Dáil debates

Thursday, 23 April 2020

4:45 pm

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent) | Oireachtas source

As the Minister knows well, the tourism and hospitality sector has been decimated in the past number of weeks. As I said earlier, the Minister does not have a magic wand to resolve every issue but it is something we have to look into further. This sector is the largest indigenous employer within Ireland and it is currently devastated by business closures and significant job losses in Cork. Tourism makes a vital contribution to our economy. The future of many jobs now hangs in the balance as we do not know when hotels can reopen. Equally, when they do reopen, we do not know how our local domestic and international markets will respond in these uncertain times. The only certainty we have is that this market will take a long time to recover so we need to put safeguards in place to try to protect our people and their businesses across the bed and breakfast sector, restaurants, cafés and pubs.

Some of the measures could include waiving local authority rates and water charges for at least the next 12 months. I would also urge the Minister to consider removing the VAT rate for tourism until the industry recovers and, equally, reducing employers' PRSI. We know that cash flow will be a significant challenge and some Government grants will be needed. Interest free loans and arranging payment breaks on senior debt for at least 12 months would be very important.

For those over the age of 66, which I mentioned here this morning, the Minister is the Minister in charge. These are sole traders, many of them self-employed, who are paying income tax and yet are not entitled to the Covid-19 payment. It is astonishing that many people over the age of 66 who have had to continue working to top up their pensions and who are paying tax are not entitled to the Covid-19 payment. Why are the people over the age of 66 who worked hard all their lives and continue to work hard beyond the retirement age being penalised by not being given a Covid-19 payment or even the difference to make up the €350 payment, for which most of them have been honest enough to ask?

One of my constituents is a 68 year old woman. She is one of many who has worked all her life. She has bills to pay and other financial commitments. Those commitments have not changed because of Covid-19. Why can she not receive the difference in payment which would make up at least partially for the job she has lost and may never get back? Hers was only one of a vast number of calls we have received from people in the past few weeks. I presume every other Deputy has received them also. Our older people should not have to suffer any more than anyone else due to Covid-19. We are asking the Minister to reconsider topping up the payment to the full Covid-19 payment of €350 for people aged over 66 and who have pensions but who have lost their jobs due to Covid-19 and those who are self-employed or sole traders.

The same is the case with rural social workers who are currently playing a huge part on the front line trying to do essential work such as meals-on-wheels or whatever. Some families are earning €220. They have lost their outside farming income. They have lost their outside fishing income. They are simply asking if their payment could be made up to the €350. They should be shown some respect in these difficult times.

I refer to the issue of the Debenhams workers in the Covid-19 crisis. Two thousand of those workers nationally were informed by email on 9 April that the company's 11 stores in the Republic were not expected to reopen because of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the company liquidating its operations. The staff have kept this business going for the company and worked very hard. Debenhams staff have taken many cuts over the years and they are now devastated to be told via email that their jobs are gone. This is a shocking time to lose their jobs. Every assistance the State can give should be given to those workers at this time.

A sector people do not talk about much is the taxi and limousine business. I know one businessman in Kinsale whose taxi and limousine business, like those of many more, has fallen to zero due to Covid-19. The limousine would be more a service on the tourism side.

There is no tourism and no school transport and hotels and pubs are closed. The businesses to which I refer are seeking to apply for microfinance loans over three years. These loans are Government-backed through Microfinance Ireland. The businesses in question are on the verge of collapse. I fear that by the time the restrictions are lifted, they will no longer be in operation. They provide a vital service for the community and have built up great relationships locally. Some of them have been operating for 20 years and a number employ 15 to 20 people in the locality.

I have little time left. I wish to spend it discussing farming and fishing. Farmers are in dire circumstances at present, especially those in the beef sector. We need to see what aid is available. The inshore fishermen are pleading with me in call after call, day after day, to find out what is available to them. The larger trawlers are moored at the piers and there is no aid. They have the Covid-19 payment and nothing else. They owe millions and have employees. They need some type of aid and I would appreciate it if the Minister would address that.


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