Thursday, 19 March 2020
An Bille Sláinte (Caomhnú agus Cosaint agus Bearta Éigeandála Eile Ar Mhaithe Le Leas an Phobail), 2020: An Dara Céim - Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Bill 2020: Second Stage
Robert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this important legislation. I add my voice to the voices of other Members in saluting the valiant efforts of so many people on the front line in healthcare, the retail and haulage industries and in the Garda in ensuring the essential services on which each of us depend are available when we need them. When people ask what they can do to assist, the easiest thing we can do is adhere strictly to the guidelines of the experts. In doing that we will reduce the mammoth task that will be faced by so many on the front line.
The health impacts are obviously of primary concern, but small and medium enterprises, SMEs, and their employees are facing serious challenges over the next number of weeks. This rate of unemployment has never been witnessed at this pace previously. Entire sectors are closing. It is critical that they get liquidity and cash flow now. The €200 million from the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, SBCI, is still not up and running. That must be addressed. We must ensure that viable businesses are sustained and in place to give people employment when this passes.
I welcome the swift response from a social welfare perspective, but there must be greater awareness of it for the self-employed. Many self-employed people have contacted me - I am sure they have contacted many colleagues - and they are unaware they are entitled to this payment. We must generate greater awareness of it. Deputy O'Dea referred to the inability of employers to provide top-up payments on the emergency payment. There are employers who wish to provide top-up payments but they are unable to do so. Will the Minister address that? Regarding businesses that are currently providing a State service and are in receipt of State supports, there is a fear that if they pay this payment they will not be able to get a refund of it. I am thinking of childcare providers. They get payments from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs which go towards a percentage of the costs of running their business. If they pay the €203, can the Minister give a clear commitment they will be eligible for the refund?
Some businesses have operated up to today and have taken the decision to close. Unfortunately, some of them will not open again. There is a concern about the employees who have been laid off. Will this six week payment be used as a break in their service or used to alter some of their future entitlements? I would appreciate if the Minister could confirm that.
Finally, there is the public health element of this Bill and the additional powers being introduced. My colleague, Deputy Niall Collins, raised the issue of pubs still operating in Limerick. I am aware that pubs are still operating in other locations in the country. Does this ensure that the Garda has the power to intervene? I was contacted by Deputy Fleming today about a query raised by a constituent. Aer Lingus will still bring passengers on holidays to Lanzarote on Saturday-----