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Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020: Motion (Continued)

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1003 No. 7

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill: Information on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill Zoom on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill] It is clear that the restriction of activities may go beyond that time and some businesses will need continued support thereafter. I ask the Minister to discuss this with his Government colleagues and provide certainty for businesses as soon as possible. Businesses need different types of certainty. Businesses that can continue to generate income need certainty around the timing of the ending of relevant schemes. They need sufficient notice, whether that be six, eight or 12 weeks, to be able to transition their employees back onto a different pay model. I refer here to businesses that have a significant revenue stream and are able to continue with activity but there is, of course, another class of business that has had no activity for a very long time, predominantly in the hospitality industry.

  The Government has taken a range of steps to provide ample support to the hospitality industry, including the EWSS and a reduction in VAT but in many cases, these businesses have not had the opportunity to claw back the benefits of same because they have been closed. I give the example of an hotel in my area which engaged in substantial investment in the last number of years. The hotel accrued profits and invested them in the redevelopment of the hotel. It was achieving four-star status, had significant commercial loans which it was more than amply servicing and had approximately 80 employees. The hotel is managing through this crisis and doing what it can with its employees to continue to invest and improve the hotel for when it reopens. Of course, the VAT reduction was very welcome but because of the lockdown, this business has not really been able to enjoy the benefit of it because it has not generated sufficient revenue. For businesses like this one, and countless others around Dublin and the rest of the country, the extension of the EWSS is important in itself but it is also an opportunity, if particular consideration can be given to that sector, for them to try to claw back some of the lost revenue in circumstances where they have had to continue to service commercial loans of the kind I have described. There is something slightly different about these businesses vis-à-vis those that have been able to continue to trade, albeit on a reduced basis. As we come out of the lockdown and hopefully move into a more nuanced period of economic planning, I hope the Minister will be in a position to consider sectoral solutions of that kind.

  The mortgage issue raised by other Deputies is such a difficult one to resolve. I have had the same issue raised with me and I understand the difficulties at the moment in terms of security of income from the perspective of lenders generally. This is causing difficulties and leaving people stuck, including those who have - or hope they have - stable jobs, incomes and deposits. The overall impact is going to be on housing market activity and activation and people may be stuck in rental accommodation for longer than is necessary. I appreciate the risk issue from the perspective of banks generally but this is affecting people who are not at fault. There is nothing they can do and it is an ongoing problem.

  I thank the Minister for bringing this motion before the House today. The EWSS has been an absolute lifesaver for businesses in Ireland, particularly small businesses and the hospitality sector more generally. Without this measure and without the support that the State was able to acquire and then provide to our businesses and their employees, we would be in a very dark place indeed. It is extremely welcome and I thank the Minister for his efforts in Europe to ensure it can be continued. The more certainty that the Minister can provide to employers and businesses over the next 12 months, which we hope will be very different to last 12 months, the better.

Deputy Pa Daly: Information on Pa Daly Zoom on Pa Daly I was contacted this week by a start-up company after the Revenue Commissioners adjudged that it did not submit strong enough evidence that its turnover had decreased by more than 25% during last year's trading. This is one of the criteria used to determine "significant negative economic disruption". While I understand the need for some parameters, the company lost a number of contracts due to Covid-19 and can prove it. This is, unquestionably, significant economic disruption by any measure. Other supports are insufficient to keep this business operating and employing staff. These are people who want to create and sustain jobs, which are sorely needed in Kerry, rather than survive on subsidies. The goal of the EWSS is supposed to be exactly that and the spirit of the scheme needs to take precedence in this type of situation. This will continue to be an issue as we face two long years of disruption and no business will have been left untouched by the pandemic.

There have been a number of issues with the EWSS and its predecessor. We must ensure it is fit for purpose. Over the next two years, once the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted and the vaccination programme is completed, life will return to normal but businesses cannot be expected to be completely stagnant in that period. Not only will we lose businesses that contribute employment and revenue to the Exchequer, but we will also strangle new businesses that are so badly needed in the west of Ireland, particularly in Kerry. The long period of disruption will also have a severe impact on the biggest source of jobs in Kerry which is tourism. As the Minister probably knows, over 16,000 Kerry workers are employed in tourism and many of them were shut out of the Covid-19 PUP and TWSS schemes due to seasonality. Last year most of the season was missed, at the loss of €400 million to the economy in Kerry. However, when businesses could open, people flocked to Kerry and businesses thrived for that very short period which proves that they are viable. There is an enormous appetite among people to follow the advice of NPHET and not go abroad but with no certainty about how long the season will be, allowance needs to be made within the EWSS for seasonal businesses.

The Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, was introduced to further support those in the hospitality and tourism sectors but it ignores any business lacking an on-premises customer experience and excludes a number of outdoor and activity-based tour operators, wholesalers and travel agents working remotely. These businesses are struggling to reopen and are facing permanent closure. In that context, I ask the Minister to extend the scheme. The recently announced tourism recovery fund will help some of these operators and while I welcome it, it is months late and should not have been necessary. We seem to have a trend of stressing businesses to the maximum and only then intervening. Extending the EWSS should ensure that it is accessible to those who need it and should offer those who have spent years, if not decades, adjusting their lives around seasonal business some reassurance. Kerry is the county most affected, according to all surveys.

Finally, it is 300 days since the start of the Debenhams picket and once again I pay tribute to Geraldine, Amy, Trish and the many others who have maintained their vigil at the former Tralee store. I understand that Mandate has recently written to the Taoiseach but has yet to receive a reply. I call on the Government to intervene even at this late stage to help the Debenhams workers. If ever proof was needed of the inequity in the system between workers and capital, this is it. I ask the Government to recognise the right to collective bargaining and to implement the recommendations of the Duffy Cahill report as soon as possible. State supports such as the EWSS should not be available to companies that do not recognise the right of workers to organise.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The next contributor listed is Deputy Gannon but níl sé anseo and neither is Deputy O'Connor. Is Deputy MacSharry here for Deputy O'Connor?

Deputy Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry No, I am here in my own right. I understood that myself and Deputy Dillon were sharing time.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl There is a slot available now but if the Deputy does not want to take it-----

Deputy Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry I am happy to take it.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Deputy has eight minutes and if Deputy Dillon comes in, he can share that time with Deputy MacSharry.

Deputy Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry If he comes in, the Ceann Comhairle might point that out to me. I am glad to have the opportunity to engage with the Minister and Minister of State and make a few points. Obviously, it is common sense for us, as per the motion, to extend the EWSS without which the misery of the last nine or ten months would have been much worse for people throughout the country. Initially it was pitched at the wrong level, perhaps, but we amended it fairly quickly to give people some level of support while at the same time ensuring we maintained the link between employee and employer. This will be critical when we manage to reopen, which we hope will be in the nearer rather than longer term as the vaccine situation improves.

I seek clarification on an issue that is not specifically related to the EWSS. Obviously, many people are working from home at this moment in time.

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