Friday, 30 April 2021
Business and Covid-19: Statements
I welcome the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. He gave a thoughtful speech and I will begin by making a number of points on the back of that. The Minister spoke about the global situation with vaccines. Perhaps he will clarify whether his Government will support the call for a waiver on intellectual property rights for vaccines? That is what the world needs and we need to be at the forefront in making that call.
I welcome the Minister's comments on the sick pay Bill and we look forward to working with him on it. I also welcome his commitment to progressing towards a living wage, which is extremely important, and remote working. I am looking forward to working with the Minister on those matters.
I am conscious of time so I will rattle through a few of these points as quickly as I can. I welcome the additional supports announced yesterday regarding the CRSS. Unfortunately we still have this issue of the exclusion of businesses without a fixed premises. It seems extremely unfair and I ask the Minister to have a further look at it.
The issue of business debt is a concern. I know the Minister supplied data to a colleague of mine telling us that there is €1 billion in tax liabilities under the debt warehousing scheme. That is a good scheme that deserves support but we need to make sure that as businesses come out of lockdown, they are not tripped up by those liabilities. I know many suggestions have been made in that regard, such as reduced interest rates or some kind of elongated payments. Again, I would be interested to hear the Minister's comments on that issue.
Like others, I want to focus on retail and I have two key asks in this regard.The first is that the Government heed the call from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to set up a retail stakeholder group of employers, unions and Departments to agree and develop a new vision for retail because we know it will not work the way it did previously. There has been a real shock in terms of the volume of online trading. We need to see that group up and running. I hope the Tánaiste will give me a positive response to that.
Second, he must implement the Duffy Cahill recommendations to protect workers facing collective redundancy situations. As he alluded to, we are facing a significant number of redundancies. I fear many of them will be in the retail sector. Many of the Debenhams workers have been on the picket line for more than a year. I was a SIPTU official during the Clerys dispute. It is completely unacceptable for the Government to ignore a report that is now five years old with practical proposals to protect workers and their right to decent collective redundancy. I ask the Tánaiste to give us a positive answer and a timeline in respect of that issue.
On the building back better strategy, I am glad the Tánaiste referenced the number of essential workers and the fact that so many of them are not well paid at present. In fact, our rate on low pay is 23%. It is much higher than the OECD average of 15%. We have a means of addressing that, which is to use our procurement policy much better than we do. The State spend each year is €12 billion. We need to adopt community wealth-building principles whereby we use key anchor institutions, both nationally and locally, get them to do procurement differently and build in clauses relating to a living wage, collective bargaining and high environmental standards. That way we will see a much benefit for our local economies. It is a different way of doing business. It is essential. It is core Sinn Féin policy and we are very keen to work with the Tánaiste on it. We need to see that change. If we do not build back better, we will go back to the bad old ways of doing things which left us with this high rate of low-paid workers of 23%. I would like to see new thinking in that regard.
In the time left, I need to address the issue of Shannon Airport. This is a difficult one for the Tánaiste because he was intimately involved in the making the airport independent eight years ago. At that time, in fairness, there were cheerleaders across the mid-west saying it was a good idea. The situation has changed. He will probably be aware that every political party in this Chamber has called on him, via the Oireachtas transport committee reports, to reintegrate Shannon into a network of airports. Pitching Shannon into competition with Dublin and Cork on an island this small was never a good idea but the notion that it is still a good idea in the wake of Covid is frankly ludicrous. We need to build back better, in particular, with Shannon, and that means reintegrating Shannon into a national airport authority. I would ask the Tánaiste to agree not only with me, but with his colleagues, Deputies Carey and O'Donnell from the mid-west, and Senator Buttimer, all of whom signed up to this call to reintegrate Shannon into a new national airport authority. We have had years of failure regarding Shannon. It is, as others have mentioned, key to the future of the mid-west in terms of tourism and commercial activity. This is the time when we have to make those changes. It is an abject failure of Government policy if we do not make those changes soon. We have already had a year of inaction on this. Bring Shannon back into a new national airport authority. Give Shannon the future and the investment that it deserves. Do not go by the old failed policies. The Tánaiste is isolated on this issue at this point. All political parties are calling on the Tánaiste to act on Shannon and I call on him to do that today as well.