Dáil debates

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions


11:55 am

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I join with you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, by offering my sincere and heartfelt congratulations to Helen McEntee who delivered a baby boy last night, and to her husband, Paul Hickey. They have made history. This is the first time that a serving member of the Government in Ireland has given birth. When it comes to equality and diversity it is often said that people need to see it before they know they can be it. I hope that young women and girls will see today that in Ireland one can hold high office, take maternity leave, raise a family and be supported to do so. I accept we have more work to do in this area, but it is a positive day and history is being made today by the McEntee and Hickey family.

Regarding Covid, the process is as follows: yesterday the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, met and issued a letter of advice to the Government. Last night, the Covid sub-committee met and we developed a proposal late last night that will be put to the Cabinet this afternoon. Should the Cabinet agree to that proposal, the Taoiseach will make a full announcement around 6 p.m. this evening. It is a day of hope for Ireland. All things going to plan, over the course of May, June and July most businesses will reopen. Hundreds of thousands of people currently on the pandemic unemployment payment will be able to return to work and we will see a lot of our personal freedoms restored. In May alone, we could see as many as 15,000 businesses reopen and as many as 200,000 people being offered their jobs back.

I join with Deputy O'Reilly in thanking the Irish people for their resilience, co-operation and adherence to the regulations and restrictions. I know it has not been easy but it has made a big difference and it has put us in a much better place than many of our peer countries. I especially want to thank the HSE and the staff of our public health service. One of the untold stories of this pandemic is how well the health service performed. The health service often gets a lot of bad press, sometimes deservedly, but it really stood up to the challenge. We never ran out of ICU capacity, beds, oxygen or ventilators. We are able to do same-day tests with next-day results for a virus that did not exist almost a year or so ago. We have seen an extraordinary performance from the health service in that regard, not least when it comes to vaccines. Once they get into the country, in 95% of cases they are administered to people within a week.

Keeping that is going to be difficult but that is what we intend to do.

On financial supports, such as the pandemic unemployment payment, the wage subsidy scheme, the weekly CRSS payment and the rates holiday, I can confirm that they will remain in place until the end of June. By the end of May, we will set out a clear plan for people and businesses as to what will happen from July onwards. The Government fully appreciates that there are certain sectors that are going to need additional and ongoing financial support because of the difficulties they will face in reopening and recovering. These include the hospitality, tourism, aviation and events and arts sectors. The latter will need ongoing financial support for quite some time. We will set out a plan to do that before the end of May. The existing financial supports will stay in place, as they are, until at least the end of June.

When the restrictions are eased we will see a bounce in consumer spending. There is a lot of pent-up demand and money in savings accounts. There will be a bounce but we need to make sure that it is not a dead cat bounce. The last thing we want to see is a boom in consumer spending that falls off in a few months' time when we are withdrawing the financial supports that people and businesses need. That would be a mistake. We need to get this right.

We need to be honest in this House. This is all borrowed money. It is not money that we generated ourselves through our labour or taxes. This is money that has been borrowed from banks and bondholders, with the help of the ECB. It will have to be refinanced, and we need to be honest about that.


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