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

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1004 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton] As I said earlier, that will need the Government to sign up to some imaginative flagship projects, such as offshore energy projects and others which we could go through if we had the time.

We need a credible restart package and it must involve some expectations on very important players who are not directly in the control of Government, including banks, insurance companies, landlords and Revenue in its role of tax warehousing. All four of those players have a huge interest in our getting it right in terms of recovery and they must play a constructive role in that regard. The State should be giving some indication of the sort of role they ought to play. If, as will inevitably be the case, restructuring is necessary in some businesses, people need to have some certainty as to how, for example, the crystallising of redundancy obligations will occur and how that will interact with the insolvency fund at a time when many companies will be very short on cash.

In terms of transformative change, we need to roll out very rapidly what is described in the programme for Government as the town centre first initiative. We must recognise that the retail high street is dramatically changing. We need an integrated drive to use the many tools that are available to give our town and city centres a chance to revive. We also need to be anticipating that companies will have to put themselves on a pathway to low-carbon competitiveness. That has to be an integral part of any recovery plan that is articulated because the later that change is left, the less effective it will be.

I welcome the Government's commitment to a speedy rescue process. It is important that it be at the directors' initiative that they commence the process, without having to go to the court, that it will apply to companies with fewer than 50 employees and that the rescue plan must be approved by 50% plus of creditors, not the higher thresholds that apply elsewhere. I wonder, however, where the equity will come from. Is the Government looking at how effective the ISIF model of providing equity to companies coming out of difficulty but with a strong viable future has been? Is it considering other vehicles for getting new equity into viable companies?

Finally, I welcome the Tánaiste's response to the changing nature of work and his adoption of what I would describe as a new social contract in regard to the expectations from enterprise and its obligations to workers. We must see that expanded into other areas, particularly skills, where we need to see embedded in Irish enterprise apprenticeships and a commitment to lifelong learning. I hope that issue will be expanded in the Tánaiste's thinking.

Deputy Cathal Crowe: Information on Cathal Crowe Zoom on Cathal Crowe I have a few points I wish to make and I hope the Tánaiste will have time to respond to them. The points relate generally to the aviation sector, which has probably been the most exposed and ravaged by the onslaught brought on by the Covid crisis. The first issue relates to the maintenance, repair and operations, MRO, sector, which is a significant part of the aviation economy. It is very large in my constituency of Clare, around Shannon Airport, and also quite large in Cork and in the hinterland of Dublin Airport. There are 22,000 aircraft registered globally, many of which land in Ireland, are repaired and then take to the sky again. That cannot happen at the moment because aviation is not operating as it normally does. The sector has been very reliant for the past number of months on the EWSS and it is looking for some indicators today and in the coming weeks that the scheme will be extended until such time as the sector recovers.

  Of equal importance is the IDA Ireland training grant. Many operators in the MRO sector are taking on college graduates and undergraduates to work in their hangars and other facilities where they are provided with really high-quality training. They are very reliant on IDA Ireland training grants to facilitate that. They have a cohort of staff over and above what is required at the moment to maintain aircraft but they can only retain them with the continued support of IDA Ireland training grants. That is important.

  The final point I wish to raise concerns the Kurzarbeit, which is a very innovative and successful scheme operating in Germany. It is basically a short-time work benefits scheme which encourages employers to keep on employees, in some cases reducing their working week to 60% but, crucially, not laying them off. When taxation is adjusted, it ensures that people are not significantly down on their income. When people's pay is not significantly reduced, it means that their money and everything they spend circulates in the economy. By and large, it has been viewed, both within the European context and globally, as a very successful model for keeping income going to employees, not having workers laid off and ensuring people can weather everything Covid has brought. Has the Tánaiste encountered that scheme, has he been briefed on it and might he consider introducing something similar here?

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Deputies. I recognise Deputy Farrell's ongoing interest in Aer Lingus, Dublin Airport and aviation workers in particular. As I said earlier, we are in discussions with Aer Lingus to see what we can do to make sure the airline survives the pandemic and is there to enable connectivity whenever we can get flying again.

In regard to the hospitality sector, it benefits from both the wage subsidy scheme and the CRSS, which applies when a premises is closed. I know many businesses have moved over to take-out and delivery and have been very innovative in that regard.

When it comes to remote working, including working from home, it is intended that the budget in October will include a tax package to provide a better set of expenses and tax deductibles for people who are engaged in such work. We are also examining means to incentivise businesses to enable people to work from home or work remotely. At the moment, some companies are stuck with both the cost of an office that is empty and the cost of people working at home. We need to help them with the transition.

As Deputy Bruton said, we are entering a period of major change. It is change that was happening anyway but it has been accelerated by the pandemic. It involves remote working and, therefore, investment in broadband. I pay tribute to the Deputy's work as Minister in making sure that contract was signed. The Deputy referred to offshore wind. The transition is going to be green and digital and, in addition, it needs to involve things like lifelong learning and second-chance education.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Tánaiste's time is up.

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I will come back to the Deputies' other points later, if I can, or in writing.

Deputy Réada Cronin: Information on Réada Cronin Zoom on Réada Cronin I am sharing time with Deputy Conway-Walsh. I had hoped to have a question-and-answer exchange with the Tánaiste but I am sure he will appreciate that I must raise the proposed lay-offs in the Kerry Group. It is a very worrying development for businesses in north Kildare. The Tánaiste will be aware that the company itself employs hundreds of my constituents in Naas. These are highly skilled workers with large financial commitments, many of them crippled with mortgages as is the norm in this State.

The Kerry Group is synonymous with Ireland and its green fields, but not so much with Malaysia or Mexico. During my time on Kildare County Council, we pulled out all the stops for the company, whose representatives got the VIP treatment, the red carpet and everything else when they came to Kildare in 2016. The Kerry Group makes huge profits, including €797 million last year and €1 billion in 2019. Has the Tánaiste had any engagement with the company and what can he do to protect the jobs in Naas, if they are affected?

Second, I would like to raise the events sector, which was referred to earlier by the Minister of State, Deputy Troy. Will the Government look seriously and urgently at making the State an EU hub for the live events industry post Covid? The opportunity is there for the taking if we are ambitious and creative enough. The live industry is huge in north Kildare, much more so than I realised before I engaged with representatives late last year. It supports thousands of jobs directly and thousands more spin-off jobs. With the UK's exit from the EU, we have a critical opportunity to set ourselves up as an English-speaking gateway between the US and EU for live events. Pre-Brexit, Britain had 85% of the live production capability for touring. Now, acts from the US could come here, hire their crews, support and transport, do their rehearsals and set off for concert tours in the EU. What will the Government do to grow our live events industry and the jobs associated with it, building on our global reputation in arts and entertainment? Will the Tánaiste reach out to British live events companies that might want to transfer their businesses here and thereby create highly skilled jobs and investment in this country? We have huge talent here which traditionally had to go elsewhere. We could keep it here and the Tánaiste would have our full support if he were to look into that.

Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh Notwithstanding what the Tánaiste said about Ulster Bank in the House earlier, if redundancies are to happen, will he be calling for the money from the sale of the bank's existing loan book to be ring-fenced for a decent redundancy package for workers?

  Is it acceptable that he respond to each of my questions in turn?

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