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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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  3 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett] Will the Government please help these people?

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar These are areas under the remit of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, but I am taking an interest in them. For the taxi industry, a package was put in place by the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, that is worth about €15 million. Also, in the budget the rules around the PUP were changed to allow people to continue to work and pick up fares while still drawing the PUP. We can give consideration to further schemes to support taxi drivers and I will take that up with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan.

On musicians, I know the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, is working on this already and is trying to develop a scheme for musicians. More information on fixed costs would be helpful. It is an area we are having difficulty getting more information on as to people who do not have a premises and what these fixed costs are. I know they are sometimes related to vehicles and more information on that would be helpful.

On travel counsellors, if they have an office they will qualify for the CBAS. If they work from home, they probably do not.

Deputy Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry Next Tuesday morning there will be a protest outside Topshop on Opera Lane in Cork city centre. The protest is being organised by ex-Arcadia workers. They are angry at their former employer because they have been cheated out of the two week's pay for every two years' service redundancy agreement they had in place with the company. They are not just angry with the company, however. They are very critical of the Government as well. They saw the Clery's workers being told that they were the last ones who would be forced to suffer in this situation. Then they saw the Debenham's workers being promised the same and now it is their turn. Where is the legislation? The programme for Government said there would be legislation to improve worker's rights in a liquidation situation. We were told to expect it at Christmas, then during the new year and it is now the second half of February so what is the position on that? I will submit legislation on this issue myself if we do not see something very soon. Debenham's workers rejected the offer by a 9:1 majority. Their struggle continues. In the nearest Debenham's store to me, on Patrick Street in Cork, there is a daily picket even now. In other stores there is a watch on the stock. Workers have leverage here. There is stock in at least eight of the 11 stores and it will not move without a just settlement. There was an offer of €3 million for an upskilling fund. The shop stewards have asked that this money be transferred into a cash redundancy payment. I would like the Tánaiste to comment on that.

The European Commission has a draft directive for adequate minimum wages in EU member states and collective bargaining on a national scale, to be put in place where collective bargaining does not cover 70% of the workforce. The Tánaiste has written, along with representatives of eight other EU Governments, asking that this be diluted to a mere recommendation, something that would be worthless to workers in this country. His action will be cheered by every anti-trade union employer in the country. They know that keeping trade unions out and keeping workers from organising is key to keeping wages low, conditions below par and profits high. The Tánaiste signed that letter alongside representatives of far right Governments in Poland and Hungary. How does he explain that?

It is true, as the Tánaiste has said, that the decision has not been made on Ulster Bank but the decision will be made tonight. It is an open secret that NatWest will close Ulster Bank in this country. This includes 1.1 million customers, 89 bank branches and 2,800 workers, in a bank which has sent €3.5 billion in profit to NatWest in the UK in recent years. Does the Tánaiste support what I support, which is legislation to stop the vultures getting their hands on the mortgage loan books? Does the Tánaiste support the idea that this bank should be nationalised to save jobs and to protect services?

Deputy Cormac Devlin: Information on Cormac Devlin Zoom on Cormac Devlin I thank the Tánaiste and the Ministers of State for their attendance and for the opportunity once again to discuss the business supports available during this pandemic. I have spoken before about the unprecedented supports given by Government, which have been warmly welcome and necessary for all those businesses. In particular, I mention the Covid restrictions support scheme, the employment wage subsidy scheme and the waiver of commercial rates.

The Tánaiste might outline further information about the Covid business aid scheme and when that information will be made available to businesses. There are outstanding issues with so-called orphan companies, which I have spoken about before, and the fact that they are falling between the cracks. I know the Government is examining this and I look forward to further updates on that.

As the vaccine programme is being rolled out and ramped up and as hope is returning to many businesses, people are telling me that they are beginning to look to the future. That said, the Government should use the next few weeks to examine the economic outlook and prepare a national restart plan. The current Covid supports will keep many businesses going over the coming months as they have done in recent months but there will be challenges for the economy as it begins to reopen. We know it will not be one big bang of a reopen and that has been said before. It will happen on a gradual basis and hopefully over the summer months. Many businesses have significant restart costs and as the different sectors begin to reopen they will need an injection of working capital. I ask the Tánaiste to begin preparations in this regard. If possible, an indication should be given in the Government's revised living with Covid plan. Businesses will need tapered supports while they look to reopen. Again, this should be signalled where possible and as early as possible. Early announcements such as costs of commercial rates would be welcome. Despite every support for some businesses, the landscape has changed and many will not be able to return as normal. I welcome the remarks of the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, and the work he has done on the restructuring of businesses, which in some cases might have to examine an orderly wind-up, examinership or liquidation, and fast-track low-cost wind-ups or restructuring should be made easier, particularly after this pandemic.

In the time I have remaining, I ask the Tánaiste to come back to me afterwards on the online trading voucher. It has been popular, particularly in Dublin, but many people have told me that the programme has either been oversubscribed or that there are delays getting onto it. I know that €20 million was given to that but I would like an update on the uptake for that over the four Dublin local authorities.

Deputy John Lahart: Information on John Lahart Zoom on John Lahart I have a specific question that I am willing to accept a written answer on. It is on .ie domain names and the abuse of them by overseas operators. They are masquerading as Irish suppliers and then a person discovers that this business is operating from outside the jurisdiction. That has an impact on genuine .ie traders. I will make some points that will allow the Tánaiste some degree of stream of consciousness on the issue.

I saw that the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, was suggesting an additional tax on the likes of the Amazon's of this world, which have accumulated significant profits. I know this is not the Tánaiste's area but he is the equivalent of a Deputy Prime Minister so he might have some thoughts on it. This phase of us dealing with the virus strikes me as probably being the one in which the Government is at its most powerless.

In terms of things like hospitality, when does the Tánaiste see a decision maybe being able to be made on Irish people being able to holiday within Ireland? Where do we need to get to in order to allow people to make plans?

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The Minister of State, Deputy Troy, might come in on the .ie domain names as he has responsibility for digital and company regulation but I think that is owned by University College Dublin. It is not Government controlled but I will come back to the Deputy on that.

I am always afraid to speculate about the future when it comes to what might or might not be possible this summer but I hope and believe that a domestic tourism season will be possible this summer. If one looks at where we got to last summer, we were down to low case numbers and that allowed people to travel around the country. We would need similar case numbers with a large number of people vaccinated.

Deputy Jackie Cahill: Information on Jackie Cahill Zoom on Jackie Cahill Earlier this week, I had a Zoom meeting with a number of musicians, artists, performers and dance teachers in my constituency. I am here to make a case for these performers, artists and individuals, who bring so much entertainment and creativity to our lives. I would like to start by providing the Tánaiste with a case study of one of the individuals I met earlier this week, to prove to him how much some of these businesses and individuals need financial supports.

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