Wednesday, 3 February 2021
Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020: Motion
If he comes in, the Ceann Comhairle might point that out to me. I am glad to have the opportunity to engage with the Minister and Minister of State and make a few points. Obviously, it is common sense for us, as per the motion, to extend the EWSS without which the misery of the last nine or ten months would have been much worse for people throughout the country. Initially it was pitched at the wrong level, perhaps, but we amended it fairly quickly to give people some level of support while at the same time ensuring we maintained the link between employee and employer. This will be critical when we manage to reopen, which we hope will be in the nearer rather than longer term as the vaccine situation improves.
I seek clarification on an issue that is not specifically related to the EWSS. Obviously, many people are working from home at this moment in time.
An issue is beginning to surface with these people. For people with modest means, bills for the telephone, broadband, electricity and so on may become significant. They may have been in a position to deal with those costs over the past nine or ten months while all the family was based at home and, perhaps, the husband and wife or couple were working from home. I understand that a modest relief may be claimed by people who are working from home. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that in his response. I believe the relief to be of the order of €3.50 per day which, over a long period of time, can amount to a significant amount of money. There seems to be some confusion as to whether the onus is on the employee or on the employer with regard to the relief. It is unclear if the employer is to provide this money and then claim it back from Revenue or whether it is for the individual employee to claim the relief in his or her own annual return. I would appreciate it if the Minister could provide some clarity in that regard.
I believe both Ministers are on record as saying that, while this extension is to last until 31 March, and my God do we all yearn for an improvement in the number of Covid cases and an increase in the number vaccinated which would permit a return to work or some level of normality at that date, our most optimistic forecasts do not remotely suggest such a date. An extension of these supports will, therefore, be required. I know the Minister has indicated that they can be extended to June 2021 but, in reality, we need to send a message loud and clear to the people that we are prepared to extend it for the entirety of the year so that we can deal with the Covid problem while at the same time ensuring that people are given adequate support, that they will not be left behind, and that the budget will be provided for that.
I notice Deputy Dillon has now joined us. I will pass over to him in just a couple of seconds, with the permission of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I reiterate the call I made to the Ministers last week with regard to the extension of the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, to more businesses. I gave a very detailed example last week of 17 wholesale bottlers that require admission to the scheme, but there are many more such firms. On the enterprise side, the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, is very much in favour of this. I hope he will not find the Ministers' Departments wanting in providing for it. A safe and fair way to do this might be to extend it to any business that currently does not qualify but which is subject to a commercial rates bill.