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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 Pauline Tully: Information on Pauline  Tully Zoom on Pauline  Tully] I wish to ask a number of questions about it. Does one need a rateable business premises to apply? It has been indicated that a business's turnover needs to have fallen by 75% or more in order to apply. That seems high. What about companies whose turnovers have fallen by 70%, 65% or even 50%? Are they ineligible or can they apply for some sort of support? Are the supports backdated? Many of the people we are talking about have not worked in almost a year and have accumulated large debts in that time.

We all hope that life will return to normal as the vaccination programme rolls out. I also hope that the entertainment sector can return to normal. However, clarity is needed and a plan may have to be put in place now if that is to happen. The wedding industry contributes approximately €2 billion to the economy when everything is taken into account. Many small businesses and self-employed people are struggling. They might be in receipt of the PUP and all payments, grants and so on are welcome, but they are not sufficient for everyone. People still have to pay their mortgages and living expenses as well as cover their insurance and business overheads, which has always been difficult for them.

Acting Chairman (Deputy John Lahart): Information on John Lahart Zoom on John Lahart The Minister and Ministers of State might correspond with the Deputy.

Deputy Michael Lowry: Information on Michael Lowry Zoom on Michael Lowry I would like to leave some of my four minutes so that the Tánaiste can reply. The harsh impact of Covid-19 will not vanish when we finally suppress the virus. The landscape of our lives will be forever altered by the pandemic. Not everyone will win the battle for survival and there will be casualties.

Local newspapers have been hit badly by events. The economic downturn in 2008 was the first blow, followed by advertisers switching their budgets to online platforms. Within two years, 16 local newspapers were forced to close. Newspaper titles across the country have been swallowed up in a form of centralised ownership, which has led to rationalisation. Staff have been temporarily laid off for extended periods. Others have been placed on reduced time. Those who continue to work are doing so under severe pressure as they strive to maintain quality. We must appreciate the importance of professional journalism.

Local newspapers are caught in a vicious cycle. Their primary source of income from advertising is rapidly drying up, their readership is dwindling because sports and local events are not happening, and they are struggling to hold their place against the growing popularity of the tech giants, which have increased their hold on people during the pandemic. Local radio, which provides a similar service to communities across the country, has been allocated €5 million to support Covid coverage. Local newspapers have received no direct support. They have been excluded from valuable Government Covid campaigns despite the knowledge that local newspapers are the news source of choice for the older population.

Newspapers are facing the greatest deadline in the history of print media. They need urgent financial support, but any support granted should not be used to bolster the coffers of the media corporations. It should be linked to editorial investment. It must be directed towards maintaining the position of journalists and staff. It is the staff who bring the news and the stories to the public and they need and deserve recognition. They need practical financial support to protect their futures. Without support, one of our greatest and proudest local services will disappear. I am asking for Government intervention. We cannot allow the provincial printing presses to stop.

I hope that, with the vaccination roll-out, we will be in a better position in August and September. As we all know, the tourism industry is on its knees and will not survive on staycations alone. Many in the sector have told me that staycations will not allow them to sustain their businesses for the year. Have discussions taken place on the possibility of introducing a Europe-wide Covid immunisation document, in other words, a vaccination passport? This should be considered for later in the year to help our tourism industry.

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Matters relating to tourism and the media are mainly under the remit of the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin. She would probably be able to give the Deputy a better reply than me, but I will do the best I can with the knowledge I have.

Regarding local newspapers and radio, newspapers have benefited from the reduction in the VAT rate to 9%. It was never increased for them. They can benefit from the wage subsidy scheme if their turnover is down. We have put in place some financial support for local radio. However, the underlying problem is the fact that the world is changing and sales of newspapers, both local and national, are down. Their advertising income is also down because people are advertising in different ways. While we are always open to providing extra support for local radio, newspapers and journalism, there comes a point where we must ask ourselves how much taxpayers' money are we willing to put behind newspapers that people do not read in large numbers anymore and that people do not advertise in anymore. It is a sad situation, but a great deal of the media will move fully online in future. That is the way the world is going.

Regarding immunisation documents and passports, when the time comes - I do not know when that will be - the key to restoring a great deal of travel, including international travel, will be how people prove that they have been vaccinated and-or tested negative. We have an immunisation document with a QR code on it ready that people will get to show that they have been immunised. Other countries, for example, Israel, are using such documents so that people who hold them do not have to self-isolate. The same applies with the travel bubble that Israel has set up with Cyprus and Greece, but we in Europe are not at that point yet. The science does not yet say that being vaccinated is enough to prove that someone cannot get the virus and pass it on, but I hope that we will get there.

Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick: Information on Peter Fitzpatrick Zoom on Peter Fitzpatrick Earlier, I raised the issue of the banks that were refusing to honour approvals in principle for house mortgages to employees whose employers had availed of the Government's temporary wage scheme. I am dealing with many constituents in the Dundalk area who are affected by this approach. As the Tánaiste knows, the taxpayers paid and continue to pay a heavy price for the help the banks received during the financial crisis. For banks to behave in this manner now is disgraceful. I am working with many young people, including those with young families, who have done everything that has been asked of them to get a mortgage. They have made and continue to make great sacrifices in order to get approved for a mortgage. They have saved to ensure that they have the correct amount for a deposit, sourced a home and, in many cases, paid a holding deposit. They have given notice to their landlords and just when they are ready to complete their home purchases, the banks renege on their loan approval. This is a serious situation and one that the Government needs to address. To renege on a loan offer because a worker's employer has availed of a Government scheme is not only morally wrong, but surely the banks are breaching some code of practice by doing this. I am pleading with the Government to intervene in this matter.

Since the onset of this terrible pandemic, it has become clear that many workers must plan on working from their homes on a more permanent basis. Having spoken to many people who used to travel to Dublin and other areas for their jobs but who now work from home, it is clear that there are many challenges. One of the main challenges they face is that of a suitable workspace in their homes. In the initial periods of the lockdown, many of those who worked from home did so from their kitchen tables or living rooms. While this was okay for a short time, it now poses many issues. In order to create a productive work environment, they need a proper workspace in their homes. I know from speaking to many of these workers that they would embrace the option of converting a small space in their homes for work purposes. The challenge they face is the financial cost. In order to create these workspaces, they will need proper facilities, including desks and chairs, fit-for-purpose network systems and adequate lighting.

The new reality we are facing is that workers will more and more continue to work from home and we must support them. The best way to support them is to encourage employers to make a financial contribution to their workers in order to convert a section of their homes into workspaces. The employer could be encouraged and supported in doing this through a Government scheme. The benefits of this support are much greater than the financial costs. We would see less traffic on our roads, meaning less pollution. People would be more productive because they would no longer have to endure a daily commute that in some cases can amount to four hours. This is an important opportunity for the Government to make a real difference to people's working conditions.

I wish to raise the issue of banks charging negative interest rates on deposits. This is a problem that will emerge over the coming months. It is not only a problem for those who are fortunate enough to have large sums on deposit, but also for the many small savers around the country. I am talking specifically about the thousands of savers in the credit unions. Although it has not been confirmed, I am led to believe that credit unions, which mainly have their customers' deposits with mainstream banks, will be hit badly. This will undoubtedly lead to charges being imposed on their savers. That is wrong. In the traditional banking system, a bank used its deposits to loan to other customers, thereby making a profit on the difference between the interest charged on the loan and the interest paid on the deposit. Now, it appears that these banks are saying that they have too much money on deposit and, therefore, are not in a position to pay interest.

Last Updated: 26/02/2021 14:31:41 First Page Previous Page Page of 71 Next Page Last Page