Thursday, 23 April 2020
Irish Economy: Statements
We are having an economic discussion but we are having it in the context of a health emergency where 769 people, as of the latest figures, have passed away, including 250 in the North of the country. We have to think of their families and the questions they will have that need to be answered but, equally, we also have to have a debate about the consequences this is having on our economy. I am aware that discussions are taking place at EU level, and I note the German Chancellor's remarks that this is the biggest test of the EU. Let us hope that the EU is up to that test. The EU was set up in the context of the division of Europe after the Second World War. Now, if we are to face that biggest test, then it should challenge in the spirit of European co-operation and not some of the game-playing that seems to be going on at the moment. I wish the Minister well in that regard.
There are a number of specific areas we need. To get our country back up and running economically, the issue of testing arises. I know that is a matter for the Minister for Health but the Minister must also have an input into it in terms of the level of testing he has seen and on which he is getting advice to allow the economy of the country, and work, to return. There are specific issues on which I seek clarification. Those over the age of 66 who are not getting the pandemic payment are not looking for the full €350. They are people who were working up until the middle of March. They want their incomes to be brought up to the €350 and are willing and want to go back to work as soon as possible.
Every single sector is facing challenges but there are sectors, including our farming and fishing communities, that are facing a particular challenge. They are part of the response to this, and they have been hailed for their response, but they are facing massive pressures. They need clarity because they do not have control over their supplies. They do not have control over their production. That is in somebody else's hands.
When we look at the response in Northern Ireland, they are giving business grants to small businesses and to the hospitality sector. They are not giving low-cost loans. A low-cost loan at 4.5% is no such thing when we consider the current cost of funds. In terms of getting small businesses back up and running, some have already been told that they will not get facilities from their banks or an extension of their overdraft. If we are serious about getting businesses up and running, they will have to go into a low-cost loan scheme. That is what is being rolled out in Northern Ireland and also in Denmark, which we are looking at closely.
Yesterday, the Minister mentioned tapering the payments. Instead of tapering them can he link the reform of the payments to reforming the wage subsidy scheme because the more he reforms the wage subsidy scheme, the greater chance he has of keeping a link between employer and employee? If that link is strong and supported, there will be less need for the pandemic unemployment payment. I note all the changes the Minister has made. He has made some very good changes and responded but more changes are necessary in order to keep people in the scheme.
Tá fadhb mhór le cúrsaí Gaeltachta freisin. Entire parts of the economy of the Gaeltacht regions have been wiped out by the necessary decision not to proceed.
The acting Minister of State, Senator Kyne, is working on it, but early indications will have to be given about the supports that are available.
Finally, we acknowledge the massive work on the part of the Government and front-line workers, HSE workers and staff in retail and service operations throughout the country. We would be in a far worse position were it not for their efforts.