Thursday, 18 February 2021
Covid-19 (Enterprise, Trade and Employment): Statements
We are expecting a new reopening plan, which will be welcome, but I have concerns because the latest scientific evidence is that Covid-19 will always be around, with vaccination. We may not see the same death rate and sickness but it is here to stay and we need to make sure our plans reflect that.
Much of the correspondence coming into my office is based on the last plan. I will give an example. Indoor and outdoor play centres were designated as open in level 3, but then closed in level 3 a few months ago. I am asked if they will be open in level 3 this time or if there will be a level 3 this time. This kind of last-minute change cannot occur again. We need to be clear with people if we are to take them with us on this plan. How is the Tánaiste's Department preparing to make very clear what will and will not be allowed to open? How can they open safely and under what grounds will they be closed again? Will there be clear messaging that this is a different plan?
The one thing that comes up over and over in my office is the unfairness on outlets, such as small essential services. They believe they have been left behind. The Tánaiste and I have spoken often about click and collect and I am aware the intention is not to have large numbers moving around. However, we have to find a way to support small businesses which cannot operate a full online service. As we are closer to the new plan this week than last week, will the Tánaiste tell me if click and collect will feature in the plan?
Another support from last year has raised concerns. I appreciate the Government introduced CRSS to provide 10% of last year's turnover, but this is not enough to pay one significant bill, rent or insurance costs for many businesses which are still closed. These bills still have to be paid. Are there proposals to revisit this?
Sticking with the theme of supports, I tabled a parliamentary question last month on whether the stay and spend scheme would be extended past its current termination of April 2021, given the current restrictions. I appreciate the scheme should not be viewed in isolation from other measures put in place to support businesses generally and the hospitality sector in particular but it was not usable at all really, since it only came into effect in October. The reply I received stated: "Stay and Spend is scheduled to operate until 30 April but the flexibility exists ... to extend its operation 2021 beyond that date (to end 2021)." At that stage, a decision will be made. I ask the Tánaiste to extend it. We are living with Covid now and encouraging people to stay home and go by the Covid guidelines, and rightly so. However, we need to make sure our hospitality sector is not forgotten. In doing that, we need to make sure we put more money into that area and I ask the Tánaiste to do that.