Thursday, 29 April 2021
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
I want to take a moment to also offer my congratulations to the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and her husband on the wonderful news of the arrival of their baby boy this morning. As my grandmother used to say, a baby brings their own luck. I wish the Minister, her husband and their new baby all of the luck in the world. I remind the Tánaiste that the Minister herself said before she left that the measures put in place are a sticking plaster, so we have work to do, but this is a very good and historic day, as she is the first full Minister to give birth in office. We wish her all the very best.
Today, the Government will set out the plan for reopening in the coming months. This is a very positive day, and it is due to the dedication of the public and front-line health workers, who never wavered in the fight against this virus. The positivity of easing restrictions and reopening our economy also brings with it some worry for businesses and workers. I am very happy that tens of thousands of workers - many of whom have not seen a day's work for more than a year - will be able to return to their workplaces in the coming weeks and months. However, we know that public health advice means than many others will not be able to do so. I think about workers in aviation, tourism-dependent industries, travel agents and many people who will not be able to find work in their partially reopened industries. They will continue to be out of work through no fault of their own and those workers must be supported.
While the Government has continuously said there will be no cliff edge when it comes to income supports, it is unfair that it would not put some shape on what that means and give those words some meaning for the workers and business owners. The Taoiseach yesterday refused to give concrete assurance to workers and businesses who may be out of work beyond June due to Covid-19. The very least they deserve is certainty that the supports on which they depend will not be cut while public health restrictions remain in place. Workers and businesses in sectors that have not reopened, and may not reopen as quickly as others, need to know that they are not facing cuts or reductions of any sort come July. It is only fair that as long as people cannot go to work, or businesses cannot reopen due to public health advice, that those workers, business and families will retain the full support afforded to them. I urge the Tánaiste to set that out.
Businesses too need a lifeline. Chambers Ireland set out its view today. It said that businesses must be given certainty on how long wage supports, grant aid, waivers and debt warehousing will be available. So too have the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, restaurateurs, vintners, retailers and many more. They are looking for as much certainty as can be given and I share their view. In respect of the wage subsidy scheme, I believe it is incumbent on the Government to articulate a firm commitment to maintaining support until such time as businesses are not only reopened, but properly established, up and running and fully trading.
Regarding the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, many businesses that have been closed for months now fear that if they are allowed reopen and trade, their trade could bring them just over the threshold to qualify - but they would still be well out of pocket compared to what we refer to as normal times. They are looking for the qualification point for the CRSS to be flexible in light of this, and I urge the Tánaiste to support that. Sinn Féin supports the position. The simple fact of the matter is that easing the restrictions and getting business back up and running will not turn the clock back to March 2020. In the past 14 months, SMEs and family-run businesses have warehoused more than €1 billion worth of tax debt with Revenue, many have commercial rent arrears, and others have bank debt. These are all significant issues that require solutions. Unless they are addressed, many businesses will not survive and thousands of jobs could potentially be lost. We cannot allow that to happen. I ask the Tánaiste to set out that the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, and the wage subsidy scheme will remain in place for the length of time that public health restrictions are in place. Will the qualifying restrictions for the CRSS be examined and will a flexible arrangement be agreed with Revenue regarding the continued warehousing of tax debt for SMEs?