Wednesday, 15 December 2021
Finance Bill 2021: From the Seanad
I welcome the support from all who have spoken for the recommendations that have been made to the Dáil this evening.
I also welcome colleagues' general support for the EWSS and the very positive role it has played in the preservation of employers and the maintenance of work during such a difficult period of the pandemic in our country.
I will say a few words about the various issues raised by the Deputies this evening. As Deputy Boyd Barrett acknowledged on other occasions, we have, through the EWSS and CRSS, done so much to try to bring so many into a safety net to help them when the disease is causing harm. I have acknowledged to the Deputy on a few occasions that there have been groups of workers who have been outside the scope of these schemes. With regard to the CRSS, the Deputy raised with me the circumstances of the many businesses that do not have a premises. With regard to the EWSS, there were some workers who were not able to benefit under the programme as constructed. I will raise the issues the Deputy has emphasised in respect of musicians and others working in our night-time economy. Their plight is the reason we have reopened the PUP. I hear the Deputy's point that those on the previous rate of PUP are now on a lower level than those who joined more recently. I understand that issue but, until the latest public health restrictions, we had been making so much progress on trying to get people back to work and reopen our economy. I am aware the Department of Social Protection is doing its best to handle this issue as sensitively as it can. I hear the Deputy's point regarding the date we picked, but it was picked because it was the one on which the public health guidance was issued and that did have a bigger effect on the economy. I understand the Deputy's point, however. While I hope the arguments I am making make sense, there are people who are not eligible according to the dates and programmes we are discussing this evening. Therefore, I will discuss this again with the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, to see where we stand on sectoral schemes that can make a difference for those affected by the issues the Deputy is raising. Those schemes have worked well in the past.
I thank Deputy Farrell for the support she offered tonight. It is welcome to hear Sinn Féin offering support for a more tailored approach to how we will implement wage subsidy programmes in the future. In recent weeks some of the challenges that will be involved in doing this have been demonstrated to me again. The Deputy's support will be recognised by me when implementing the changes in 2022.
On the points made by Deputy O'Donoghue, he and I have discussed this issue, including today, when he contacted my office on this matter. I understand that there are some companies and hotels that are ineligible for the scheme, but I must emphasise to the Dáil the huge amount of support the Government has provided to the hospitality sector because of the value we attach to the contribution it makes to our economy and society. The hospitality sector alone has received €1.5 billion through the EWSS since its introduction. It needed it. Under the CRSS, businesses have received €426 million to support them at a time of such strain.
The challenge I face is that, regardless of the level of business performance that I fix to allow entry into the scheme, there will be some companies that do not reach it. A company that can show a decline of 30% or more for this year by comparison with 2019 is eligible to enter the CRSS, but I accept that some companies are just beyond the thresholds that are fixed and therefore unable to participate. In a scheme of this scale, and with so much money going into it, we need to have entry points. Without entry points, we would not be able to focus the huge amounts of money where they are needed the most. It would raise the most difficult issues regarding how to get out of this.
I am going to consider some of the issues that Deputy Nash raised with me in the past and that have come to light again today, but I emphasise that the vast majority of companies have needed to avail of the EWSS, as the Deputy acknowledged. Some companies that found out they did not need the scheme as much as they thought they would returned the money to the Revenue Commissioners. I recognise that and thank the companies in question. I ask other companies to consider the practice that their peers have engaged in.