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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 201-220
 Header Item Work Permits
 Header Item Workplace Relations Services
 Header Item Social Media
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Workplace Relations Commission
 Header Item Trade Data
 Header Item Trade Data
 Header Item Job Creation
 Header Item Job Creation
 Header Item Trade Data
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Enterprise Support Services
 Header Item Job Creation
 Header Item Job Creation

Thursday, 3 June 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1008 No. 3
Unrevised

First Page Previous Page Page of 91 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 201-220

Work Permits

 201. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will provide for those on general employment permits to have at least the same rights as critical skills permits holders in the forthcoming employment permits Bill (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30270/21]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Damien English): Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English The Employment Permits scheme is vacancy led and driven by the changing needs of the labour market, expanding and contracting in tandem with its inherent fluctuations. The system is managed through the critical skills and ineligible occupations lists, which are subject to twice yearly evidence-based review.

The Critical Skills Employment Permit (CSEP) is Ireland’s premium permit. It is designed to attract highly skilled people into the labour market in roles identified as being in critical short supply (on the critical skilled occupation list) with the aim of encouraging them to take up permanent residence and employment in the State.  As a result, it attracts a number of additional benefits over other permit types. These include an option to apply for long term residency permission after two years on a CSEP, immediate family reunification and for broad access to the labour market for dependents, spouses/partners of CSEP holders. 

The General Employment Permit (GEP) is the main permit used by the State to attract non-EEA nationals in occupations of a more general nature. It requires a range of criteria be met including a labour market needs test (LMNT) demonstrating that the employer was unable to fill the position from the Irish and EEA labour markets. After one year on a GEP the permit holder may apply for family reunification and after five years, long term residency permission from the Department of Justice.  In addition, non EEA nationals who have resided in the State for five years are eligible to apply for citizenship. 

All employment permit holders have exactly the same protections under Irish employment law as any other worker in the State and many of the criteria associated with the employment permits system are aimed at ensuring that migrant employees are treated in line with Irish labour laws.  

The additional benefits attached to the CSEP are designed to attract workers in possession of skills of critical importance to the economy and to encourage them to apply for long term residency.

Extending these additonal benefits to other employment permit holders would require consideration of the potential impacts, including on the domestic labour market, our community preference obligations to the EU and on broader immigration policies. My officials continue to engage on an ongoing basis on range of matters where economic migration polices and immigraton polices intersect including those issues raised by the deputy. 

Workplace Relations Services

 202. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will provide for access to workplace relations bodies by undocumented workers (details supplied). [30271/21]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Damien English): Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English Non-EEA nationals are required by law to hold a valid work permit or a visa which grants them permission to work in the State.

  Employment permit holders have exactly the same protections under Irish employment law as any other worker in the State and many of the criteria associated with the employment permits system are aimed at ensuring that migrant employees are treated in line with Irish labour laws.

  The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has powers of enforcement under the Employment Permits Acts and its investigation and enforcement powers work to discourage abuses of the employment permits system by unscrupulous employers.

  A person who does not hold a valid work permit or a visa which grants them permission to work in the State is not entitled to enter into a contract of employment in the State and is therefore not entitled to seek redress from the WRC.

  A person who has not acquired a right to work in Ireland may seek redress from the civil courts, in accordance with section 2B of the Work Permits Acts.

Social Media

 203. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar his plans to raise the rights of content moderators with a company (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [30273/21]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar As the Deputy will be aware, I met with content moderators, and their representatives, earlier this year and I followed up directly with the company on whose behalf content moderation work is carried out. I am aware of the genuine concerns of social media content moderators both from meeting directly with them and from their recent presentation to the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

Ireland has in place a strong and robust legislative regime to protect all workers in terms of their working conditions, including work-related health and safety, as well as their terms and conditions of employment. The work of a social media moderator involves exposure to potentially harmful material the impact of which is a potential hazard to the worker. It is the employer’s responsibility to identify, control and reduce impact of workplace hazards.

Social media content moderators should be treated by an employer in the same way as any other worker potentially exposed to work related hazards. The employer must carry out a robust risk assessment with a particular focus on the potential hazards arising from work activities and must provide appropriate training. Where a particular hazard is identified that requires subsequent monitoring it must be included in the written Safety Statement, and the relevant worker must be made aware of the hazard and the associated monitoring that is in place.

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) is the independent regulator for workplace safety. I am aware that the HSA is engaging with the Social Media sector to establish and assess the control measures in place to address the risks arising from specific nature of the work of content moderators. The HSA will be able to determine whether further advice or guidance is necessary for employers to ensure compliance with their duties under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.

I would also point out that there is provision in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005, to ensure that an employer cannot penalise, or threaten to penalise, an employee who makes a complaint or a representation on any matter relating to health and safety at work. Any worker concerned for their health and safety can contact the Health and Safety Authority’s Workplace Contact Unit in confidence at wcu@hsa.ie.

In addition, the services of the Workplace Relations Commission are available to anyone with a concern about their employment rights. In Ireland, we have a full suite of employment rights legislation which protects all workers legally employed on a contract of service basis. The WRC can be contacted at www.workplacerelations.ie.

Separately, I would add that my colleague, Catherine Martin TD, Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, is currently advancing a regulatory framework which will deal with on-line safety and which will include the establishment of an Online Safety Commissioner.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 204. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the steps his Department is taking to protect workers’ health and safety in view of the reopening of the hospitality sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30274/21]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Damien English): Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English All workers, regardless of the sector of the economy in which they work, are covered by the provisions of the Work Safely Protocol.

The Work Safely Protocol is a revision of the Return to Work Safely Protocol, first published in May 2020. The revised Protocol incorporates the most up-to-date advice on relevant Public Health measures and reflects new knowledge and better understanding of these measures.

The Protocol provides a framework for all businesses to operate safely and protect workers. It sets out the minimum measures required in every place of work to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The Protocol contains links directing employers and employees to a range of Government Departments and Agencies where more detailed information can be sourced on comprehensive range of guidance and checklists available for both employers and employees.

The Health and Safety Authority will remain the lead Agency in relation to coordinating compliance with the Work Safely Protocol. Over 34,000 Protocol inspections have been carried out, by inspectors from a range of other Government Departments and State Bodies, including Environmental Health Officers who inspect food outlets in the hospitality sector.

In relation specifically to the hospitality sector, Fáilte Ireland has produced operational guidelines for the sector. These guidelines set out comprehensive advice on re-opening with an emphasis on protecting the safety and well-being of employers, employees and customers and help to instill public confidence in the sector.

The implementation of these guidelines, along with compliance with the Work Safely Protocol, can offer robust protection to all workers in the hospitality sector especially against a background where the number of people in the general population being vaccinated continues to increase.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 205. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the additional resources that will be provided to the Health and Safety Authority in relation to the reopening of the hospitality sector; if Covid-19 will be designated as an occupational illness in that context; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30275/21]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Damien English): Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English All workers, regardless of the sector of the economy in which they work, are covered by the provisions of the Work Safely Protocol.

The Work Safely Protocol is a revision of the Return to Work Safely Protocol, first published in May 2020. The revised Protocol incorporates the most up-to-date advice on relevant Public Health measures and reflects new knowledge and better understanding of these measures. The Protocol provides a framework for all businesses to operate safely and protect workers.

In relation specifically to the hospitality sector, Fáilte Ireland has produced operational guidelines for the sector. These guidelines set out comprehensive advice on re-opening with an emphasis on protecting the safety and well-being of employers, employees and customers and help to instill public confidence in the sector.

The implementation of these guidelines, along with compliance with the Work Safely Protocol, can offer robust protection to all workers in the hospitality sector especially against a background where the number of people in the general population being vaccinated continues to increase.

The Health and Safety Authority will remain the lead Agency in relation to coordinating compliance with the Work Safely Protocol. However, the inspectorate of the Health and Safety Authority has been supplemented by inspectorates from other Government Departments and State Agencies in relation to carrying out Protocol related inspections, including Environmental Health Officers who inspect food outlets in the hospitality sector. Over 34,000 Protocol related inspections have been carried out by the various inspectorates since May 2020 and, obviously, with the fuller re-opening of the economy inspections will be targeted at areas potentially at high-risk of COVID-19 transmission.

The designation of COVID-19 as an occupational illness is currently under review through a Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) process. The RIA is being utilised to assess the feasibility and impact of introducing the statutory requirement for employers to report infections of COVID-19, that are attributable to work activity, to the Health and Safety Authority. Following conclusion of the RIA, the Board of the Health and Safety Authority will present its findings for consideration.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 206. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if his attention has been drawn to the concerns being raised in respect of taxi operators access to microfinance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30340/21]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Since the onset of the pandemic, my Department has made loan supports available to businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19. These schemes will also support enterprises as they look towards rebuilding their business.  These loan schemes are available to SMEs which include microenterprises and sole traders such as taxi operators, subject to meeting eligibility criteria and being able to demonstrate that they are viable business operations and are in a position to repay the loan.

- The COVID-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme is the biggest ever state-backed loan guarantee in Ireland. The Scheme provides €2 billion in lending, for terms between three months and five-and-a-half years and offers a range of lending products between €10,000 and €1 million including working capital and term loan facilities. Loans of up to €250,000 are unsecured.  As a result of the high level of the State guarantee, loans are being provided at interest rates lower than the current market rate for similar loans.

- The COVID-19 Business Loan provides up to €25,000 to eligible micro-enterprises through Microfinance Ireland with zero repayments and zero interest for the first six months and the equivalent of an additional six months interest-free, subject to certain terms and conditions.  Microfinance Ireland also provides start-up business loans and loans for established businesses for up to €25,000 with interest rates of between 6.8% and 7.8%.

- The COVID-19 Working Capital Scheme makes lending available from participating lenders to eligible businesses. Loans available under the scheme range from €25,000 to €1.5 million and are for terms of up to three years. Loans are offered at favourable terms, including a maximum interest rate of 4% and no security on loans of up to €500,000.

- The Brexit Impact Loan Scheme is a new scheme which is being introduced in recognition of the additional effects of COVID-19 on Brexit impacted businesses. The Brexit Impact Loan Scheme will provide loans with terms of up to six years with loans to be made available for liquidity/working capital and investment purposes. Loans will range from €25,000 to €1.5m, with loans of up to €500,000 available unsecured. The Brexit Impact Loan Scheme will be launched in summer 2021 and will replace the existing Brexit Loan Scheme.

While the State provides funding or guarantees on these loans, the Department plays no role in the application or decision-making process in relation to loans offered under these schemes, which is fully delegated to the participating lenders.

Where an applicant has had a loan application refused, they may wish to appeal the decision through the individual lender’s appeals system. An appeal to the Credit Review Office (CRO) is a further option if the lender is a participating bank. The CRO helps SMEs who have had an application for credit of up to €3 million declined or reduced by the main banks. This is a strictly confidential process between the business, the CRO and the bank.

I can assure the deputy that officials from my Department are in regular contact with the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland and Microfinance Ireland, the operators of these schemes, to ensure the effective implementation of these schemes.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 207. Deputy Anne Rabbitte Information on Anne Rabbitte Zoom on Anne Rabbitte asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the scope for businesses (details supplied) that do not meet the staffing criteria to qualify for the online retail scheme to avail of the scheme; if there is a dispensation for such businesses; if there are alternative supports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30343/21]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Trading online is a very important route for retail businesses to grow and improve and will be an important element in their recovery over the longer term. 

  The COVID-19 Online Retail Scheme - a competitive scheme, administered on my Department's behalf by Enterprise Ireland - is to support companies in the indigenous retail sector who have already started an online journey, to further enhance and strengthen their online presence, which will have the most immediate impact enabling them to respond to both domestic and international consumer demand with a competitive online offer.  

  My Department proposed the COVID-19 Online Retail Scheme in response to the COVID-19 crisis and the urgent need for retail companies to achieve a step change in online capability. Applicant companies must be an indigenous retailer, employing 10 or more people, have an existing online presence (eg website or social media), and have a retail outlet through which they derive the majority of their revenue. The Scheme was launched with an initial fund size of €2m. Due to significant levels of interest for the Scheme from eligible retailers and the particular challenges facing the retail sector during the pandemic, the funding available for Call 1 was increased. Under the first call 185 retailers were approved €6.6m in funding and under the second call 145 retailers were approved €5.3m in funding.

  On 4 May this year, Minister of State English launched a new round of the COVID-19 Online Retail Scheme. Under this call €5 million will be made available to help Irish businesses to upgrade their websites and improve their competitiveness in online retail. The call closed on the 25 May. 

  I understand Minister English will be examining the future role of the Online Retail Scheme in the coming weeks, including whether its scope can be expanded.

  For retailers starting on the digital journey, Enterprise Ireland have put together a Starter Guide outlining the broad range of considerations to be addressed. A copy of the guide can be found on https://www.enterprise-ireland.com/en/funding-supports/Online-Retail/Online-Retail-Scheme/

  For retail businesses that fall outside the criteria of the COVID-19 Online Retail Scheme, there are many other financial and non-financial supports available. These include services offered through the Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs).

  The Trading Online Voucher Scheme, administered by the LEOs, offers financial assistance of up to €2,500 with co-funding of 50% from the business along with training and advice to help businesses trade online.

  Businesses that have already received a Trading Online Voucher can now apply for a second voucher, where upgrades are required. Funding can be used towards adding payment facilities or booking systems to websites or developing new apps for customers. The voucher can also be used towards subscriptions to low-cost online retail platform solutions, to help companies quickly establish a retailing presence online. 

  The vouchers are targeted at businesses with the following profile:

  - Limited or no e-commerce presence;

  - 10 or less employees;

  - Turnover less than €2m;

  - Applicant business must be trading for at least 6 Months**;

  - Business must be located in the area covered by the LEO to whom they make their application i.e. LEOs cannot accept applications from businesses located outside their      jurisdiction.

    **applicant business must provide clear proof of trading for a minimum of 6 months to their Local Enterprise Office

  I am committed to supporting the needs of the retail sector, through the Retail Forum, which is chaired by my colleague, Minister of State English, in developing their online capability and enhancing their competitiveness. 

  The wide range of supports to help businesses impacted by the COVID-19 crisis can be found on the Department’s website https://enterprise.gov.ie/en/What-We-Do/Supports-for-SMEs/COVID-19-supports/

Workplace Relations Commission

 208. Deputy Colm Burke Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the progress that has been made in respect of bringing forward legislation following on from the Supreme Court judgement in a case (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30351/21]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The urgency to amend the Workplace Relations Act 2015 and other acts that make provision for investigations in the Workplace Relations Commission is a result of a Supreme Court ruling and the consequential Orders which resulted in the current statutory framework being declared inconsistent with the Constitution. The Orders concern public hearings and the necessity to have a statutory power to administer an oath or affirmation with an associated penalty for giving false evidence.

The Government approved priority drafting and authorised the Tanaiste to arrange for the seeking of a waiver of pre-legislative Scrutiny of the General Scheme of the Bill from the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment on 19 April 2021.

A drafter was appointed on 20 April 2021 and the Joint Committee granted its waiver on 5 May 2021. It is expected that the Government will approve the publication of the Bill shortly.

Trade Data

 209. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the details of the monthly exports and imports in terms of value to and from Great Britain in each of the first five months of 2019, 2020 and 2021, in tabular form; the significant changes that have place during this three year period; the steps he plans to take to stimulate trade from Ireland to Great Britain further; the barriers to this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30383/21]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Robert Troy): Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy The Central Statistics Office compiles statistical data in relation to Goods Exports and Imports. Statistics for Ireland’s goods exports to, and goods imports from, Great Britain for the first five months of 2019 and 2020 and for the first three months of 2021 are contained in the tables below. Statistics for April and May 2021 are not yet available.

- Exports to Great Britain €million Imports from Great Britain €million
January 2019 1,054 1,623
February 2019 1,080 1,531
March 2019 1,140 1,693
April 2019 1,181 1,409
May 2019 1,300 1,397
- Exports to Great Britain €’000 Imports from Great Britain €’000
January 2020 1,084 1,385
February 2020 954 1,373
March 2020 1,077 1,447
April 2020 724 1,148
May 2020 959 1,232
- Exports to Great Britain €’000 Imports from Great Britain €’000
January 2021 953 556
February 2021 864 655
March 2021 1,215 992


  The performance of the import and export sectors has been significantly impacted over the last three years by both Brexit and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

  Brexit has fundamentally changed the trading relationship between Ireland and the UK and will continue to impact that trading relationship. The Government has been working to prepare for Brexit for several years – with intensive effort across many Departments and Agencies, including legislation, supports for business and other sectors, stakeholder outreach and widespread public communications to promote readiness. My Department and the Enterprise Agencies provide a significant number of Brexit supports including planning vouchers, consultancy and mentoring supports, the Enterprise Ireland Ready for Customs Grant of up to €9,000, as well as financial supports for adapting and restructuring business models and grants for research into new markets to assist companies respond to the new trading environment.

  The long-term response to Brexit is for companies across all sectors to become more competitive, more innovative and to diversify their export footprint into more international markets. My Department’s 2021 budget allocation of €1.13bn represents an increase of €154 million or 15.9% on the 2020 allocation. This is in addition to €100 million earmarked from the Recovery Fund for Brexit. This is a record allocation and will significantly bolster the capability of our enterprise and regulatory agencies to help businesses examine their Brexit exposure, seek advice, avail of customs training and make plans to protect their business.

  Since January 2021, Enterprise Ireland has engaged with client companies through surveys and focus groups to understand the impacts for companies on the new trading relationship with the UK. Companies across all sectors identified common challenges such as the potential disruption from Import Checks which are set to begin in October; supplier issues and transport and logistics; and general competitiveness of businesses because Brexit – related customs procedures and added supply chain costs have increased the costs to businesses. Businesses are however gradually adjusting to the new trading realities, finding alternative supply chains and are being encouraged to find new markets for their products.

  While Enterprise Ireland clients are continuing to diversify their export markets, the UK market remains their largest export market. In 2019, Enterprise Ireland clients reported €7.9 billion in exports to the UK, representing 31 per cent of total client exports. Enterprise Ireland remains committed to working with client companies to assist them sustain and grow their business, both in the UK, and through market diversification. This will be delivered through a comprehensive programme of funding, advice and in-market supports to get customs ready, remain competitive in the UK and identify future growth opportunities.

Trade Data

 210. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the monthly exports and imports in terms of value to and from Northern Ireland for each of the first five months of 2019, 2020 and 2021, in tabular form; the significant changes that have taken place during this three year period; the steps he plans to take to stimulate trade from Ireland to Northern Ireland further; the barriers to this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30384/21]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The development of the all-island economy is a priority right across Government. One of the aims of the new Shared Island Unit, established in the Department of the Taoiseach, is further developing our shared island economy. This involves working to deepen our cooperation and investing together for the benefit of the North West and border regions. As part of Budget 2021, the Government announced the Shared Island Fund, with €500m to be made available over the next 5 years to 2025, ring-fenced for Shared Island projects.

  InterTradeIreland (ITI), who are one of the six North/South Implementation Bodies established under the Good Friday Agreement, have an important role in helping grow businesses on the island. The body is jointly funded by my Department and its Northern Ireland counterpart, the Department for the Economy. ITI’s objective is to support businesses, through innovation and trade initiatives, to take advantage of North South co-operative opportunities, driving competitiveness, jobs and growth. ITI helps small businesses explore new cross-border markets, develop new products and services and become investor ready.

  ITI has been in operation just over 20 years. During that time, the body has assisted over 42,000 businesses, supported the creation of 16,000 jobs and has generated more than €1.3billion in business development value through its programmes and initiatives. Cross border trade now stands at an all-time high. We are now facing new challenges and a different trading landscape, but the promotion and development of cross border trade will continue to be a priority in the period ahead.

  ITI has also had an important role to play in protecting North-South trade in the context of Brexit, as the body is uniquely well-positioned when it comes to understanding the needs of businesses on both sides of the border. We are determined to ensure that ITI is equipped with the funding it requires to continue this important work. My Department has been steadily increasing the funding for ITI over recent years, and their budget allocation for 2021 is over €11million. This will enable the body to assist SMEs as they adjust to the new trading landscape following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.

  The table below shows the value of Exports and Imports goods trade with Northern Ireland. You should note that services trade is not included as CSO measure that for the UK as a whole. The most recent figures are available up to March 2021.

  2019

- Jan Feb Mar Apr May
  €'000 €'000 €'000 €'000 €'000
Value of Imports 158,585 150,947 192,367 161,906 161,130
Value of Exports 193,866 175,878 199,598 213,344 185,638


  2020
- Jan Feb Mar Apr May
  €'000 €'000 €'000 €'000 €'000
Value of Imports 179,363 163,456 176,162 137,122 130,993
Value of Exports 181,170 180,033 195,837 139,498 146,515


  2021
- Jan Feb Mar
  €'000 €'000 €'000
Value of Imports 180,498 283,419 284,501
Value of Exports 202,474 224,398 254,912

Job Creation

 211. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the extent to which he expects increased employment opportunities to dovetail with fall offs in Covid-19 support payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30412/21]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Our Economic Recovery Plan, published this week, sets an ambitious target to exceed pre-crisis employment levels by having 2.5 million people in work by 2024 and in more productive and resilient jobs.

The EWSS has been extended to the end of the year to support businesses to retain employment as they re-open by subsiding a portion of labour costs which gives businesses the opportunity to trade profitably even when operating under public health guidelines which may constrain demand. The PUP has also been extended to the autumn but will be gradually phased out as we reopen our economy and society.

As we enter a recovery phase, we must target resources to re-building our economy.  It must be recognised that not all previous jobs will return, while capacity constraints may emerge in other areas. The Economic Recovery Plan commits to significant investment in training, reskilling, upskilling and providing more places in apprenticeships and education to ensure people are supported to secure and remain in sustainable and quality employment and are prepared for new opportunities presented by digital transformation and the green transition.

The government is committed to creating the right environment for a jobs-led recovery by setting out a renewed package of supports and investments; helping business become more resilient, innovative and productive; improving Ireland’s competitiveness; and through a focus on expanding sectors and leveraging green and digital opportunities.

Both domestic SMEs and multinational companies will play a significant role in reaching our overall employment target. The pandemic has seen significant adaptability, innovation, digitalisation and diversification by businesses and this Plan builds on this through strategic policies and investment in infrastructure and reforms that enhance our capability and long-term capacity for growth.

Job Creation

 212. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the extent to which he expects job opportunities in the construction sector to increase over the next three months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30413/21]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The construction sector was negatively impacted following the introduction of restrictions late last year. The number of individuals from the construction sector claiming the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) rose steadily in the early weeks of the year and reached a high of 62,902 claimants on the 9th February this year.

The phased reopening of the construction sector, beginning on 12th April with the recommencement of all residential construction projects, saw a sizeable decline in the number of PUP claimants. The full reopening of all construction on 4th May saw further improvements and the number of PUP claimants from the construction sector has now more than halved, with only 28,758 claims related to the construction sector on the 25th May and a further decline of 2,278 on the 1st June.

This shows that more and more construction workers have returned to work as employment opportunities appeared due to the reduction of public health restrictions on the construction sector. Based on this trend it is likely that the number of individuals from the construction sector claiming PUP will continue to decline over the coming weeks.

It is also worth noting that the Employee Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) has been an important measure that has helped maintain employment in the sector during the pandemic. 

As was the case with PUP, the number of employees in the construction sector that were supported by the EWSS increased sharply in January 2021. This vital scheme continues to provide valuable financial assistance to employers and has helped ensure employees remain within the sector, with almost 37,600 employees participating in April 2021.

Trade Data

 213. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the extent to which trade opportunities continue to open up for Ireland following the double impact of Brexit and Covid-19; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30414/21]

 215. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the extent to which Ireland’s trade with EU countries has increased sufficiently to compensate for any losses arising from Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30416/21]

 216. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the degree to which trade volumes are set to grow in the months ahead with particular reference to the need to achieve an early post-Covid-19 recovery; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30417/21]

 217. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the extent to which new trade prospects have become available to compensate for losses arising from Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30418/21]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I propose to take Questions Nos. 213, 215, 216 and 217 together.

As the Deputy will appreciate, 2020 export performance and the outlook for 2021 exports to the UK, Eurozone and rest of the world continues to be significantly impacted by both Brexit and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Brexit has fundamentally changed the trading relationship between Ireland and the UK and will continue to impact that trading relationship.

The long-term response to Brexit is for companies across all sectors to become more competitive, more innovative and to diversify their export footprint into more international markets.  My Department’s 2021 budget allocation of €1.13bn represents an increase of €154 million or 15.9% on the 2020 allocation. This is in addition to €100 million earmarked from the Recovery Fund for Brexit. This is a record allocation and will significantly bolster the capability of our enterprise and regulatory agencies to help businesses examine their Brexit exposure, seek advice, avail of customs training and make plans to protect their business.

Enterprise Ireland’s ambition for 2021 is to sustain Irish jobs and exports and increase the resilience of the enterprise base with a view to ensuring global exports retain their pre-pandemic, pre-Brexit value of €25.6 bn. The agency’s focus will be on supporting clients to adapt and succeed in a post-Brexit environment, sustaining existing export sales and accelerating the diversification of Irish exports. While the UK will remain a major market for Irish companies, expanding the Irish export market in markets beyond the UK will continue to be a priority.

Notwithstanding the challenges posed by the double impact of both Brexit and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the CSO’s preliminary statistical data for 2020 shows that goods exports were valued at €160,814 million in 2020, the highest total on record. This is an increase of €8,280 million (+5%) over 2019.

It is too early, based on statistics for the first quarter of 2021, to get a real sense of the impact that Brexit will have on longer term trade flows as there are other contributory factors, not least COVID-19 that has also had a chilling economic effect. Analysis of trade flows over a longer period of time would be required to allow for sound conclusions to be drawn about future trade volumes.

As well as the global efforts supported by our agencies, key to our success in growing exports has been our commitment to trade liberalisation in order to open new markets for our indigenous sectors. With a small domestic market, further expansion in other markets will be essential to our continued economic growth and, in this regard, Ireland will continue to support the EU’s ambitious programme of negotiating new Free Trade Agreements, opening new markets for Irish companies and increasing export and investment opportunities.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 214. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the extent to which industry has anticipated and prepared for a full return to work in the aftermath of Covid-19; the issues presenting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30415/21]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The successful vaccination programme is now allowing for a progressive re-opening of the economy. As this continues and as we emerge from the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, Government will support people and businesses to make a full return to work. Our ambition as set out in the Economic Recovery Plan, published this week, is to exceed pre-crisis employment levels by reaching 2.5 million people in work by 2024.

Since the start of this pandemic, Government has provided unprecedented levels of support to businesses aimed at ensuring that viable businesses will survive this pandemic. The Economic Recovery Plan sets out a new package of enterprise supports and extensions for the most impacted sectors, reaffirming the Government’s commitment to taper supports off gradually and to help industries prepare for a return to work.

From the point of view of both supporting businesses and returning people to work, the future of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme is significant. The EWSS will be crucial for businesses as they re-open as it subsidises a portion of labour costs which gives businesses the opportunity to trade profitably even when operating under public health guidelines which may constrain demand. The enhanced restart payment under the COVID-19 Restrictions Support Scheme for businesses re-opening in June and July and the extension of the commercial rates holiday and tax warehousing will also help industries to re-open.

Over the longer term, the Government is committed to creating the right environment for a jobs-led recovery by helping business become more resilient and agile and supporting people to transition to new jobs in growing sectors of the economy. This will be achieved through a combination of upskilling and reskilling with substantially accelerated training and skills opportunities and investing in areas for long-term growth and increased activation capacity through Pathways to Work 2021-2025.

  Question No. 215 answered with Question No. 213.

  Question No. 216 answered with Question No. 213.

  Question No. 217 answered with Question No. 213.

Enterprise Support Services

 218. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the degree to which his Department continues to support enterprise given the needs arising in the aftermath of Covid-19 and Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30419/21]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The financial support the Government is providing businesses and workers affected by the pandemic is unprecedented.

  The 31 Local Enterprise Offices continue to offer support and guidance to entrepreneurs nationwide by providing direct grant aid to microenterprises (up to 10 employees) in the manufacturing and internationally traded services sector.

  They also offer ‘soft supports’ to entrepreneurs targeted at developing entrepreneurial capability through mentoring, training and development programmes. Subject to certain eligibility criteria, the LEOs can provide direct financial assistance within four main Categories, further details can be found at: Financial Supports - Local Enterprise Office.

  The LEOs also offer a Trading Online Voucher Scheme worth up to €2,500 (50% co-funded by the recipient) to assist businesses in developing their online trading capability and includes training sessions covering topics such as Website development, digital marketing, social media and search engine optimisation.

Enterprise Ireland assistance and support to enterprise including, the COVID-19 Business Financial Planning Grant, a €5,000   Grant to provide a strategic intervention to clients to work with third party consultants to prepare detailed financial plans. To date 1,082 applications have been received with 1,046 approvals to the value of €5.18m.

The Sustaining Enterprise Fund -   available to EI and IDA. To date 830 Applications forms have been issued with 633 applications received and 492 approved to the value of €166.20 m.

  The Sustaining Enterprise Fund - Small Enterprise grant, to date 55 applications have been received with 46 approved to the value of €1.93m and the Sustaining Enterprise Fund – HPSU Scheme to date 129 Application forms issued have been issued with 122 applications received and 122 approved to the value of €8.9m.

The Online Retail Scheme Call 3 is a   €5m third Competitive call targeted at Irish-based retailers with a physical store and a pre-existing online presence to enable them to enhance their digital capability and to develop a more competitive online offer.

Successful applicants will receive a grant ranging from €10,000 to a maximum of €40,000 - covering up to 80% of project costs. Scheme closed for applications on the 25th  May 2021.

  An €9m Ready for Customs Grant to enable companies build Customs Clearing Capacity to help SMEs involved in exporting and importing with the UK and further afield to put in place the staff, software and IT systems to be ready for new customs arrangements from 1 January 2021. 1,062 Applications received to date with 941approvals to the value of €13.06m.

  An Online Customs Insights Course: 40-minute online course on key customs concepts, documentation and processes. 2,924 registrations to date.

  Overseen by my Department, nine new Regional Enterprise Plans to 2024 are currently being developed by regional stakeholders which will identify growth opportunities, recognise vulnerabilities, and in response, strengthen the regional enterprise ecosystem to enable job creation in the regions.

  The Regional Enterprise Plans complement and reinforce ongoing activities of the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and the LEOs and the wider range of State Bodies directly involved in supporting enterprise development in the regions. Each Plan is overseen and monitored by a Regional Steering Committee made up of regional stakeholders and chaired by an industry leader within the region. The new Plans to 2024 are expected to be completed in Quarter 3 this year.

  InterTradeIreland’s (ITI) Brexit Advisory Service offers a focal point for businesses working to navigate changes in cross-border trading relationships as a result of Brexit. The Brexit Advisory Service has proved popular for SMEs and over 17,411SMEs have directly engaged with the Brexit Advisory.

  ITI’s Brexit Planning Voucher, worth up to €2,250 each, enables eligible businesses to seek professional advice on how best to plan and prepare for Brexit including advice on specific areas such as tariffs, currency management, and regulatory and customs issues. To date there have been 3,668 applications, with 3,209 approved.

  ITI also has a number of specific Covid-19 programme supports, including the Emergency Business Solutions and E-Merge programmes, as well as a series of online webinars and a business collaboration platform.

  The Government and my Department’s focus is on ensuring that our businesses and jobs remain viable for the future.

Job Creation

 219. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the extent to which he expects employment to increase and unemployment to decrease over the next three months given the urgency of economic recovery in the aftermath of Covid-19 and taking into account the aftermath of Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30420/21]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar We want our economy to recover, and to restore employment as soon as possible. The Economic Recovery Plan published this week sets out the availability of supports over the coming months, which will give businesses the certainty they require in order to plan for the future and re-employ staff members. The overall ambition of the plan is to exceed pre-crisis employment levels by reaching 2.5 million people in work by 2024.

From the point of view of both supporting businesses and providing employment, the extension of the EWSS until 31 December 2021 is of most significance. The EWSS will be crucial for businesses as they re-open as it subsidises a portion of labour costs which gives businesses the opportunity to trade profitably even when operating under public health guidelines which may constrain demand.

The enhanced restart payment under the COVID-19 Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) to support businesses in meeting the costs of reopening as they exit the scheme will support businesses to reopen and support people returning to work.

Extension of the CRSS to the end of the year, the new Business Resumption Scheme and phase 2 of the SBASC grant which sees the grant extended to those businesses without a rateable premises with the introduction of a smaller grant for those micro enterprises who are not eligible for SBASC, all reinforce the awareness that Government has of the needs of business and the importance of restoring employment as soon as possible.

Continued deferral of the €2.3 Billion in tax liabilities owing to the Exchequer and the fact that liabilities incurred for a short period after trading resumes can continue to be warehoused will provide additional liquidity and assurances for business that Government is doing everything it can to aid their survival and return them to profitability which will ultimately aid in restoring employment.

Over the longer term, the Government is committed to creating the right environment for a jobs-led recovery by helping business become more resilient and agile and supporting people to transition to new jobs in growing sectors of the economy. This will be achieved through a combination of upskilling and reskilling with substantially accelerated training and skills opportunities and investing in areas for long-term growth and increased activation capacity through Pathways to Work 2021-2025.

Job Creation

 220. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the extent to which staff remain available to return to their respective employment post-Covid-19; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30421/21]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Our Economic Recovery Plan, published this week, sets an ambitious target to exceed pre-crisis employment levels by having 2.5 million people in work by 2024. The Plan commits to helping people to return to work; both to previous employment and, in recognition that not all previous jobs will return, to be prepared for new opportunities.

The EWSS has been extended to the end of the year to support businesses to retain employment as they re-open by subsiding a portion of labour costs which gives businesses the opportunity to trade profitably even when operating under public health guidelines which may constrain demand. 

The Economic Recovery Plan commits to significant investment in training, reskilling, upskilling and providing more places in apprenticeships and education to ensure people are supported to secure and remain in sustainable and quality employment. The forthcoming Pathways to Work 2021-2025, will involve intensive work with young people at greater risk of long-term unemployment, in recognition of the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on young people.

The gradual easing of restrictions has already seen the number of people in receipt of the PUP decrease across the worst affected sectors and the economy as a whole in 2021. On 25 May 2021, there were 333,993 people in receipt of the PUP, down from 598,000 on 5 May 2020, with steady declines recorded throughout the months of March, April and May.

PUP recipients in the Construction sector have decreased by more than half, falling from 62,902 in February to 28,758 in May. Over the month of May, PUP recipients in the Wholesale and Retail Sector fell from 65,984 to 54,391 as outlets reopened. The sector including hairdressing and beauty salons has also seen PUP claimants fall from 33,609 on the 27 April to 20,031 on 25th May as outlets re-opened.

The PUP has been extended to the autumn but will be gradually phased out from September. As we enter a recovery phase, we must target resources to re-building our economy. The Government is committed to creating the right environment for a jobs-led recovery by helping business become more resilient and agile, by increasing Ireland’s competitiveness, and through a focus on expanding sectors. The Economic Recovery Plan also commits to further strengthen Ireland’s Skills Framework and architecture to ensure the skills of young people are aligned with the needs of enterprise.


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