Friday, 30 April 2021
Business and Covid-19: Statements
I thank the Tánaiste for attending. I send sincere best wishes to the people of India in particular, who are going through a very difficult time at the moment, and beyond. Any support the Government can give, must be given.
It is important to acknowledge the substantial, unprecedented supports which the Tánaiste has outlined and which the Government has put in place, while also recognising that, despite these supports, thousands of businesses across the country remain under significant pressure due to the crisis not of their making. The Tánaiste touched on it matter earlier, and I believe that we need to consider an examinership-like process to allow any insolvent SMEs to restructure debts using a fast-track process without the large expense of going to court, which would prove too costly for SMEs. I would appreciate it if the Tánaiste could indicate whether any changes to the current structure may be implemented, especially for the hospitality sector, which is extremely labour-intensive in nature. Part of the criteria might need to be looked at in the context of employment details in order to meet that criteria. While most sectors have been negatively impacted by the pandemic, the scale of damage has not been the same for all. The hospitality sector has paid a heavier price than most, as we all know. The sector employed almost 200,000 people and was worth in the region of €8 billion to our economy prior to Covid.
The recent announcement by An Taoiseach that there will be a hospitality sector stimulus package in the coming months is much-needed and positive news. I acknowledge the restart week Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, payment announced yesterday, which will allow businesses that are able to open as restrictions are eased to claim increased and double payments for a number of weeks. Businesses in the sector have been shut for the vast majority of the past 15 months, some of them for the entirety of that period. This has been the case, unfortunately, for traditional pubs across the country, especially in Dublin. There will be substantial work needed for these businesses to be in a suitable condition for reopening and this will come at considerable expense. It would be worth examining whether some of the funding planned for the hospitality sector stimulus could be used now to provide a restart grant for these businesses. I would be interested to hear the views of the Tánaiste on that.
The employment wage subsidy scheme is currently scheduled to run until the end of June. I appreciate that it is being run at considerable expense to the State but strong consideration needs to be given to extending the scheme for the remainder of 2021. The feedback I have received, particularly in Galway city, is that the scheme is essential in order to give businesses an opportunity to rebuild while limiting their expenses. We all want business to survive, rebound from this crisis and grow again and, if we make extra investment now, it may prove the difference for thousands of businesses across the country getting back on their feet and giving them a window to ensure they can become sustainable before supports are removed.As for yesterday's announcement, I ask the Tánaiste to give consideration to restaurants, coffee shops and gastropubs. He will be familiar with this in Dublin but I refer in particular to the inner city where I am from, in Galway. There are two hotels in my area on the same street and yet my food-serving business will not be allowed open. I ask the Tánaiste, if possible, to publish the medical evidence to state why it is allowed for restaurants in hotels to be open and not restaurants across the street. It is a bit unfair and needs to be looked at.
The outdoor areas will be used by people within that vicinity and the guests will be kept in the hotels. As a compromise, it might be suitable that no alcohol be served in the indoor area and a timescale be put in place up to 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. It is difficult for the restaurants and coffee shops that bring life and vibrancy to our cities. We need to look at that again and give consideration to no alcohol being served indoors and up to a certain period of time.
We need to support hospitality. We need to treat all hospitality sectors equally. It is a particularly difficult time. The Tánaiste mentioned it in his contribution. Will the Tánaiste give a commitment to publishing the scientific and medical advice as to why indoor gastropubs, restaurants and coffee shops cannot open when hotels can?