Thursday, 15 October 2020
Financial Resolutions 2020 - Financial Resolution No. 7: General (Resumed)
Noel Grealish (Galway West, Independent)
I welcome many of the extensive measures announced in the budget on Tuesday, especially those aimed at helping SMEs that have suffered from the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, there are some aspects that I found lacking. Maybe these could be addressed before the publication of the finance Bill, which will give legal effect to most of the measures announced. When a vaccine against the virus arrives - I hope it will be sooner rather than later - we will need our airlines up and running without delay and ready to facilitate an influx of foreign visitors. This is an economic imperative.
This country is greatly dependent on international tourism. No increase in the domestic holidaymaker market will go anywhere near filling the gap left by the absence of overseas visitors. I hope many of the measures to support businesses in trouble that were announced on Tuesday will help many of those in the tourism and hospitality sectors to become fully operational when a time of new hope arrives, hopefully early in the new year.
The €10 million allocation to be shared by Cork and Shannon airports is obviously welcome but, with the decision this morning by Ryanair to close its bases at these airports for the winter, it will not be enough. Both airports were already struggling before this hammer blow. Shannon Airport, for instance, is losing millions of euro because of the pandemic. It is extremely important to the economy of the west but there is a major worry over its future and the future of the businesses and families that depend on it. Last summer, an average of almost 6,000 passengers flew in and out of Shannon Airport every day. One day this summer, just 65 passengers went through the very same airport. On Tuesday, the day the budget was announced, there were just two flights in and out of the airport, both operated by Ryanair. Today, there is just one flight, and now Ryanair is pulling out for the winter. There have been no transatlantic services operating out of Shannon Airport since March, and both United Airlines and Delta have said they will not resume these services until 2022, at the earliest. Aer Lingus has also suspended its transatlantic and Heathrow services. It will be 2024 before the airport can get back to the passenger levels of the past year. It urgently needs help to keep afloat during the difficult period until then.
The big fear among the people in Shannon now is that everything might end up moving to Dublin. While Shannon Airport is a major contributor to the economy of the west, having had a throughput of almost 1.9 million passengers last year, Knock Airport also plays a major role, having handled more than 800,000 passengers in 2019. It, too, has suffered a devastating slump in activity, with September seeing just one tenth of the usual passenger volumes to and from the United Kingdom. The numbers to and from other European airports had decreased by 98%. I am disappointed that Knock Airport, considering its critical importance to the west in providing connectivity to global markets for the region's businesses and in attracting so many thousands of visitors from abroad, has not got a special injection of aid.
With regard to the new Covid restrictions support scheme for SMEs that must close as a result of the restrictions imposed under level 3, I would like the Government to clarify that travel agencies will be included. One could say they have effectively been under level 5 for the past seven months, having had to close their doors in mid-March due to the Government's advice on travel. It is unlikely that they will be reopening until well into the new year, at best. It would be extremely unfair if an industry that has played its part in bringing tourists to our country and that will be needed when times are better were to be shut out of this most welcome scheme.
The chauffeur industry does not feel it has been helped by the supports announced in the July stimulus package. Chauffeurs play an important role in ferrying tourists around the country. The budget has dealt chauffeurs a severe blow, with increases in fuel costs and vehicle registration tax. Since the chauffeur business is largely seasonal, and since the work season of many of the drivers had not resumed by March, they have not been able to avail of the pandemic unemployment payment. I urge the Government to make amends for this sector.
I spoke in this House last week about the plight of those in the arts and entertainment community, and I am pleased some steps have been taken to address their concerns. I am delighted that the Minister for Finance announced in his budget speech the maintenance of the section 481 regional uplift for the film industry at its peak rate, 5%, for another year.