Wednesday, 6 November 2019
Report of Seanad Public Consultation Committee: Statements
The Leas-Chathaoirleach should not get excited. Leading on from there, as Senator Ó Céidigh has said, education is the most important thing. Our schools and colleges have to be able to shift and change course very rapidly. They really have to work hand in hand with small, and indeed large, businesses. If they do not, these jobs will not come about.
I know there has been a slight ramping up of apprenticeships. We have talked about this on the floor here a number of times. There has been a genuine attempt to ramp up the numbers but I feel that people are still caught between a rock and hard place in respect of the apprenticeship schemes. If a kid who is not school-oriented gets fewer than five honours in the junior certificate, he or she will not qualify for an apprenticeship. It may not be the best way to assess some of these kids. Perhaps they should be put into a business, whether in the wet trades, with an electrician, or whatever else, and we can see if they stay the course for a year. If they are keen to progress, one could look at offering them an apprenticeship at that stage. The only way to access apprenticeships if one does not have those qualifications or examination results is to spend three years working with a chippy, a carpenter, or whatever else. That is far too long if we want these kids to progress. It is something at which we can look further. There has been work done but we should look at it further.
Many of us here are from the same background, that of small business and small enterprise. The helps for people who take a chance, perhaps leaving a State job or something to that effect, to set up a small enterprise are not too convincing. We have looked at the contributions from the State that people who fail can avail of. These have changed recently. Some State help is now available to those who fail, which was not the case heretofore. Even though that is now the case, there is still no correlation between the money one pays into the tax system and what one gets out of the contributory State pension at the end of the day. This is not the case if one is a Senator, Minister or State employee. We really have to look at this if we want to encourage more entrepreneurship and throw down the gauntlet as a small trading nation, which we do. We are very lucky in that we develop great entrepreneurs. There is something to be done there. The maximum contributory State pension is €248 or €250. That is not good enough for somebody taking a big chance. If they are going to be successful, employ many people, and pay a hell of a lot of tax, this is the least we can do. They do get breaks and so on in respect of private pensions but many people start off small and are not thinking that they may have a pot of gold at the end to divert into a pension. It may never happen. Even with regard to the State pension, the State cannot lose because it will be taxed anyway.That is something else at which we could certainly look. There is a certain amount of red tape. I accept that quite a bit of it comes from the European Union. There was reference to it the other day when Senators Norris and McDowell were discussing certain banking regulations. There is a certain amount of red tape which we in Ireland are also quite good at introducing. I could get into a number of examples, but I will not delay our discussion today.
I have also picked out the issue of the Cabinet Minister which Senator Ó Céidigh has highlighted heavily. The Minister of State has excelled whenever he has come before the Seanad. I know that his is the junior position, but the area of small and medium enterprises deserves to be served by a full Minister. I have no doubt that having such a position would help to attract more jobs to the country.
I have two final points related to the county from which I come, Westmeath, in which quite a lot of agricultural activity takes place. I was happy to see the number of small businesses in the county and how highly it rated in some of the graphs included in the report. With reference to agriculture, Burger King has introduced a non-meat burger. I am told that in America one quarter of milk sold is non-dairy. That has happened within a very short timeframe. We have to work to diversify the agriculture sector. We have the land required, very skilled farmers and a lot of know-how, but we have to stay ahead. Senator Coghlan has spoken about the Kerry Group, Dairygold and all of the work great companies such as Origin are doing in producing products, including protein bars and so on. That is the way forward for us and it is something on which we have to work within the agriculture sector. We could be doing smarter things in the agriculture industry, rather than talking about sending stuff to the far end of China. We have very clever guys in the agriculture industry. With the right help from the enterprise bodies, we could do a little more.
I will throw out a point about the planning matrix. I have a lot of interest in planning since my time as a councillor. If one looks at retail units on the main street in any given town, even in Killarney or outside the gates in Dublin but especially in my own town and many others in the midlands, one sees nail bars, hairdressers, coffee shops, fast food outlets, beauty salons and betting shops. Our main streets are populated only by these cheap service industries which make up much of the small enterprise and industry sector and provide much employment, but most of the jobs are paid poorly. Can we do better in that regard? With councils and enterprise bodies, we have to see how we can do better in the retail sector. We are all aware of Internet retail services and how they have hurt main street retail units, but there is also a big gap in the area, which is something at which we could look, perhaps through the Minister of State's Department. A little more thinking or stability could help to create more productive jobs and might be of some help to us.