Wednesday, 3 February 2021
Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020: Motion
Thankfully, this scheme has helped many people during the financial hardship which the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has imposed on them. I raise issues in respect of two groups that have contacted me, and which believe the conditions of the scheme discriminate against. The first group consists of approximately 80 travel counsellors, most of whom have been refused access to the CRSS on the basis that the premises which they operate do not meet the eligibility criteria. I spoke to one such travel counsellor in my constituency office in recent days. That person started out as a self-employed travel counsellor some five and half years ago, in July 2015, and worked extremely hard to build the business from scratch. It grew year-on-year up until 13 March 2020, when everything came to a complete halt.
The business model of this endeavour has always been one of working from home to enable the provision of personal, one-to-one services to customers 24-7. The business is fully bonded and licensed by the Commission on Aviation Regulation, and its home office is a fully functional travel agency. That office has never been closed, the proprietor always keeps the landline and mobiles phone lines open to help clients. The clients of that travel counsellor who transferred or moved their holiday bookings from 2020 to 2021 are now again amending or cancelling their travel, leading to the processing of more refunds. Income on earnings in that business is down more than 100% since the start of the pandemic and there is no end in sight.
Travel counsellors are being refused access to the CRSS scheme because they do not have a shop front like travel agents. The reality, however, is that they have overheads in the same way as other businesses and their revenues have reduced to nothing. If these travel counsellors do not get the financial supports they need, they will not be in a position to return to operation when we get back to normal. Our tourism industry has been one of those hardest hit in this pandemic. Business in that sector has been almost completely wiped out. This area, however, will be one of the cornerstones of rebuilding our economy when we get to the post-Covid-19 era. I therefore ask the Minister to look at the case of these travel counsellors to see if they could be found to be eligible for the CRSS payment.
The other issue I raise, and which I have done several times previously, concerns track bookmakers. These are again a small group of people who have had no access to their places of business since March 2020. It looks like that will be the case as well for the foreseeable future. Track bookmakers again have no shop fronts. Most of them are independent operators who bought their stands at the various racecourses and, in most cases, they paid substantial amounts of money for them. These track bookmakers also have loans and liabilities connected with having access to their places of business. We all know people are not allowed into racecourses now and track bookmakers cannot operate their businesses. It will be that way for the foreseeable future. When we eventually get back to normality, these track bookmakers will be part of the horseracing scene. They bring great glamour to the occasion which is a day at the races. It will be a pity if this Covid-19 pandemic signalled the demise of the profession of track bookmaker. I request the Minister to examine this situation because track bookmakers cannot get access to their places of work and they have made fairly significant investments to set themselves up in this line of work.
Turning to the tourist bus area, €10 million was awarded to that sector last year. The funds were to be distributed by Tourism Ireland. It is much longer than six months now since that money was awarded to the tourism bus sector. A bus operator contacted me this morning and told me that none of that money has yet been distributed. Cash flow in these businesses is virtually at zero now. They welcomed the award of this money most gratefully in mid-summer last year but it is unforgivable that the money has not yet been distributed six months later. I ask the Minister to contact Tourism Ireland, find out why this money has not been distributed and get it done as soon as possible. I make that request because these businesses are starved of cash flow and are under great pressure as they face into a second very difficult year. It will be harder for these companies to survive this second year, so I ask the Minister to ensure that when money is allocated to different sectors that there is a strict timeframe for its distribution. It is unacceptable for that timeframe to be six months, as has been the case in the tourist bus sector, and this money must be distributed without delay.