Wednesday, 3 February 2021
Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020: Motion
I welcome this debate and thank the 20 Deputies who contributed to it, covering a large number of issues. In the first instance, everybody recognises that the wage subsidy schemes, the earlier one and the current one, have been a central pillar of the Government's response to the economic impact of Covid-19 by supporting viable firms and encouraging employment. To that end, it is an important bridge between social welfare payments such as the pandemic unemployment payment and regular employment, which is the ultimate goal. To the maximum extent possible, the objective is to maintain a position where as many employees as possible who are currently on EWSS retain their link with their employers, rather than migrate to the pandemic unemployment payment and lose their connection with their employers as a result of going on a payment from the Department of Social Protection. As the restrictions are eased, the EWSS will also play an important role in getting people back to work, thereby reducing the numbers depending on the PUP.
I will mention some of the issues that were raised in this debate on the employment wage subsidy scheme. One was the difficulties relating to mortgages. It was interesting that early in the debate a Sinn Féin Member said there are people on the scheme who perhaps would prefer to go for redundancy after being on the scheme for so many months. A subsequent speaker from the same party said that people on the scheme were having difficulty getting mortgages. That shows the difficulties that arise with this issue. The Government's position recognises the difficulties. A third suggestion was made by Deputy O'Connor, that perhaps there should be an onus on employers to notify all their employees officially if they are claiming the EWSS.
Everybody wants to get support to get mortgage approval, but if people are in a company that has suffered a severe reduction in turnover there might or might not be a question regarding its future viability. I doubt anybody wishes to take on the debt of a large mortgage for the rest of his or her life unless he or she is quite sure he or she will be in a position to pay it when the pandemic has ended. While it is creating short-term difficulties, there could be a worse situation if people are given large mortgages and then find they have severe difficulties with those mortgages as a result of the employer not being in a position to maintain their employment in the long term. There is a balance to be struck here. I understand it is very difficult and it will certainly cause delays in people completing house and property purchases. There is no blanket ban or delay on mortgages. Each case is examined on a case-by-case basis, which is appropriate. All mortgage applications should be examined in that way.
Other Deputies said this is a great scheme, that it should be part of the permanent landscape in Ireland and that it should be worked into short-time working arrangements, as may happen in other countries. Practically every Member welcomed the existence of the scheme, and spoke about its importance and the necessity for the scheme. They welcomed the extensions that are being made. The Minister made it clear that there will be no cliff edge situation with it coming to an abrupt end. People are looking for certainty about what will happen later in the year, but nobody can make any absolutely certain statements on how the Covid-19 pandemic will develop. Ultimately, until we have a vaccine there will be always significant issues.
Other Members mentioned the CRSS, which is not the subject of today's debate. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is examining a situation to help businesses that were not open to the public, such as the wholesale bottlers that were mentioned in the debate, and to see if some other arrangement can be made. There is a variety of other schemes, and that Department is examining that issue at present. I believe the issue of premises that pay rates will come into that. Businesses that were not open to the public and are suffering due to not being eligible for CRSS might have an opportunity to get into a new scheme.
I am sorry I do not have time to deal with all the issues that were raised. If Deputies wish to get further clarification, they should contact my office directly and I will be happy to get direct replies to them. As I said, more than 20 Members contributed to the debate and I thank them for their generally supportive comments. I am not able to address every query in the time available, but I will be happy to do so one-to-one if Deputies wish to contact me. I commend the order to the House.