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 hope my colleague, Senator Marshall, does not mind me standing behind him. I extend my deep sympathies to Senator Ruane on the passing of her nan. I know they were very close. In my time here, Senator Ruane has been an absolutely fabulous Senator and it was a pleasure to work with her during these four years.
I will focus on the issues facing SMEs, if I may. What has been said already is very true. I will not go back and repeat all of it. Senator Mulherin made a point which relates to section 28(3) or 28(4) and to company law and companies or small businesses acting fraudulently. In order to get this funding one must sign a declaration stating that one's business's turnover has fallen by 25% and that it cannot keep going. From a legal and company law perspective, that is a significant challenge. Senator Mulherin is well placed to comment on that area because she is a lawyer and understands that space. There are a couple of other areas of interest as well. There are a couple of issues with the model.One big issue is what is happening with many companies whose costs of operating are increasing significantly. It should not be measured on sales but on sales minus cost to achieve this. One might have many sales or the same number as last year, but that does not mean one is making a profit or that one's cash flow is positive.
I spoke to the Tánaiste a couple of weeks ago and I greatly appreciate the interaction he and the Taoiseach shared with me regarding small and medium-sized businesses. There are 250,000 of them in the country, employing almost 1.2 million people. I asked at the time, and am asking again now, if we could set up an urgent SME task force with SME people who are on the front line in the task force to offer the knowledge of what it is like to do this. SMEs want to employ people and to keep their businesses going. As the Tánaiste said when I spoke to him earlier, there are two parts to this. We have to keep our head above water now, which is primarily about liquidity. However, what happens when this finishes and we are back to some sense of normality? Those companies and businesses must get up and running again rather than continue in survival mode. Another slightly different strategy is required in that regard.
Two policies are being adopted by the ECB, Europe and other countries throughout the world, including Ireland. One is a monetary policy that is focused on the Central Bank and what it is doing, which is decreasing interest rates. That is fine, but interest rates are low anyway. It is increasing money supply by buying Government and corporate bonds. The ECB has relaxed the rules under which national central banks must operate to create greater monetary flexibility. Then there are the fiscal policies that governments are introducing. I must conclude, but I ask the Tánaiste to ask his colleagues to set up the SME task force as soon as possible. I was on a webinar this morning with approximately 100 SMEs. They employ over 300,000 people. Some of the issues they raised were extremely interesting and important. They are wearing the jersey as much as everybody else. They are as passionate about their employees and our country as are employees and everybody on the front line. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as a bheith ag éisteacht liom.