Wednesday, 3 February 2021
Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020: Motion
I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this important motion today. Last month, I welcomed clarification from the Minister for Finance that the period for determining eligibility for the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, during the first and second quarters of 2021 is to be the same period in 2019. This will elicit a sigh of relief from many employers and their employees. There were early complaints about the scheme arising from issues such as the processing of wage subsidy payments to employers taking up to six weeks. I understand that the revised payment schedule is now, thankfully, ensuring speedier delivery. This, in turn, will support and boost cash flow within businesses.
I commend the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, on the EWSS as there have been very few issues with the scheme over recent months, with one exception. There are, however, concerns emerging about the uncertainty as to whether it will be extended in its current form beyond late March. An issue being raised with me increasingly over recent weeks has been the extension of the EWSS beyond 31 March 2021. I appreciate the Minister's opening statement that there will be discussions on this matter. Both employers and employees are fearful that they may lose the enhanced rates which are in place until that date. I urge the Minister to extend the scheme for as long as possible and until the vaccination roll-out programme has reached a critical mass and we can avoid a cliff edge. Almost 1,200 businesses in Mayo availed of the EWSS during 2020 and it is serving as a vital support for those businesses in a wide range of sectors that have had to close their doors for significant durations during this pandemic.
On a separate note, I welcome the recent announcement of the tourism business continuity scheme. Some €55 million will be provided to employers who fall outside the Covid restrictions support scheme. While it is a step in the right direction, it still falls short. I regret to say that there are still some businesses which do not meet the eligibility criteria for the scheme, which I understand to have been designed for those ineligible for the CRSS. There are businesses connected to the tourism sector, including laundry service providers to the hospitality sector and audiovisual engineering providers in the entertainment sector. These businesses are truly on their knees while other businesses are in receipt of supports.
I implore Departments and Ministers, including Deputies Catherine Martin, Humphreys and Michael McGrath, to work together to find suitable funding for those falling between the cracks considering the range of support schemes available. Just because they do not have premises to which the public have access, it does not mean that they are immune to the economic impact of this pandemic. Significant collaboration between Departments is needed as a matter of urgency.