Thursday, 18 February 2021
Covid-19 (Enterprise, Trade and Employment): Statements
I would appreciate if the Minister would check that, because that is not my understanding from the businesses that have contacted me. They specifically mentioned AIB, which told them they need a clear directive from the Government on such action not affecting a business's credit rating. The Minister can appreciate that a credit downgrade has a hugely negative effect on any businesses. It is a specific net point.
I welcome the coach tourism business continuity scheme, but, as other speakers said, smaller niche companies fall outside of it. I am thinking in particular of buses on the Aran Islands. They do not come within the restricted criteria of that scheme, such as buses in use before July 2013. Such businesses would not have a turnover of €50,000 year. It is a small niche industry.
The Minister may recall that before Christmas I drew a matter to his attention, namely, the very good spending review carried out by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. The Minister told me he would read it over Christmas. I am not sure whether he did but I hope he did.
It drew to our attention that bespoke solutions are required in addition to what the Department has introduced, which I acknowledge are very good. We also need bespoke industries. In particular, the review pointed out that industry in the Gaeltacht was going to be particularly impacted by both Covid and Brexit. The other startling fact is that 85% of the clients of Údarás na Gaeltachta are micro enterprises with fewer than ten employees, and 99% of its clients are small to medium enterprises employing fewer than 250 people. I mention that because it is the bread and butter. The annual report from Údarás na Gaeltachta this year shows that employment has been affected by 6% to 8%, net. More significantly, there is a 30% drop in the tourism area. The small niche industries such as the one I mentioned need bespoke solutions. I am drawing that to the Minister's attention - I am not asking for an answer now - in the context of the importance of the Gaeltacht, the Irish language and small enterprises.
I welcome the tourism business continuity scheme through Fáilte Ireland, but it took an effort to get it. It was announced in the budget. One of the two businesses in Killary that have been in contact with us is delighted with it, theoretically, but then there is the amount of time it is taking to get the cash. I understand that not a single euro will be handed over until March. Again, this is positive, but it is not quick enough.
There are also the travel agents. I will mention one in Galway because she is the last woman standing. I was going to say the last man standing. We are in level 5 and if we were in level 4, the travel agents would qualify. In the other levels they qualify for nothing. The Tánaiste might address the issue of travel agents. I realise he is keen on online banking and so forth, but many of us like travel agents. We like to walk into the premises, and it gives employment. There is trust and reliability. They need certainty. They have done their best, and for most of this time they have been working, partly paid and partly not paid, and giving refunds. Perhaps the Tánaiste will comment on the travel agency sector.