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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 Jackie Cahill: Information on Jackie Cahill Zoom on Jackie Cahill] At this stage, it is over a year since most performers last worked at a concert, a show or an event of some form. They have not had a chance to work through no fault of their own and yet they are not receiving the supports they need to keep their heads above water financially.

One man who I met has a ten-piece band. He is both highly skilled in his area and highly educated, with both an undergraduate degree and a masters in music. He is a business owner, professional musician and technician. He formed his ten-piece band in 2008 and it quickly became one of the most in-demand bands in the country. They performed at countless weddings and corporate events all over the country, including at the Aviva Stadium and Electric Picnic. Seán lost 100% of his revenues in March 2020 and yet he has overheads he must keep up to, including insurance and a van loan, amounting to roughly €1,000 per month. This is a VAT-registered business. Seán employs nine other musicians on any given night and he pays PRSI on the musicians' wages. They are not a group of people who decide to meet up and play music just for the love of it. This is their livelihood. They all went to college, just like every other professional, to master their skills. They brought their business from strength to strength through hard work and dedication.

Seán states that since the beginning of the pandemic, his business has received absolutely no support because he does not have a rate-paying premises, and that 11 months later, having managed to survive on funds he had in the bank prior to the pandemic, his funds are running dry and he has no idea how his business will survive until his band can get back to work safely. He states that he, like any rate-paying business, pays his taxes and is registered for VAT. Unlike other rate-paying businesses, he receives no support. All he asks is that they are treated fairly, that they are not kicked to touch, and that they are treated as a viable business. Music, art and entertainment are at the heart of our culture. Businesses in this sector are asking for a level playing field like every other business. It is clear that if we do not support artists, such as musicians, DJs, dancers and singers, we will see a major drainage of talent from this industry that will never return. I ask for these viable businesses and business people to be treated fairly and supported financially.

Finally, whenever we move out of this lockdown, it is important that dance schools be permitted to teach classes in socially distanced bubbles at level 3 and below. It is only fair that dance schools are treated the same as sport and other similar activities in this regard.

Deputy Brian Leddin: Information on Brian Leddin Zoom on Brian Leddin The Tánaiste has a deep commitment to entrepreneurship. We share a hope that once we have finally brought the pandemic under control, we will see a new generation of entrepreneurs come forward with innovative ideas to strengthen our economy. Entrepreneurs and small businesses played an important role in the previous economic recovery and they will play an equally important role in the recovery ahead.

My hope is that domestic tourism will take place at some stage this year and that we will gain a new appreciation of holidaying in our own country. This will bring opportunities for entrepreneurs, particularly in rural areas, to develop innovative new businesses to serve this growing market.

Unfortunately, it has been brought to my attention that some new businesses, such as e-bike hire companies, are completely shut out of the insurance market. These businesses, many of which are trying to service the new greenways around the country that the Government is funding, simply cannot get off the ground because they are new entrants and not a single insurance company will offer them cover. In particular, I have been in contact with entrepreneurs in Limerick and in Kerry who have been affected by this issue. I acknowledge the work of the Government and the Tánaiste's Department in tackling insurance reform. I appreciate that it is complex, and it requires action not only from the Parliament but from the Judiciary as well. I support the Tánaiste in removing the barriers faced by our brilliant entrepreneurs, who offer some of the brightest hopes for our country's future.

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank Deputy Leddin for those supportive words. I am due to meet Insurance Ireland in the next couple of weeks and if the Deputy can pass me on a bit more detail about those e-bike companies on greenways, I will take it up with Insurance Ireland directly and see if something can be done in that regard. I would have thought it is an insurable risk that could be covered and I do not see why they cannot get insurance. We will help if we can.

I thank Deputy Cahill for his passionate remarks in support of people who work in the music and entertainment industry. The Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, is examining possible options for how we can help them out a bit more. The company that the Deputy describes should be eligible for the employment wage subsidy scheme to help with the wages of the staff and the members of the band. They should also be eligible for the pandemic unemployment payment, which is, as the Deputy will be aware, more than €1,000 a month. We do not provide income support or income replacement beyond that for anyone. It would not be fair to do it for one sector or affordable to do it for all. The Deputy mentioned issues around fixed costs. I can certainly see how a band that has a vehicle would have fixed costs that perhaps we can help with. The Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, is keen to do that and has met with the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and me about it. We will try to do something.

Deputy Mairéad Farrell: Information on Mairéad  Farrell Zoom on Mairéad  Farrell The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, gives increased rights to corporations, for instance, the right to sue sovereign states through corporate courts, but it does little for workers' rights. The ability of corporations to sue states will act as a major deterrent for using the state apparatus to counteract these negative effects. Taking the example of the minimum wage, Veolia, the giant French company, sued the Egyptian Government for increasing its minimum wage. Thankfully, the Egyptian Government won. Nevertheless, it incurred legal fees and arbitration costs of millions of dollars. The Government keeps telling us that CETA is good for the economy but an economy is made up of the workers within it. Can the Tánaiste explain how a treaty which permits corporations to sue the state for a minimum wage increase is good for workers and, by extension, the economy, and can give specific details in relation to that?

We are awaiting the publication of the Duffy report on the pay and terms and conditions of workers in the early years sector. I would hope that this would be the pathway to professionalise the sector given how crucial these workers have been during the pandemic. A recent SIPTU survey showed that 90% of early years workers struggle to make ends meet. Given that the Government brought in the wage subsidy scheme, this could be a perfect opportunity to expand this further and give appropriate wages for the sector. Has any consideration been given to this?

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar If I ever heard a red herring argument against CETA, that is one. First of all, companies can sue states. Companies sue states and governments all the time. One can go down to the commercial court and see many examples of companies suing the State. It does not mean they are successful. If the best example Deputy Farrell can come up with as an argument against CETA is that a company sued the Egyptian Government - nothing at all to do with CETA - for raising the minimum wage and lost its case, all I can say is that I have never heard a more specious argument against CETA than something like that.

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy The only point I would add is that CETA has been in operation in this country for the past two and a half years. As a result, we have seen a significant increase in trade between Ireland and Canada which has been of major benefit to many companies, not only multinational companies to which the Deputy alluded but SMEs as well.

A decision has been taken at Government level to refer this trade agreement to an Oireachtas committee. There is no issue, good, bad or indifferent, with having this debated. Its merits stand up for themselves. In fact, it baffles me that people talk about rushing through this agreement. When the agreement was put before the Business Committee, nobody raised a flag and stated that this was being discussed too quickly. All of a sudden, it is being discussed too quickly. There is no issue. It will be referred to an Oireachtas committee. We will have a robust debate. Certainly, from my perspective, I will have no issue in voting for it because I see the merits of the agreement.

Deputy Pauline Tully: Information on Pauline  Tully Zoom on Pauline  Tully One of the sectors hardest hit throughout this pandemic has been that of those involved in the entertainment business. People involved in entertainment pay their taxes and contribute to society, not only financially. Since March, most people in the entertainment business have been unable to work due to venues being closed, weddings being practically cancelled or at least whittled down where they are not allowed to have entertainment either in the church or at the celebration afterwards, and functions or dinner dances not taking place. Even funerals were not allowed to have live music due to numbers. Events of all types and sizes were not allowed to proceed. We all understand the reason for this but many of those involved in the entertainment business are finding it very hard to make ends meet. Initially, they were granted the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, of €350 only to have it cut back even though they could not return to work. As many of them do not have premises on which they pay rates, they were not eligible for many of the grants or schemes that were announced for businesses. I hoped the CBAS, which was announced two weeks ago, would fill a void and help those who were ineligible for the earlier grants or schemes.

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