Seanad debates

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Report of Seanad Public Consultation Committee: Statements

 

10:30 am

Photo of Maire DevineMaire Devine (Sinn Fein)

This debate seems to allude to rural Ireland which I understand, but for myself, I get pretty fed up walking down the streets of this wonderful capital city, but seeing the same ubiquitous shops. It has all become very much the same. There is great excitement when one visits the sticks and finds different crafts and foods, which speak of who we are. Unfortunately, big cities tend to become very bland offering something that one will pick up worldwide. It is the SME that is unique and different.

The Seanad Public Consultation Committee has shown itself, under the tutelage and steerage of our esteemed Chairman, to be an invaluable committee in the past two years. We have proudly covered topics ranging from children's mental health to Travellers' rights. The Citizens' Assembly process has been well-documented and respected in recent times for the positive contribution it makes to our democracy, and I believe the Seanad Public Consultation Committee operates in a similar vein. We invite in the experts and the stakeholders, the people on the ground, and we explore, based on the scientific evidence, what is needed, the data required, and what are the problems and solutions. I look forward to the committee undertaking my own chosen topic; hopefully, we will produce a similarly comprehensive and detailed report and recommendations as was done with this fantastic report we are discussing here today.

On that note, I welcome the chance to speak and I commend Senator Ó Céidigh on bringing this topic to the committee. I was present during the consultation and it was a very comprehensive and enjoyable listen for me. I learned a great deal.

As this report indicates, it is going to take some big and creative ideas to support the growth of SMEs in Ireland, especially within the context of political uncertainty, climate change, and Brexit.

As the engine of the Irish economy, SMEs need a strong State agency advocating for them and providing support to sustain and grow our indigenous enterprise sector. This report recommends that we promote and encourage collaboration, cohesion and communication among the various organisations and bodies delivering supports and initiatives to SMEs.

In Sinn Féin's alternative budget we proposed the establishment of a new Irish enterprise agency to assist domestic SMEs. This organisation would provide the Government with advice and guidance on what SMEs, retailers and other enterprises want. This agency would ensure that the uptake of State supports and assistance being provided is of an equal standard and quality across the State.

We need to tackle some of the unfair cost of doing business. One such cost, as spoken about earlier, is in the area of insurance, and Deputy Pearse Doherty has taken a huge lead on this. These costs have become extortionate, ripping off consumers and closing down businesses. Our plan for insurance reform would stamp out fraud, protect consumers, ban price discrimination by the industry and reduce premiums for everyone.

To do this we need to set up a Garda insurance fraud unit, ban dual pricing by the insurance industry, enact and pass the Consumer Insurance Contracts Bill, abolish premium levies and put €230 million back in consumers' pockets, with State intervention to address the market failure. These measures would ensure fairer insurance premiums for small businesses and stop the rip-off of small businesses by big companies.

This report also makes 129 recommendations, some of which are around fostering female entrepreneurship. In Ireland, women are less likely to be entrepreneurs than men. Some 65% of new business owners are men, 35% are female. Of particular concern, also, is the fact that men and women differ in the terms of their attitudes and perceptions to entrepreneurship. A higher proportion of male adults in the total population, 52%, believe they have skills and knowledge to start up a new enterprise, compared to female adults at only 33%. In 2013, a higher proportion of men than women reported that they believed they had access to training on how to start or grow a business.

This seems to be a general phenomenon. In politics, men are often far more self-assured and self-confident than women. The National Women's Council of Ireland and Women for Election came up with the same idea, and asked whether it is how we are socialised as we grow up. Women are a lot more modest than men, and perhaps a bit more shy as well. What were those barriers? Many of these barriers are socialisation, how we are nurtured and reared, our culture, and our ties to home with children, and such issues. Sin scéal eile for another day. It is certainly stark when it comes to businesses and almost every other area of life.

Some 43% of females cite a fear of failure as stopping them in business compared with 36% of men. Some 25% of females have a role model through knowing a recent entrepreneur where 35% of men do. Further research shows that Ireland has a particularly big disparity between the proportion of men and women in the population who declare they have access to money to start or grow a business.

It is comforting to know that, as the Leas-Chathaoirleach noted, 8% of first-time start-ups six years ago were by women whereas last year this had climbed to 28%. There is hope for us yet.

Lack of female participation is bad for business, which we know. The point was also made during the consultation about apprenticeships, referenced a little earlier. There is a push to encourage more women to take these up, but the value of apprenticeships needs to be acknowledged and respected. It really goes against the grain for me that every child should have an automatic rite of passage to university and that this is somehow the be-all and end-all of their maturity.We know children sometimes have no interest in university but they still go because it is a bit of a doss. I did it myself quite a lot. Apprenticeships need to be valued and respected and we need to get women involved in them. They are of equal value and they provide the practical, hands-on skills we will need.

The recommendations have invaluable ideas on the overall development of SME but I want to elaborate on two other ideas. We need an increase in the research and development tax credit to 30% for SMEs to help to promote innovation and creativity within our economy. We want diverse and novel thinking, collaboration and Ireland as a leader. A bit more focus on the creation of workers' co-operative development units to promote workers' co-operatives in Ireland would be helpful. Ownership must be shared for society to have a fair and functioning economy that works for workers and for our communities, .

I caution that we prepare SMEs for a just transition to a carbon-neutral economy. In our climate action mission, we will all have to make serious changes, but we have acknowledged we should not leave anybody behind without support, and that includes SMEs. I welcome this report to the House and commend the work of the committee. There is much we can do to promote this from tackling insurance rip-offs to promoting female entrepreneurship. We need to remember and fully appreciate - to repeat what the Leas-Chathaoirleach said - that family enterprises have more attachment and grá for their communities and their employees. I welcome the 129 recommendations and, hopefully, the Minister of State and future Ministers and Ministers of State will have those recommendations embedded in future policies to support, enable and assist small businesses. Gabhaim comhghairdeas leis an Seanadóir Ó Céidigh.

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