Friday, 27 March 2020
An Bille um Bearta Éigeandála ar mhaithe le Leas an Phobail (Covid-19) 2020: An Dara Céim - Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill 2020: Second Stage
I welcome the Tánaiste to the House. I congratulate him, the Taoiseach, the other members of the Government and all the political parties and Independents on the very constructive proposals put forward and on demonstrating the speed at which the legislation can pass through both Houses of the Oireachtas.I express my sympathy to the people who have died in these trying times. They are difficult times for families and for people who are waiting for results or waiting to be tested. There is an eerie feeling. As Senator Gavan said, when he drove through Dublin, there was very little traffic and very little movement other than people walking around town. One thing that this has done is made everybody the same. We are all in the one boat. We are all walking around with our hands in our pockets. It does not matter whether one is high and mighty or an ordinary person. Everybody is the same. They will get the same treatment. That applies the world over. This has brought the world to its knees. I believe that there will be a solution and that we will find a way out of this.
The Government is to be complimented on the way and the swiftness with which it is dealing with the issue. I believe that the present Government is the best to deal with this for the number of weeks that it will take to get on top of things. If there was a change of Government right now, there would be new Ministers, with different people in different portfolios. I think the people who are there at present are the best to deal with it at this time. They know what is happening in their Departments and they know the people who have the responsibilities, rather than having new people trying to get their feet under the table. While it is very important that a strong and stable Government would be put in place, and all of the negotiations should rightly take place, the present Government should be left in place until we get out of this crisis.
I am delighted that there is a sunset clause in this legislation and in the legislation that was passed last week. It is very important. It is also important that the Tánaiste said that if wrongs are done, they will be righted. I believe that when this is over, we should look at the legislation again to see where things went wrong and to see what can be made better. We passed emergency legislation during the crash. It had to be emergency legislation. We never looked at things that went wrong or that may have been done better in any great depth afterwards. We should have. I will give an example. In 2003 and 2004, legislation was introduced such that a redundancy payment of two weeks per year would be paid to employees, and rightly so. The people who came out worst from the crash were small sole traders. They had to pay for two weeks per year to all their employees, whether they went bust, downsized or whatever happened. Where some of those were not able to pay some or all of the redundancy to their employees, in some cases, they pleaded inability to pay, but Revenue is coming after them now. The only way out for them is that there will be a charge on their private house when they die. This does not happen to big companies. They have the option of going into liquidation and they can fold up. It is different in the case of the ordinary individual or sole trader. A number have contacted me. They have been left with substantial bills. In some cases, the State paid for the redundancy for the employees that they had employed. When they die, their houses will be sold and the funding that was paid to the employees on behalf of the employer will be taken out of the estate of that person.That is unfair. There was an anomaly in the legislation when it was brought in. There was a clause under which 70% could be clawed back for the two weeks. Michael Noonan, as Minister for Finance, got rid of this 70% claw-back in 2013 or 2014. It has left some of the people I have mentioned in a very precarious position.
I am delighted that the Minister has said that he will correct any mistakes that have been made. I am sure that means we will look at the legislation we are passing today and at that which we passed last week. Things will never be the same again. Work practices are going to change. More and more people will be working from home and from hubs. The way in which work is done will be changed forever. We will have to adapt and adopt new measures. I presume new legislation will have to be drafted in respect of all of these different things that will take place.
I wish the Tánaiste well in his endeavours over the coming weeks. I also wish everybody in this House and the front-line staff, whom numerous speakers have mentioned, well. These staff are a credit to the country. They are putting themselves on the line and we owe them a great debt of gratitude.