Friday, 30 April 2021
Business and Covid-19: Statements
I too, welcome the Tánaiste to the House, as well as the hope that many of the Government announcements brought to people around the country. One only had to listen to "Morning Ireland" this morning to hear what this meant to grandparents, in particular. It gives hope to so many people. However, there are a number of areas I would like to bring up with the Tánaiste that have been flagged with me by various business owners in recent weeks and days.
The Government has been able to get to this day due to the enormous sacrifices of the Irish people. It is important we now ensure, to the greatest possible level, that we never go back to level 5 lockdowns and do everything we can to achieve this. It is equally important that business owners and employees know exactly where they stand with regard to the temporary wage measures introduced by the Government.
I heard the Tánaiste state last night that Government will not allow a cliff-edge and that an announcement would be made by the end of May. Speaking to a number of business owners and those in receipt of these payments, there is a need for certainty and clarity and to allow business to plan. There is also a call that even when these businesses reopen, as has been said here this morning, some form of wage support should continue for a number of weeks while businesses and their employees find their feet in an emerging Ireland, still dealing with levels of Covid-19. I hope that serious consideration is given to such a payment.
We can never go back, particularly for the many businesses that had opened for short periods, only to close their doors once again due to the new waves of infection that were targeting our country. During this time, it was the small family businesses in the main that were hit most. They were under serious threat from large multiples which, whether we like it or not, had traded during the pandemic and were selling many of the items these smaller family-run businesses were not allowed to sell. This can never happen again. These same small, family-run businesses are the heartbeat of many of our towns and communities and many are close to closure and will need support into the future.
Another issue raised with me by a number of businesses is the rates waiver offered by the Government this year. These are businesses that had to take out working capital loans to keep their businesses going. In securing these loans, the projected turnover they gave to their financial institutions has not materialised, due to the Covid-19 restrictions they are operating under. However, their local authority tells them they have not demonstrated that their turnover in the claim period from 1 January to 31 March did not exceed 25% of the average weekly turnover for the governing year of 2019.
I ask the Tánaiste and his Department to reconsider this turnover limit for those who have contacted me. I am sure there are other businesses in the same position and a rates waiver could mean the ability to continue for many of those who have contacted me and, I am sure, others in this House.
As we look forward to an Irish summer at home, there are a number of points I would like to bring up with the Tánaiste.There is a very welcome exemption for restaurants to operate as takeaways for the remainder of 2021. The removal of section 254 fees was also a step in the right direction. However, I have received a number of queries from those operating in our towns and villages about the third part of the announcement, which is that awnings and coverings will be treated as street furniture. Will the Tánaiste confirm today that this will be the case and that local authorities will not send inspectors out to examine every awning and its location? For this to work for business, those in this trade will need to erect coverings, and they need to know they will be okay and will not face inspections.
Another issue I am sure the Tánaiste and every Member in this House has been contacted about is the urgent need to provide extra bins and public toilets in many of our villages and towns in scenic areas. We are in exceptional and unprecedented times. The answers I am getting back from councillors throughout the country is that they are being told by the executives of their local authorities that they have no money to provide this service or the hours it would take to clean up these situations by paying staff. Leaving aside collective responsibility for the moment, we have already had a debate in this House on this issue and on litter. I introduced legislation on the matter that I hope Government will assist further. Let us instead take a common-sense approach and provide the finance to our local authorities to allow for these bins and extra toilets, thereby presenting and encouraging our population to go outdoors and avail of the terrific fare so many of our restaurants and food outlets provide.
The so-called food trucks are a growing area which have brought many people into the food business. I would appreciate it if the Tánaiste could look at this area and possibly bring forward legislation and supports for what needs to happen for these businesses and what they are providing for so many new people who have entered the food industry.
On the eve of May Day I will finish by thanking, as the Tánaiste has already done and I am sure everybody in the House will, all those workers who have worked without fear or favour since this pandemic began. It is always important to remember those who have lost their lives while working during these turbulent times for our country. I will take the opportunity to raise with the Tánaiste the totally unacceptable current levels of youth unemployment in this country. I have previously raised my concerns and the concerns of those working in this area when we discussed this matter last year. At that time, Government, including the Tánaiste, acknowledged this was a serious problem and that Government would do all in its power to address it. At that stage, the level was just over 30%. Today, estimates are that the figure could be close to around 50%. There is no doubt the pandemic is responsible for contributing to these unacceptably high figures when the traditional youth employment areas of tourism are hit most. I ask Government to address it.