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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 Matt Shanahan: Information on Matt Shanahan Zoom on Matt Shanahan] This is another issue which the Government must do more about. We may need to look at the provision of some supports, if it is a case that we cannot soften the situation to some degree. Many people will be coming back to a reduced turnover and may be applying to this scheme, while others may be beneficiaries of the CRSS. Those people will have significant liabilities to face when they return to full business mode. It will be then that the full weight of State supports will be needed to endeavour to keep as many businesses viable and maintain as many people in employment as possible. The scheme has also allowed employers to retain talent. It should not be forgotten that in many cases a good deal of time is spent in training new employees for a specific business after they have been taken on. Having this scheme in place has been very helpful, therefore, in securing and retaining talent until the business environment improves.

The Minister has left the Chamber, but the trajectory of business returns will not be a 90% straight up line. After this experience, many businesses are going to hiccup their way along. Potentially, they will be outside in respect of getting advanced turnover and unable to avail of support from the EWSS. Turnover, however, does not deliver profit. It is margin on turnover which delivers profit. This is again going to become very apparent in the next six to 12 months as businesses look to see if they are viable post-Covid-19 and to see what the demand curve will be like.

There is also going to be a weaning-off period. Once we give supports to businesses, especially in these straitened times, we cannot just come along and decide that what may be significant business supports are going to be cut in a certain month. There must be a period of downsizing over several months. Businesses also need transparency regarding the intentions of the Government and the Revenue Commissioners in this regard. I request that the Minister examine some form of graduated reduction in this context to secure business viability. Some other supports that will be needed, which have already been mentioned, include developments in respect of examinership light and the extension of the CRSS. Many service companies are not receiving CRSS support now, which I reiterate is vital, and yet those companies have these ongoing costs in respect of leasing, rent, etc. We must look more closely at supports in this area.

One other aspect concerning these schemes involves the warehousing of debts. Many companies availing of the EWSS may also have taken advantage of the ability to warehouse debt for value added tax, VAT. It is interesting, however, that one of the taxes which cannot be warehoused is corporation tax. Perhaps the Minister or someone in his Department could advise people about why that is the case. In addition, a year after warehousing debt, if it is necessary to arrive at a payment plan with the Revenue Commissioners, the rate of interest that will be applied is about 8% a year. It is penal to apply that rate of interest at a time when the State can borrow at negative interest rates. The Minister has some touching up to do but, on balance, this scheme is valuable and it is working well. We in the Regional Group are delighted to see it extended. We hope it will be extended for some time and that it will be downsized gradually as it ends.

Deputy Jackie Cahill: Information on Jackie Cahill Zoom on Jackie Cahill Thankfully, this scheme has helped many people during the financial hardship which the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has imposed on them. I raise issues in respect of two groups that have contacted me, and which believe the conditions of the scheme discriminate against. The first group consists of approximately 80 travel counsellors, most of whom have been refused access to the CRSS on the basis that the premises which they operate do not meet the eligibility criteria. I spoke to one such travel counsellor in my constituency office in recent days. That person started out as a self-employed travel counsellor some five and half years ago, in July 2015, and worked extremely hard to build the business from scratch. It grew year-on-year up until 13 March 2020, when everything came to a complete halt.

The business model of this endeavour has always been one of working from home to enable the provision of personal, one-to-one services to customers 24-7. The business is fully bonded and licensed by the Commission on Aviation Regulation, and its home office is a fully functional travel agency. That office has never been closed, the proprietor always keeps the landline and mobiles phone lines open to help clients. The clients of that travel counsellor who transferred or moved their holiday bookings from 2020 to 2021 are now again amending or cancelling their travel, leading to the processing of more refunds. Income on earnings in that business is down more than 100% since the start of the pandemic and there is no end in sight.

Travel counsellors are being refused access to the CRSS scheme because they do not have a shop front like travel agents. The reality, however, is that they have overheads in the same way as other businesses and their revenues have reduced to nothing. If these travel counsellors do not get the financial supports they need, they will not be in a position to return to operation when we get back to normal. Our tourism industry has been one of those hardest hit in this pandemic. Business in that sector has been almost completely wiped out. This area, however, will be one of the cornerstones of rebuilding our economy when we get to the post-Covid-19 era. I therefore ask the Minister to look at the case of these travel counsellors to see if they could be found to be eligible for the CRSS payment.

The other issue I raise, and which I have done several times previously, concerns track bookmakers. These are again a small group of people who have had no access to their places of business since March 2020. It looks like that will be the case as well for the foreseeable future. Track bookmakers again have no shop fronts. Most of them are independent operators who bought their stands at the various racecourses and, in most cases, they paid substantial amounts of money for them. These track bookmakers also have loans and liabilities connected with having access to their places of business. We all know people are not allowed into racecourses now and track bookmakers cannot operate their businesses. It will be that way for the foreseeable future. When we eventually get back to normality, these track bookmakers will be part of the horseracing scene. They bring great glamour to the occasion which is a day at the races. It will be a pity if this Covid-19 pandemic signalled the demise of the profession of track bookmaker. I request the Minister to examine this situation because track bookmakers cannot get access to their places of work and they have made fairly significant investments to set themselves up in this line of work.

Turning to the tourist bus area, €10 million was awarded to that sector last year. The funds were to be distributed by Tourism Ireland. It is much longer than six months now since that money was awarded to the tourism bus sector. A bus operator contacted me this morning and told me that none of that money has yet been distributed. Cash flow in these businesses is virtually at zero now. They welcomed the award of this money most gratefully in mid-summer last year but it is unforgivable that the money has not yet been distributed six months later. I ask the Minister to contact Tourism Ireland, find out why this money has not been distributed and get it done as soon as possible. I make that request because these businesses are starved of cash flow and are under great pressure as they face into a second very difficult year. It will be harder for these companies to survive this second year, so I ask the Minister to ensure that when money is allocated to different sectors that there is a strict timeframe for its distribution. It is unacceptable for that timeframe to be six months, as has been the case in the tourist bus sector, and this money must be distributed without delay.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly We move on now to speakers from the Rural Independent Group. To clarify, are there two or three speakers?

Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins We have two speakers.

I raise the issue of caravan and camping parks, which have been unfairly excluded by the Revenue Commissioners from the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS. As providers of seasonal accommodation, camping and caravan parks should be eligible for the scheme under the heading which covers hotels, bed and breakfasts, guesthouses and similar accommodation providers. In early December, the Revenue Commissioners updated the CRSS guidelines to exclude camping and caravan sites on the basis that they were operating outdoor activities and such outdoor activities are not ordinarily carried out from a business premises, as defined for the purposes of eligibility for the CRSS. This is incorrect because the situation is contrary to the understanding of the Revenue Commissioners and the operators believe that they should have been included within the remit of the scheme.

The Irish wedding industry is also in crisis. Its contribution to the economy is estimated to be a minimum of €2.3 billion per annum. Some 60% of those responding to a query in this regard estimated that they had lost more than 75% of their wedding business in 2020.

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