches of workers’ rights by a company (details supplied) in its refusal to complete employer declarations for its workers in order to access social protection payments; and if he will write to the company to request that it cease engaging in this practice of obfuscation and delay. [30363/20]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I recognise that this is a most challenging time for employees of Aer Lingus. I understand that engagement between senior representatives from the Department of Social Protection and Aer Lingus has taken place to ensure that employees are eligible to apply for applicable jobseeker supports for days of unemployment, even when Aer Lingus is claiming the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme.

Social protection payments are the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphreys, T.D. and as such I have no direct role in issues arising around the completion of employer declarations in support of social protection payments. However, I would like to reiterate that the WRC is available to any interested parties who may require it. As part of its functions, the WRC provides information relating to employment entitlements and obligations, equality and industrial relations matters by means of their telephone service. This service is manned by experienced Information Officers.

Any discussions entered into voluntarily by workers and employers with one of the State’s industrial relations bodies, the WRC or the Labour Court, are confidential to the parties and I, as Minister, have no role in, or knowledge of, these discussions. I encourage all sides to make every effort to reach a resolution by agreement and with the help of the industrial relations machinery of the State.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 38. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill Information on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill Zoom on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if the credit guarantee scheme can be used for the refinancing of current term commercial loans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29997/20]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Government was pleased to launch the new €2 billion COVID-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme on the 7th September, the biggest ever state-backed loan guarantee in Ireland. The past few months have been extremely difficult for Irish businesses. We have seen our small and medium enterprises work hard to adapt and to continue trading in the face of this profound disruption.

This Scheme aims to provide supports for businesses that have been negatively impacted as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19. It provides critical support to ensure businesses are facilitated in having access to credit facilities to assist in their trading needs. It is available to SMEs, small Mid-Caps and primary producers.

The Scheme provides an 80% State guarantee on lending until the end of this year, for terms between 3 months and five and a half years and offers a range of lending products between €10,000 and €1 million including working capital and term loan facilities. Loans up to €250,000 are unsecured.

While the new Credit Guarantee Scheme was only launched 4 weeks ago, as of 9th October, 900 business applications have now been recommended to the credit departments of the pillar banks for final approval to a value of almost €48m. 400 applications have been approved to date for over €21m: the number of loan facilities drawn almost doubled last week.

These loans are being drawn from all over the country, with businesses which have been deeply hit by the effects of the virus leading the way. The wholesale and retail sector accounted for 22% of loans drawn by value, the accommodation and food services sector accounted for 14% of loans drawn by value, and the primary agricultural sector accounted for 10% of loans drawn by value, demonstrating that funding is getting to where it is most needed.

As a result of the high level of the State guarantee, loans are being provided at interest rates lower than the current market rate for similar loans. This low-cost funding along with other grants which are available provides ready access to funding for businesses during this unprecedented time.

The Scheme was developed in accordance with the European Commission’s Temporary Framework to take advantage of the relaxation of State Aid rules and a premium is charged in recognition of the State backed guarantee as required by the Temporary Framework.

A key focus of the COVID-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme is to make additional lending available to business for liquidity purposes and investment. Businesses that without the guarantee might not otherwise be able to access these facilities. Refinancing may be permitted in respect of COVID-19 related expenses that were funded through short term or temporary facilities such as overdrafts. However, any provision for potential refinance or rollover must have been agreed as part of the initial finance agreement.

The Scheme is currently available through Allied Irish Banks, Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank Ireland. In recognition of the need to make this Scheme as widely available as possible an open-call for new on-lenders has been completed and proposals are being reviewed by the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland in respect of potential new lenders. I therefore expect to confirm a number of new lenders will be joining the Scheme in the coming weeks.

Budget 2021

 39. Deputy John McGuinness Information on John McGuinness Zoom on John McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the supports his Department is providing for the SME sector through budget 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30592/20]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Budget 2021 is a pro-business and pro-jobs Budget aimed at building on what we put in place in the July Stimulus, to help the self-employed, business owners and employees through this exceptionally difficult time. We are providing a significant package of tax and fiscal measures to build the resilience of the economy and to help self-employed and vulnerable but viable businesses across all sectors. We are providing for an extension of the tax warehousing scheme to include repayments of Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme funds owed by employers and preliminary tax obligations for the adversely affected self-employed.

  So as to ensure that all self-employed taxpayers can benefit from the losses provision introduced in the July Stimulus, we are also providing that debt warehousing provisions be extended to include the 2019 balance and 2020 preliminary tax to allow such taxpayers to defer payment for a period of a year with no interest applying.

  As part of Budget 2021 the Minister for Finance is also delivering on the commitment in the Programme for Government commitment to equalise the Earned Income Credit with the PAYE credit by raising it by €150 to €1,650.

  These measures are in addition to the July Stimulus €7bn package of supports for firms of all sizes, which includes the wage subsidy scheme which we are extending through 2021, the pandemic unemployment payment for the self-employed, grants, low-cost loans, write-off of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities, all of which will help to improve cashflow amongst self-employed. Full details on all COVID-19 supports for business are available at: https://dbei.gov.ie/en/What-We-Do/Supports-for-SMEs/COVID-19-supports/.

  The July Stimulus is a substantial financial package to stimulate our economy worth more than €5 billion, with an additional €2 billion in loan guarantees. The COVID-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme facilitates up to €2 billion in lending to eligible businesses. Loans under the Scheme range from €10,000 to €1 million, for terms of up to five and a half years. Loans of up to €250,000 under the Scheme are available unsecured.

  COVID-19 Business Loans up to €25,000 are available through Microfinance Ireland with zero repayments and zero interest for the first 6 months and the equivalent of an additional 6 months interest-free subject to certain terms and conditions. The loans can range from €5,000 to €25,000.

  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 fiscal measures to build the resilience of the economy and to help vulnerable but viable businesses across all sectors.

  The new measures in the Budget are in addition to those already announced for this year, including the Temporary Wage Subsidy, the Restart Grant and Restart Grant Plus, cash for businesses, low cost loans and commercial rates waivers. As of 9th October, 45,505 businesses had applied for grants, with €155.2m approved. 54,938 applicants had applied for the Restart Grant Plus, with €273.4m approved.

  As part of Budget 2021, the Exchequer allocation for my Department will increase by €254m. I am allocating an additional €136m to address ongoing COVID-19 challenges, including €50 million to Enterprise Ireland. I am allocating €30 million in further funding will go to the IDA and EI for an EU approved COVID Life Sciences Products Schemes, €25 million to IDA and €5 million to EI. We will maximise the potential of the exemption from EU state aids afforded through this scheme. This will deliver very significant economic and employment benefits. I am also providing €5 million in funding for the Online Retail Scheme to allow retailers to enhance their online presence.

  I am providing

  - €10 million to continue the non-repayable grant of up to 50% of a funding package available under the Sustaining Enterprise Fund through Enterprise Ireland.

  - €14 million to fund my Department’s contribution to increase the lending capacity under the Future Growth Loan Scheme

  - further capitalisation of Microfinance Ireland by €5 million to allow it to continue to provide its tailored COVID Loan Scheme to micro enterprises impacted by the pandemic

  - €25 million to meet liabilities in the first full year of the new COVID Credit Guarantee Scheme.

  I want the impact of this pandemic to be a lost year and not a lost decade. So, we will continue to focus on what we can do to grow businesses and grow opportunities for Irish business. To grow resilience and productivity in businesses.

  Our focus in allocating our funding is to ensure that businesses who need help with challenges arising from Brexit and COVID-19 get it and get it when they need it.

  We are focusing on providing the right funding and support to help grow resilient and future-focused businesses beyond COVID, beyond Brexit towards the economy of the future.

  As part of Budget 2021, we announced 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 sectors impacted by the current Level 3 nationwide restrictions are accommodation, food and the arts, recreation and entertainment. If the Government decides to move to a higher level of restriction then other sectors may qualify.

  For these businesses, the Government will make a payment, based on their 2019 average weekly turnover, to provide support at a difficult time.

  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.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 40. Deputy Thomas Gould Information on Thomas Gould Zoom on Thomas Gould asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar his plans to support taxi drivers. [30553/20]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar As part of Budget 2021, my colleague the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, and Transport Eamon Ryan TD is introducing a number of specific measures for the taxi and hackney businesses. The Minister is providing the necessary funding to the National Transport Authority to enable it to waive annual vehicle licence renewal fees for 2021.

In addition, as part of Budget 2021 Minister Ryan is allocating €15 million to support up to 750 taxi and hackney drivers in scrapping their older vehicles and replacing them zero-emission capable electric alternatives. The scrappage scheme will be open for taxis and hackneys reaching their maximum permissible age limit in 2020/21. Up to €20,000 will be made available for eligible drivers switching to a new all-electric vehicle and up to €32,500 for those moving to a wheel chair accessible full electric vehicle.

The roll-out of dedicated EV Taxi Recharging Points will also be stepped up to support the transition of this key sector, helping to encourage the wider vehicle transition and supporting cleaner air in our cities and towns.

The Government introduced the July Stimulus €7bn package of supports for firms of all sizes, which includes the wage subsidy scheme, the pandemic unemployment payment for the self-employed, grants, low-cost loans, write-off of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities, all of which will help to improve cashflow amongst SMEs to assist with restructuring as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Full details on all COVID-19 supports for business are available on the Department website.

COVID-19 Business Loans up to €25,000 are available through Microfinance Ireland with zero repayments and zero interest for the first 6 months and the equivalent of an additional 6 months interest-free subject to certain terms and conditions. The loans can range from €5,000 to €25,000. Repayments will commence in month 7 for the remaining period of your loan.

My colleague, Heather Humphreys, TD, Minister for Social Protection, recently opened applications for the newly revamped Enterprise Support Grant, this is designed to assist self-employed recipients who are exiting the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, as they get back on their feet following COVID-19.

This grant, worth up to €1,000 per person, is aimed at sole traders such as plumbers, electricians, carpenters, taxi drivers and so on, who do not pay commercial rates and therefore do not qualify for the government’s Restart Grant Plus Scheme.

I continue to work with my colleagues across Government to assist businesses impacted by COVID-19 to adapt to the changing business landscape. The package of supports announced by Government as part of Budget 2021 earlier this week is testament to our commitment to supporting vulnerable but viable businesses in all sectors of the economy. I continue to keep the supports provided for enterprise under review with the goal of setting our country towards economic recovery.

Foreign Direct Investment

 41. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the extent to which he remains satisfied that Ireland remains attractive as a location for foreign direct investment; if in recent months there has been a fluctuation in Ireland's position in that regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30550/20]

 80. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the extent to which the State is experiencing increasing competition for foreign direct investment; the degree to which the State continues to achieve in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30872/20]

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. 41 and 80 together.

COVID-19 has presented undeniable challenges to our ongoing efforts to sustain and grow foreign direct investment (FDI) in Ireland. The introduction of travel restrictions around the world is already, for example, disrupting the typical way in which the IDA engages with investors, resulting in fewer numbers of site visits and client meetings. The pandemic has also impacted investor confidence and has likely caused some investment decisions to be delayed or postponed.

Notwithstanding these challenges, which are also faced by our competitor countries, IDA Ireland's results for the first six months of this year have demonstrated the resilience of our FDI base. The Agency has secured over 130 investments to date in 2020, which have the potential to create almost 10,000 jobs. Almost half of these new projects were secured for locations outside Dublin, with 53 investments from companies investing in Ireland for the first time.

I believe that these 2020 investments reflect our continuing attractiveness to overseas firms. Overseas companies continue, the evidence would suggest, to value our FDI strengths. These include our talented and flexible work-force, a track record as a successful home to global businesses and a hard-won reputation as a pro-enterprise jurisdiction. Our continued commitment to the European Union, the single market and Eurozone, as well as to free trade and multilateralism, are other key selling points that help us convince multinational companies to establish operations and create jobs here.

At the same time, we do recognise that the global competition for FDI is intensifying and we are under no illusions that the time ahead will prove more challenging. We will have to fight, harder than ever before, for new investment projects and the jobs that go with them. I look forward, as Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, to taking on that challenge. This will include working with the IDA on the formulation of a new strategy that will guide the Agency's work in the time ahead.

Economic Policy

 42. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the current economic situation and risks of further insolvencies in view of the circumstances surrounding closure of a company (details supplied); his views on the recommendations of the Duffy Cahill report; and his plans for the implementation of the recommendations of the report. [25975/20]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Budget 2021 focuses on protecting lives, livelihoods, jobs and businesses and provides for additional supports tailored to those sectors who are most in need such as:

- The new CRSS programme will provide closed or businesses with a significantly reduced turnover a payment based on their turnover up to €5,000 per week. This will make a difference and will be paid in addition to the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme.

- The 9% VAT rate will help hotels, pubs, restaurants and other businesses in the entertainment, tourism and hospitality sectors.

- The extension of the commercial rates holiday will help reduce the fixed cost of doing business.

- The €3.4bn Recovery Fund provides firepower to continue to protect jobs in 2021.

  The Government has committed in the Programme for Government to review whether the current legal provisions surrounding collective redundancies and the liquidation of companies effectively protect the rights of workers. I have asked the Company Law Review Group to undertake an expedited review of this commitment as it relates to company law, to be completed before the end of the year.

  Recommendations of the Duffy-Cahill report and also the Company Law Review Group 2017 Report on Protection of Employees & Unsecured Creditors which have not been implemented will be revisited.

  Ministers of State Damien English and Robert Troy are working with officials on a range of issues currently being considered from an employment rights and company law perspective.

  They will be meeting the social partners shortly to discuss the issues, which are complex and we continue to work with all stakeholders to advance matters.

Enterprise Support Services

 43. Deputy Matt Carthy Information on Matt Carthy Zoom on Matt Carthy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the mechanisms of support available to a person seeking to establish a new business. [29980/20]

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 Local Enterprise Offices 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 local business communities.

  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 and 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 offer ‘soft’ support in the form of training, such as the "Start Your Own Business" programme which 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.

Departmental Reviews

 44. Deputy Brendan Griffin Information on Brendan Griffin Zoom on Brendan Griffin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if his Department will carry out an immediate review of performance of all relevant State agencies under his remit in respect of the activities of each in County Kerry; if so, if consideration will be given to the outcome of such a review with a view to improving the levels of economic activity and investment in the county; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29604/20]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I can assure the Deputy that both Enterprise Ireland and the IDA have been very active in County Kerry. Supporting balanced regional development is a core objective of the Government and of Enterprise Ireland. In 2019 4,828 people were employed in the 122 Enterprise Ireland supported firms in County Kerry and in the period 2017-2019, Enterprise Ireland paid €12.2 million to manufacturing and internationally traded services clients in Kerry to build scale, innovate and expand their reach.

  Under the Regional Enterprise Development Fund, Enterprise Ireland supported 6 projects in County Kerry to the value of €7.5 million. These projects include the establishment of two Digital Hubs/Incubation Centres, an RDI Hub focused on Financial Services and Engineering, an Agricultural Centre of Excellence, a science and technology talent, skills initiatives, start-up promotion and a food hub. In addition, under the Regional Technology Clustering Scheme, in 2109 Enterprise Ireland approved €600k to 3 projects at the Tralee Institute of Technology.

  I also refer to other initiatives to support job creation and enterprise in County Kerry as part of Enterprise Ireland’s Mid-West Plan.

  18 IDA client companies employ almost 2,200 people in County Kerry and since 2014, County Kerry has also witnessed an 11% increase in employment in overseas companies with almost 230 net new jobs added during this period.

  The IDA is currently working on the formulation of a new strategy that will guide the Agency's work in the period ahead. That new IDA Ireland strategy was due to be launched earlier this year - but was understandably delayed - and it is now hoped to launch the Agency’s new strategy before the end of the year. The strategy will take into account the enormous impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenging economic environment for foreign direct investment globally.

Remote Working

 45. Deputy Joe Carey Information on Joe Carey Zoom on Joe Carey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar his plans to develop remote working opportunities further and improve the facilities and conditions to encourage remote working especially in rural areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25945/20]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar As our country continues to navigate COVID-19, remote working is now more important than ever. I recognise the potential benefits that increased remote working options can bring to our society.

As a primary response to COVID-19, my Department launched a new webpage dedicated to providing guidance for working remotely. This webpage is a central access point for all of the Government guidance currently available on remote working. It allows employers and employees to navigate the existing guidance easily and helps to inform those working from home during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In July, my Department launched a public consultation on the existing guidance available on remote work to understand how this guidance could be improved. We received hundreds of responses to this from employers, employees, representative bodies and special interest groups. Based on an analysis of the submissions, my Department will use the insights and feedback arising to further enhance and refine the current remote working guidance. The webpage will be updated regularly to reflect any changes made in response to the consultation with the first update due before the end of this year.

Remote working is also an important part of the work of the enterprise agencies. For example, Enterprise Ireland’s regional plan, ‘Powering the Regions’ emphasises the importance of smart working. As part of this plan, Enterprise Ireland aims to support 10,000 co-working and incubation spaces in regional locations over three years. As a response to COVID-19, Enterprise Ireland have launched a €12 million Enterprise Centre Fund to help enterprise centres impacted by the pandemic to continue to provide important services to start-ups in towns and villages across Ireland.

Furthermore, the Programme for Government recognises that facilitating remote working provides potential benefits such as regional development, addressing climate change, and adapting to an evolving economy. As such, it contains a number of commitments to encourage remote working across our country. This includes the commitment to develop a national remote working strategy. My Department is leading on this action. Work is currently underway on this under the guidance of an Interdepartmental Group and it is expected to be published in the coming months.

Through these initiatives, my Department aims to facilitate the further development of remote working in our country.

Redundancy Payments

 46. 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 if he has discussed proposals by unions (detail supplied) to establish a fund to safeguard the redundancy entitlements of workers in the event of a liquidation. [27550/20]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I can confirm that Minister of State Damien English, who has responsibility for Business, Employment and Retail met with ICTU in August where they outlined proposals concerning the treatment of collective agreements.

  Minister English responded to ICTU on 10th September confirming that he would consider the matter with myself and Minister Troy with a view to exploring the proposal and any other related issues in a Forum which would ensure participation by senior stakeholders and members of the Government.   

  Unions have proposed the need for a ring-fenced private sector levied insolvency fund which would honour and pay out on previously agreed collective agreements.

  Ministers of State Damien English and Robert Troy, in Private Members’ Business in the Dáil on 16th September, both affirmed the Government’s commitment to detailed and serious consideration of the proposals and committed to involving worker and employer representatives in that process.

  They will be meeting the social partners as soon as a date can be agreed with them, to discuss the matters put forward, including the proposed fund. The issues are complex and we continue to work with all stakeholders to advance matters.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 47. Deputy Pa Daly Information on Pa Daly Zoom on Pa Daly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the sectors of the economy his Department has identified as needing indefinite support measures. [25982/20]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I am acutely aware that restrictions to contain the spread of COVID-19 continue to affect activity across many sectors.

SMEs, particularly in the employment intensive non-traded sector, have been disproportionately affected by the crisis. While Multinational companies remained relatively resilient, reinforcing the importance of FDI to Ireland, international competition for FDI is intensifying. Furthermore, the threat of a hard Brexit exposes a wider range of sectors to economic risk.

Initial restrictions to contain the virus resulted in a sudden and severe contraction in economic activity and saw almost the entire workforce in some sectors moving to income supports.

Tourism, hospitality, construction, retail, arts and culture and services sectors were hardest hit. Although retail, construction and non-essential elements of manufacturing reopened in the early phases of the roadmap for reopening society and business, many firms still face challenges and require continued support. Sectors reliant on international travel or impacted by distancing measures remain severely impacted and industries that are dependent on these sectors are also experiencing threats to viability.

Sectors that have more readily adapted to distancing measures and remote work including financial and business services have been less impacted although the extent of the impact has been dependent on the nature of their customer base.

While supply has largely remained functional in the agri-food sector, national and export demand reduced considerably, impacting market returns. The growing prospect of a hard Brexit presents additional challenges to the Agri-food sector.

Some sectors have experienced growth opportunities. Technology-intensive sectors have benefited from a more rapid adoption of new platforms as economic activity shifts from physical to virtual. The quest for vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics and improved medical devices in response to COVID-19 has provided innovation and diversification opportunities for life sciences sectors.

To date the Government has provided enhanced economy wide supports totalling almost €20 billion including the €7.4 Billion July Stimulus Package. The additional measures announced in the July Stimulus aim to address challenges and support opportunities across all sectors. While these supports are wide ranging, they will by their nature be of most assistance to the most heavily impacted firms and sectors. Budget 2021 will continue to address short term crisis- and recovery-related supports. Work is also underway on the National Economic Plan which will set out a vision and roadmap to 2025 building resilience across enterprise and sectors.

Pharmaceutical Sector

 48. Deputy James Lawless Information on James Lawless Zoom on James Lawless asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will provide a report on any recent engagement he has had with the pharmaceutical industry in Ireland. [30599/20]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The Irish pharmaceutical sector is internationally recognised as a global leader in the production of highly-regulated and complex pharmaceutical products for supply right across the world. Ireland is home to 9 of the top 10 global pharmaceutical companies and the sector directly employs over 34,000 people but is also responsible for many more jobs in the economy. The sector generates high-value economic activity across the country as the industry is already regionally embedded, with most of the sector’s employment based outside of Dublin.

In recognition of critical work of those Irish-based companies, last week I convened meetings with several of IDA Ireland’s biopharmaceutical client companies to hear about the crucial role they are playing in the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic and particularly on the work being done in Ireland to assist in the global efforts to treat COVID-19.

It was encouraging to hear directly from those companies about how important their Irish operations are in the global context and also as part of the various collaborations and partnerships that are currently happening as efforts continue to develop COVID-19 treatments and vaccines. It was particularly encouraging to hear how our highly-qualified and talented workforce is a key success factor – not only in those company’s decisions to locate in Ireland - but also their success.

In September I met with several of the leading pharmaceutical companies at a broader event focused on foreign direct investment and I also recently visited the Pfizer campus in Grange Castle.

These engagements are representative of our strong and ongoing commitment to the sector. The pharmaceutical industry is a driver of innovation, bringing forward new treatments and significant benefits for Irish sub-suppliers. My recent meetings have shown the importance of supporting innovative companies that are taking the lead in developing the new products and processes that will further develop the industry here in Ireland, and help us, in the longer term, in the fight against COVID-19.

Industrial Disputes

 49. Deputy Thomas Gould Information on Thomas Gould Zoom on Thomas Gould asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will intervene in the dispute of workers (details supplied). [30552/20]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The Taoiseach, Ministers Troy and English and I have met with Debenhams employees and their union, Mandate to hear their views and concerns about the liquidation of Debenhams Ireland. 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.

Ministers of State Damien English and Robert Troy are working with officials on a range of issues currently being considered in the context of Debenhams. They will be meeting the social partners as soon as a date can be agreed with them, to discuss the matter. The issues are complex and there is no obvious solution. Nevertheless, work on this has been prioritised and continues.


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