Thursday, 15 October 2020
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
The decision to move Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan to level 4 will come as a bitter blow to the hundreds of thousands of people who live in those counties, although from my contacts with them I think the vast majority understand why it was necessary and that the decision had to be made given the very high instance of the virus in those counties relative to the rest of the State. People living in any other county should not get the wrong impression. When people hear that three of the Border counties have been moved to level 4 they may get the wrong impression that this is a problem up North or a problem along the Border. It is not. People in any part of Ireland should not take any comfort from the fact that the rules are stricter in these three counties. The virus is circulating in the community in every county in Ireland and we need to understand that that is the case and make sure that we comply with public health advice and change our behaviours. In all 32 counties, we need to embrace the public health advice. Whether we are at level 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 26 if people are not doing what they need to do it is not going to work. We know what we need to do. People need to keep apart, wash their hands regularly, cough and sneeze into their elbows or a tissue and, if they feel unwell, they need to stay at home, stay away from other people, including other people in their own household, contact their GP seeking a test and, if told to restrict their movements or to self-isolate, they should do exactly that. It is those behaviours that will get this virus under control because that is what got the virus under control in the spring when we all worked together as a nation to do so.
In terms of the financial assistance that is being provided to businesses and to individuals in the three counties, the Covid restriction subsidy scheme, CRSS, will kick-in next week. This will provide a weekly payment for any business that is closed as a result of Government regulations. We have instructed that the three counties be prioritised in terms of the applications that are made. Also companies will qualify for the employment wage subsidy scheme. It applies to any company that has seen its turnover fall by more than 30%. By virtue of these restrictions, more companies will qualify for that scheme in Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan than would have otherwise and commercial rates have been waived across Ireland for the remainder of the year.
In terms of the pandemic unemployment payment, it is now based on a person's income prior to losing his or her job. People who previously earned less than €200 per week will have full income replacement in that they will receive €203 per week. Those who earned between €200 and €300 per week will receive €250 per week, which, for many, is full income replacement and for others up to 86% and those who earned more than €300 per week will receive €300 per week. I acknowledge that there are people who were full-time workers and earning more than €300 per week who will see a significant reduction in their income but it is a scheme that has to be affordable and one that compares very favourably, I am sure Deputy Doherty will acknowledge, with the schemes that exist in the UK and in Northern Ireland.
In terms of any further reductions that may occur in January, that is a matter that will be kept under review by Government. We have set aside contingency funds in the budget announced this week to allow us to extend that January deadline if we are still in the teeth of the pandemic. The flexibility to extend that deadline is available to us and we will give that consideration.