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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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  5 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins] Two thirds of the respondents had to lay off staff because of a loss of business. They need financial support for the industry for this year, and realistically for the first six months of 2022. Wedding services are not recognised as an industry and, as such, have been left off access to supports or industry forums, including the most recently announced Fáilte Ireland supports. Wedding services need to be recognised as a valuable industry. The Government needs to engage with them. These businesses make their living providing goods and services, venues and accommodation, food and beverages to the 21,000 weddings in Ireland each year, not to mention the 21,000 couples and their families who are now in limbo. These are couples and families who do not know when they can have the day they have spent so much time looking forward to and on which they are willing to spend so much money.

As I said in the House this morning on the issue of fuel poverty, the people who are in receipt of a pandemic unemployment payment should be included in the fuel allowance and not have to wait 15 months before they can apply.

People over the age of 66, the people who built Ireland and who continue to work, have been left with nothing, not one single brown cent. Nothing has been given to them aside from being told that they have to isolate. Nothing was given to this cohort of people, which is scandalous. These people worked hard. They are the people who got up early in the morning and who worked to put the country the way it is and who, unfortunately, have been left behind.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I offer my thanks and congratulations to the Minister of State, to the Department, to the social welfare people who are out there dealing with this, and to Revenue for this excellent scheme. It has provided very valuable funding for businesses that have grown over the years, which are businesses that give huge employment. I welcome that the scheme is extended to 31 March. I want to ensure, however, that we have reasonable debate in advance of that date to extend it further since we are not going to be out of this in any make, shape or form.

Other speakers have already mentioned the other sectors being neglected. The wedding services sector is a huge and valuable industry. One would not realise the amount that is in it. As Deputy Cahill has referred to, the bookmakers who do not have a bookmaker's office travel and have a stall, which they pay for. Some of them would have a stand at ten or 11 different courses. These people are also disallowed on the scheme. The people who are over the age of 66 are being denied any scheme. Many of these are active business people with their own businesses, be it a bus, a van or a lorry. Just because it is parked beside their house and they do not have a rateable premises, they have been excluded from everything. They have not got a penny. They should definitely be supported. Consider also the travel agents or travel planners who may not have an office, or if they do it is in their own home. They too are denied access to the schemes.

There are a lot of anomalies and I am aware it is hard to get everyone, but one would think it could be tweaked. It is unforgivable, as the previous speaker has said, about the money from Fáilte Ireland for the bus hire. There are many people who do the bus transport for school runs with their own buses, and they are over the age of 66. They are not getting a shilling. It is appalling that there was €10 million for tourism sector supports and seven months later it has not been administered by Fáilte Ireland. What is going on? I am aware that people must work from home, which is difficult, but it is not fair to the people who need the money now. They needed it yesterday and they needed it six months ago. They must air and drive and keep their vehicles to keep them fit and ready for operation and to keep them running right. They need to get those supports. We need to try to support them and reach out to those businesses that are not getting funding. The people over the age of 66 would be a big cohort who are being denied everything. They do not get aon pingin amháin, which is a pity.

Deputy Martin Browne: Information on Martin Browne Zoom on Martin Browne Throughout the course of this pandemic the Government has made a habit of prolonging uncertainty for as long as it can. Since 6 January Sinn Féin has called for the existing rates of the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, to be extended to give workers some certainty, and for the supports that have been in place to continue. The Government, in its usual way, delayed and delayed in bringing this motion to us today. While we note this delay, we welcome that the existing rates of the EWSS will be extended until 31 March. This will provide much needed certainty for businesses and employees that they will continue to receive the supports at current rates.

Throughout the pandemic, Sinn Féin has campaigned purposefully for increased rates for low-paid workers and for the inclusion under the old temporary wage support scheme, TWSS, of women returning from maternity leave. We also argued for increased rates under the new EWSS when it was first introduced in September.

Another flaw in how the Government designed the scheme was in enabling the taxing of workers under the TWSS. This is because the Government decided to base the wage subsidy on net pay. This resulted in a double reduction for workers. When the new scheme was introduced, we rightly criticised it because it included cuts in wage supports for employers and employees and the removal of all wage supports for the lowest income workers. The pressure we in Sinn Féin applied to address this unjust reduction in supports resulted in the Government agreeing to increase those rates in October. The pressure we continue to apply has seen the Government reversing its decision to reduce these rates again. It must be noted, however, that the Government continues to leave out the lowest paid workers.

The EWSS is not the only issue that needs to be addressed for the sake of our workers and the businesses that are dealing with the prospect of prolonged restrictions and unemployment. Consideration must also be given to reviewing the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, scheme, because currently far too many businesses are excluded. In this context I am referring to the County Tipperary Chamber, and I ask that the Minister notes this. From the feedback the County Tipperary Chamber has received from its network, the CRSS is viewed as being too limited and excludes many businesses that have been directed to shut in the latest wave of restrictions. Non-essential retailers, for example, may receive assistance because of the closures but their suppliers do not. They point out that it is even more important for support schemes to be extended and expanded so that they are effective. They ask that if the CRSS scheme cannot be revised immediately, then new payments would be provided to support businesses that have been forced to close. The chamber warns that without this intervention, the growing debt burden experienced by businesses will likely trigger a wave of insolvencies and job losses that will permanently scar local economies nationally. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, to speak to our chambers of commerce and listen to the challenges that face every community out there, which are not necessarily represented in the confines of Departments.

By leaving matters to the last minute, the Government has little respect for the hard-pressed families and businesses concerned and it seems to be of the opinion that these businesses should be grateful that decisions are actually made. Similar delays are apparent across the sectors, including supports for the additional three weeks’ parental leave, which remains unaddressed three months after the budget. Our student nurses and midwives have been left waiting for recognition for so long that Sinn Féin was forced to bring a motion to the House highlighting how student nurses and midwives have a right to be paid for the work that they do, especially since so many are working beyond their initial requirements. While the extension of the rates under the EWSS is welcome, there is much more to be done and the Government would be well advised to listen to workers and employees, to people who are unemployed, to families and all of the sectors who are having to deal with this crisis in their own individual ways.

Deputy Marian Harkin: Information on Marian Harkin Zoom on Marian Harkin The EWSS has been a real support for many workers and businesses throughout Covid. It is important to recognise that. I have three issues, however, that I will raise with the Minister of State, the first of which has been raised with me by a number of constituents. I have also raised this matter with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, previously. To avail of the scheme, the turnover of businesses must be less than 70% of previous turnover. What happens if a business has a turnover drop of 20% or 25% or 27%? Those businesses do not receive any assistance. I have suggested a tapering for this entitlement. If turnover, for example, is down by 20% why not give 50% of the EWSS payment to those businesses? I am aware that it would create extra paperwork but I am not asking for a whole series of new rates. Where there is a drop of 20%, there should be at least some payment. In most businesses a drop in turnover of 20% wipes out all of their profits.

There is a perverse incentive for businesses to operate in such a way as to reduce turnover by more than 30%. This is not an issue during level 5 restrictions, but during other levels when non-essential retail is open again, this perverse incentive is there.

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