Wednesday, 3 February 2021
Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020: Motion
I was contacted this week by a start-up company after the Revenue Commissioners adjudged that it did not submit strong enough evidence that its turnover had decreased by more than 25% during last year's trading. This is one of the criteria used to determine "significant negative economic disruption". While I understand the need for some parameters, the company lost a number of contracts due to Covid-19 and can prove it. This is, unquestionably, significant economic disruption by any measure. Other supports are insufficient to keep this business operating and employing staff. These are people who want to create and sustain jobs, which are sorely needed in Kerry, rather than survive on subsidies. The goal of the EWSS is supposed to be exactly that and the spirit of the scheme needs to take precedence in this type of situation. This will continue to be an issue as we face two long years of disruption and no business will have been left untouched by the pandemic.
There have been a number of issues with the EWSS and its predecessor. We must ensure it is fit for purpose. Over the next two years, once the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted and the vaccination programme is completed, life will return to normal but businesses cannot be expected to be completely stagnant in that period. Not only will we lose businesses that contribute employment and revenue to the Exchequer, but we will also strangle new businesses that are so badly needed in the west of Ireland, particularly in Kerry. The long period of disruption will also have a severe impact on the biggest source of jobs in Kerry which is tourism. As the Minister probably knows, over 16,000 Kerry workers are employed in tourism and many of them were shut out of the Covid-19 PUP and TWSS schemes due to seasonality. Last year most of the season was missed, at the loss of €400 million to the economy in Kerry. However, when businesses could open, people flocked to Kerry and businesses thrived for that very short period which proves that they are viable. There is an enormous appetite among people to follow the advice of NPHET and not go abroad but with no certainty about how long the season will be, allowance needs to be made within the EWSS for seasonal businesses.
The Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, was introduced to further support those in the hospitality and tourism sectors but it ignores any business lacking an on-premises customer experience and excludes a number of outdoor and activity-based tour operators, wholesalers and travel agents working remotely. These businesses are struggling to reopen and are facing permanent closure. In that context, I ask the Minister to extend the scheme. The recently announced tourism recovery fund will help some of these operators and while I welcome it, it is months late and should not have been necessary. We seem to have a trend of stressing businesses to the maximum and only then intervening. Extending the EWSS should ensure that it is accessible to those who need it and should offer those who have spent years, if not decades, adjusting their lives around seasonal business some reassurance. Kerry is the county most affected, according to all surveys.
Finally, it is 300 days since the start of the Debenhams picket and once again I pay tribute to Geraldine, Amy, Trish and the many others who have maintained their vigil at the former Tralee store. I understand that Mandate has recently written to the Taoiseach but has yet to receive a reply. I call on the Government to intervene even at this late stage to help the Debenhams workers. If ever proof was needed of the inequity in the system between workers and capital, this is it. I ask the Government to recognise the right to collective bargaining and to implement the recommendations of the Duffy Cahill report as soon as possible. State supports such as the EWSS should not be available to companies that do not recognise the right of workers to organise.