Thursday, 16 December 2021
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Mr. Mark Paul broke the story in The Irish Timesyesterday that a company called MML Holdings, which owns O'Flaherty Holdings, received €1.8 million in taxpayer funded wage subsidies in 2020. It made profits of nearly €10 million last year but here is the rub. It also paid out a dividend of almost exactly the same amount as subsidy to Hailstone Holdings, an offshore company in the Isle of Man tax haven. This is some coincidence.
These related companies ultimately flog Mercedes cars to well-heeled people across the country. The O'Flaherty family made a tidy profit last year while the people of Ireland picked up the bill for the wages of their workers; a bill paid for with the borrowings that future generations will have to pay.
This would make Boycie, the car dealer in "Only Fools and Horses", blush. We know from The Irish Times that Prometric and its related companies were at it too. This is a company the State uses to operate our driver theory tests. It paid out €1.25 million in dividends last year having received a total of approximately €1.5 million in wage subsidies to date. I hope the Tánaiste will agree that this is absolutely extraordinary.
The wage subsidy schemes that this House has supported have saved jobs and kept good businesses going but surely the scheme was never meant to line the pockets of big investors. Even Santa Clause would not be this generous. I can guarantee that this story does not end here. The Government is big on corporate welfare but it is not big on corporate obligations. The truth is the Government was warned that this abuse would happen.
From the get-go, the Labour Party and I have argued for strict social, economic and labour conditions to be attached to the schemes. We have said in the House that there should be no supports for companies registered in tax havens, for companies with enough cash to pay dividends or for companies that ignore recommendations from the WRC or the Labour Court. Other countries attached conditionality to ensure state aid would not go to companies registered in tax havens. France and Austria included dividend bans but no such strings were attached here. All we currently have are Revenue compliance checks. It is clear that companies that are, and were, profitable should be looking at whether they really need that support from the State. The Minister for Finance seems to agree with me.
We have called repeatedly for the EWSS to be transformed into a permanent short-time working scheme with conditions. We know that these schemes operate well to save jobs when the economy is in difficulty. Will the Tánaiste call on O'Flaherty Holdings and Prometric to repay the pandemic supports that they obviously did not need? Will the Government now carry out a full audit of the payments made to companies to find out if other companies profited from wage subsidy schemes in this way? Because we are at risk of losing tens of thousands of jobs next year, will the Government put in place a permanent revised short-time working scheme with conditions as I have consistently advised?