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 Header Item Covid-19 (Enterprise, Trade and Employment): Statements (Continued)
 Header Item Land Development Agency Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1004 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Catherine Connolly: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly] It drew to our attention that bespoke solutions are required in addition to what the Department has introduced, which I acknowledge are very good. We also need bespoke industries. In particular, the review pointed out that industry in the Gaeltacht was going to be particularly impacted by both Covid and Brexit. The other startling fact is that 85% of the clients of Údarás na Gaeltachta are micro enterprises with fewer than ten employees, and 99% of its clients are small to medium enterprises employing fewer than 250 people. I mention that because it is the bread and butter. The annual report from Údarás na Gaeltachta this year shows that employment has been affected by 6% to 8%, net. More significantly, there is a 30% drop in the tourism area. The small niche industries such as the one I mentioned need bespoke solutions. I am drawing that to the Minister's attention - I am not asking for an answer now - in the context of the importance of the Gaeltacht, the Irish language and small enterprises.

I welcome the tourism business continuity scheme through Fáilte Ireland, but it took an effort to get it. It was announced in the budget. One of the two businesses in Killary that have been in contact with us is delighted with it, theoretically, but then there is the amount of time it is taking to get the cash. I understand that not a single euro will be handed over until March. Again, this is positive, but it is not quick enough.

There are also the travel agents. I will mention one in Galway because she is the last woman standing. I was going to say the last man standing. We are in level 5 and if we were in level 4, the travel agents would qualify. In the other levels they qualify for nothing. The Tánaiste might address the issue of travel agents. I realise he is keen on online banking and so forth, but many of us like travel agents. We like to walk into the premises, and it gives employment. There is trust and reliability. They need certainty. They have done their best, and for most of this time they have been working, partly paid and partly not paid, and giving refunds. Perhaps the Tánaiste will comment on the travel agency sector.

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar As the Deputy correctly pointed out, travel agents qualify in levels 4 and 5, but would not if we went to level 3. I believe they should because in level 3 one must stay in one's county. Logically, hotels and travel agents should continue to receive CRSS if they are in level 3. I am currently arguing this with the Revenue Commissioners and the Minister, Deputy Donohoe. However, even if they do not qualify, they could apply for the new CBAS in that scenario.

Deputy Catherine Connolly: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Finally, there is the issue of the trading online voucher. The Tánaiste did not get a chance to respond on this earlier when another Deputy raised it. Again, there has been excellent uptake of the voucher. I understand that Údarás na Gaeltachta ran out of money, so the local enterprise office, LEO, in Galway took over. Will the Tánaiste comment on the trading online voucher? It is working and people are taking it up, but the money is not there.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the failure to introduce legislation to protect workers in the case of Debenhams, Clerys prior to that and now the Arcadia workers. I have to mention it because I see them in Galway and it is just unacceptable. Perhaps the Tánaiste will comment on the trading online voucher in the remaining 22 seconds.

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar That is a complicated area which we will return to at another time. I am not convinced that any of the legislative solutions Members have put forward would have made a difference or would make a difference in those scenarios. It is worthwhile to read the report of the chairman of the Labour Court on that.

The Minister of State, Deputy English, might assist me regarding the trading online voucher. I think there is additional funding for it.

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Damien English): Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English There were in excess of 13,000 applications last year and we hope to build on that this year. The funding is allocated through our Department as the Department has responsibility for the policy. There is also another round of the online retail scheme that is operated by Enterprise Ireland. It is hoped that will be announced during February or early in March.

Land Development Agency Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)

  Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Deputy Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry I am sharing time with Deputy Paul Murphy.

We are discussing the new Land Development Agency Bill 2021, which will open the door to privatisation of public land. Arguably, this may open the door to the largest privatisation in the history of the State. The only example I can think of that might rival it, and time will tell, is the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, where there was a €43 billion sell-off. The Tánaiste said some time ago that the launch of the Land Development Agency was comparable to the launch of Aer Lingus and the launch of the ESB in the past. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those instances saw the establishment of State agencies. I have criticisms of both, but they provided good employment and a service to the people of the State over many decades. The Land Development Agency is the opposite, if anything. This is a quango that will open the door to mass privatisation of public land banks.

Under this legislation the control over land banks and the disposal of assets is taken out of the hands of elected councillors, which is an extremely anti-democratic move, to facilitate privatisation. The Minister will object and undoubtedly will say that 50% of the housing built on those lands will be affordable. He was only forced to concede the 50% under the pressure of public opinion. The original plan was for less than that. However, the Bill does not define what is affordable. Is it a percentage of a person's income? It does not say. In practice, at present, affordable housing in the State is calculated on the basis of market prices minus, for example, €50,000. That is far from affordable for young people, the low paid and many middle-income workers. A tiny percentage of the new housing on these lands will be social or council housing, despite the fact there are tens of thousands of people on the social housing lists throughout the country. A large portion of the housing built on these lands will be for profit at the full market rates, which is completely outside the scope of the ordinary worker.

I will look at the example of what will happen at the Cork docklands. This is public land. There is the old Ford site, the ESB marina sites and the lands at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Kent Station, the National Oil Reserves Agency, Marina Park, Camp Field and Tivoli docks. These are public lands and they should be used for public housing. It is planned to build 25,000 new homes over a period of 20 years. This should be housing for people, not for profit. It should be 100% social and affordable housing. There are thousands of people on the Cork City Council and Cork County Council housing waiting lists who would benefit from that. There are many workers on the average wage, low paid workers and young workers who would benefit from genuinely affordable housing, in other words, cost price or close to it. Instead, there will be housing for profit. It will be housing at full market rates and housing at so-called affordable prices, which in reality are unaffordable for the majority, with just a sprinkling of social housing.

We will not be able to get to the bottom of what is happening because the designated activity companies in partnership with the speculators will not be subject to freedom of information legislation. That is a disgrace. We will fight tooth and nail against the measures in this Bill.

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