Houses of the Oireachtas

All parliamentary debates are now being published on our new website. The publication of debates on this website will cease in December 2018.

Go to oireachtas.ie

Covid-19 (Enterprise, Trade and Employment): Statements (Continued)

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1004 No. 4
Unrevised

First Page Previous Page Page of 71 Next Page Last Page

  2 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar] The CRSS is working very well and I get very good feedback from businesses about it. It is helping them with their fixed costs. It is not the only scheme out there and there is a tourism continuity scheme for businesses that were not included. There is also a transport scheme and the new CBAS, which was only announced the other day. We should bear in mind the employment wage subsidy scheme, which helps with payroll, and the other schemes, including the CRSS, the CBAS and the tourism continuity scheme that are to help with fixed costs.

We are open to new schemes to help sectors that have been left out. I stated when launching the CBAS that it would not be the final scheme. I want to see more real-life examples of companies that are down 75% in turnover and have fixed costs that they cannot avoid. I am not getting many of these but I want them. When we look into the detail of many cases, the issue is lost income or profits and not fixed costs. We would like to see more real-world examples of companies down 75% or more in turnover and have substantial fixed costs that they would like help with. This is instead of compensation for lost income or profits, which is very different.

Deputy Louise O'Reilly: Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly I raise the question of Aer Lingus, which is relevant to my constituency and that of the Tánaiste. I received an email from an Aer Lingus worker. She had some savings that she hoped to use to buy a home but she is now regarded by the bank as an "uncertain" customer. Will the Tánaiste engage with the Minister for Transport to ensure all the recommendations of the aviation task force are put in place? Will the task force recommendations be refreshed in light of the fact that the aviation industry is looking at a second year of closures? It is vital to our connectivity and it is a significant employer for those of us who live and work around the airport. More needs to be done to ensure we can save the aviation sector. In the interests of saving time, I am happy to receive a reply in writing on the matter.

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The aviation task force report is probably pretty out of date at this stage. It involves reopening our skies and allowing people to fly again but the country has moved on from that process, which was to rely on testing. We are not relying solely on such testing any more.

I say very clearly that Aer Lingus will not be allowed to fail. It is already receiving substantial financial support from the Government both through the employment wage subsidy scheme and funding through the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. Confidential discussions are under way involving the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on further support for the company so it can be there when we need it again.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty I have three questions but as I am very short on time I will ask them as quickly as possible. The first concerns the future growth loan scheme. It is working well because there is longer tenure than the credit guarantee scheme, which is not going as well. Since expanding in July, there have been 4,000 applications but only 2,000 loans approved. I am told AIB and Bank of Ireland is fully subscribed and the Department has said Ulster Bank is still accepting loan applications. We have been told by businesses that it is fully subscribed as well, however, so businesses cannot access credit for six months. Will the Tánaiste give an update on what is left in the envelope of the future growth loan scheme and will he consider expanding the scheme, as it should be expanded?

The second matter is Ulster Bank, which was raised earlier. One cannot overestimate the impact this will have, particularly on small businesses that rely on credit. If their loans are sold or transferred there is no guarantee the new entity will have the same risk profile to allow for overdrafts or credit. Does the Government have a contingency plan? It is fine being briefed on this but is there a plan to use the likes of Permanent TSB, which does not have a business book, to step into that gap?

The final question concerns business interruption. I received correspondence from the Central Bank yesterday and I am glad it has looked at 250 different types of policies from over 30 insurers. It is pushing back against insurers that are refusing to pay out on policies. We know a limited number have started to pay out already. The regulator in Britain has a system where a small or medium enterprise can test a policy on the Financial Conduct Authority website to see if it provides adequate cover. Here, businesses have no idea what is happening or the view of the regulator on the business interruption insurance they hold.

We need to find a way to bring certainty to business because we are nearly a year on from these claims being made. What is the Tánaiste's view on how we can bring that transparency and certainty to bear? Should the Central Bank be communicating with businesses that it thinks may have policies covered by business interruption insurance?

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar As the Deputy states, the future growth loan scheme is working very well. It is long-term money but it is for a particular purpose where companies want to and can expand, so they would already be doing quite well. The microfinance loan for very small businesses is also going very well. The credit guarantee scheme was not doing so well but there has been a big pick-up in the past month or two. I will come back to the Deputy in writing with some of the data on availability but last week we allocated more capital to the future growth loan scheme. That may free more lending. I will write to the Deputy with the correct detail.

I should leave it to the Minister for Finance to update the Opposition on Ulster Bank and I will ensure the briefing occurs as soon as possible. As I indicated to the Deputy last week, the Central Bank has been active on the question of business interruption insurance for a long time and it assessed 250 policies, approximately half of which do not cover Covid-19. Half of the remaining policies cover it if the interruption is caused by the virus on the premises and the remaining policies cover it if the virus is in the vicinity. From speaking with people in business, I know they want the valid policies to be honoured now and for money to be paid. They are not looking forward to years of litigation or a prolonged examination by the Central Bank. They want the policies honoured and paid, and that is what I want too. I will meet representatives of the Central Bank in the next couple of weeks to see what more they can do to make that happen. I will take up the Deputy's suggestion with them as it is a good one.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin There are several matters I wish to raise. I hope the Tánaiste will have time to respond to my contribution either orally or in writing. The first matter is the closure of Ulster Bank and the protection of redundancy rights for workers with respect to the pandemic unemployment payment, the EU directive on the minimum wage and, finally, casual trading by-laws. The Tánaiste knows this move will substantially reduce competition in the Irish mortgage and small and medium enterprise lending markets, which come under his remit and not just that of the Minister for Finance. Currently the average interest rate for new mortgages in Ireland is more than double the EU average and the average interest rate on SME lending and consumer loans in Ireland is also considerably higher than the EU average. Customers with mortgages and business loans will be very concerned that their loans may be flogged to vulture funds. As has also been mentioned, there are 2,800 workers who will also be concerned about their future.

  Will the Tánaiste set out what he feels he can do to save these 2,800 jobs as this comes under his remit? Will the State use its majority shareholding in PTSB to create a real third force in Irish banking that would benefit customers and small and medium enterprises? Will the Tánaiste confirm the transfer of undertakings for protection of employment will apply in any possible sale or acquisition of any part of Ulster Bank to an Irish bank where the Minister for Finance is a significant shareholder?

  There have been serious concerns raised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, that time on the PUP does not count towards redundancy rights. The Department has stated that the matter is legally complex and it is seeking advice on it. This seemed to be clear enough when the legislation was introduced last March. The response of the Minister for Finance at the time was:

On the questions put to me by Deputies Nash and Brady, the existing provisions in Schedule 3 to the Redundancies Payment Act 1967 already provide that periods of temporary lay-offs do not break continuity of employment. This will obviously include temporary lay-off periods due to the effects of the measures required by an employer to comply with, or as a consequence of, Government policy to prevent, limit, minimise or slow the spread of infection of Covid 19. I hope that answers the questions

  That was from the Tánaiste's colleague, the Minister for Finance. Based on those assurances in the Dáil by the Minister for Finance and multiple assurances from officials, a Labour Party amendment at the time was not pressed. Unfortunately, the rights of workers are being put at risk by the failure of the Government to carry through on promises that were issued. The Government got co-operation on the emergency legislation because of that promise.

  Will the Tánaiste ensure his Department is operating under the interpretation of the law as explained by the Minister for Finance last March?


Last Updated: 26/02/2021 14:31:40 First Page Previous Page Page of 71 Next Page Last Page