Thursday, 23 April 2020
Irish Economy: Statements
I listened to the Minister's statement and we spoke last week in the Chamber. I raised a number of issues then and I will return to some of them now because, unfortunately, I have not yet received answers. I appreciate that it is a difficult time, but I hope to receive those answers at some stage this week.
I wish to address tourism in particular. Obviously, there are many concerns for everyone in the tourism sector as to whether there will be a tourism sector. We will need clarity very quickly. I appreciate that some easing of restrictions will be announced on 5 May, but we do not know what that will be. The sooner clarity can be brought to bear in respect of the situation the better, and the better chance there is of salvaging some of the tourism season, whether that is confined to domestic tourism for people in Ireland who probably will not be going abroad and will holiday here or if international tourists will be coming here and, if so, in what circumstances. We definitely need some clarity on that.
Being from the mid-west, I have a particular interest in the aviation sector and a balanced aviation policy. Perhaps this crisis, which I do not wish to diminish in any way, might afford us an opportunity to somehow rebalance the aviation sector, particularly in view of the fact that 90% of the people who travel to Ireland, many of whom are tourists, come through one airport. Will that be possible in the medium term? Obviously, we will open up. Dublin Airport and Shannon Airport are open, but there will have to be a limit on the number of people travelling through a busy airport in order to reduce the number of people meeting each other. The Government should examine now whether the other State airports, particularly Shannon and Cork, can be utilised more if we are going to bring people into the country in order to ensure that they are not funnelled into one airport with the obvious risk of transmission that would entail and make it more diffuse, even on a temporary basis. If that is to happen, the number of transport links between all the centres, and particularly from Shannon and Cork to Dublin, would have to be expanded. I urge the Government to consider that now so we can seek to salvage a tourism season.
I have already addressed the Minister on the difficulty people involved in the tourism sector are encountering with regard to the Covid-19 payments. They were not in employment on the date in question so they are not entitled to the social welfare payment. The people who ordinarily would be employing them by now are also not entitled to claim it. The Minister outlined the number of persons who are in receipt of it and the difficulties that increasing the number would involve for the economy at this time. However, we must examine supports for the tourism sector because it is particularly affected both in terms of the lack of a season and also how it is going to kick start itself given that people who would ordinarily be in employment are not now and may or may not be available for employment.
That brings me to the next topic, namely, people over 66 years of age. Persons over 66 years of age who are self-employed or who run businesses are not entitled to the Covid-19 payment because they are in receipt of pensions. That is all well and good if one is trying to maintain oneself, but if one is trying to maintain a business and pay the overheads of a business, it gets difficult without any assistance. There is a large number of persons who are over 66 years and have a business. They are still incurring that cost so I urge the Minister to examine that.
We need to look at the issue of debts building up generally and not just for people over the age of 66. There are, for example, small retail outlets with standing charges for utilities and rent, which is still clocking up even if it is being deferred. There are also, perhaps, standing charges for rates. What is to happen with regard to rates? Will no rates be charged for the period? We still do not have clarity on that. Will the rates not be charged now or will they be pushed back? At the end of this crisis many businesses will look at what debts they have incurred during this period and they will ask if it is feasible to return. We must look at whether grants or some debt forgiveness can be given in order to make it worthwhile for those companies to come back.
With regard to agriculture, marts need to reopen quickly and there has to be aid to private storage considerably over and above that announced by the European Commission. I have put forward questions on this and I look forward to receiving answers.