Friday, 30 April 2021
Business and Covid-19: Statements
I, equally, take this opportunity to welcome the Tánaiste to the House. The last time I spoke to him I was on the other side of the aisle asking him questions on employment in Arklow. I want to put on record at this point my thanks, from a hospitality industry point of view, for the supports that have been given to the industry without which we would not be surviving here today.
Originally, this debate was to be on the medium to long-term effects of Covid on my industry but last night's announcement has probably brought it back to today's scenario. Last night gave us a significant element of hope that we are returning to what will be a new normality. Let us hope we do not go back from that new normality because businesses cannot afford to go back from that. I do not mean that only from a commercial point of view. There is health and well-being to consider.
I was with my brother yesterday at 6 p.m. when the announcement was made. Even though I knew what was coming, it was not real until the Taoiseach said it.Immediately things changed, so we dropped the paintbrushes, the steam cleaners were put away and the gardening stopped. We now go back to what we should always have been doing, namely, ordering, looking to trying to hire staff and starting to promote the business. However, we are doing that from a privileged point of view because we own a hotel. I must acknowledge the inequality in last night's announcement. We operate a hotel so we will be able to open for indoor dining on 2 June. The restaurant down the road, to which the same conditions and regulations will be applied, cannot open and the pub further down the road cannot open. We will be allowed to offer indoor dining for a full week before outdoor dining actually opens up. When 10 May arrives, the locals can come up to my hotel and dine outside while the privileged people, the residents, can dine indoors. There is a certain sense of inequality there and I am not too sure about it.
The other thing that was missing last night was the roadmap to when indoor dining will actually happen. A lack of news in that regard is leading to a significant frustration among people. I am not too sure if this is based on science or on something else. If it is based on science, give us the information because the industry needs it and restore equality for everyone because, as I said, restaurants must comply with the same regulations as hotels and vice versa.
The Tánaiste stated that my industry has been one of those most affected by the pandemic. We now look to medium- to long-term solutions. The previous Government, which the Tánaiste led, looked to the hospitality industry to take us out of the crisis we were experiencing at that time. During that period, more than 90,000 new jobs were created in the tourism industry. I tell the Tánaiste that it is now the tourism industry looking to the Government for support so it can survive. As he will be well aware, it has been very difficult for our industry to access credit with the banking industry and to refinance. Trying to borrow new money when one is struggling to pay off existing debt is very difficult. The Government has different ways it can assist us in that regard. The 9% VAT rate has been mentioned in that context. It can assist us. It allows us to gain an extra 4% in our margins, which goes to bottom line and allows us to pay off our bills. Whole tax warehousing of VAT and PRSI is also a way to proceed. If that could be reinvented in a new format whereby it is equally applied to everybody, it could give credit to businesses over a certain period and would prevent them having to go to the banking industry for loans. Therefore, indirectly, through Revenue, the Government could help fund the ongoing operating costs of the industry through a warehousing scheme.
My time is running our very quickly. On VAT, trying to restore international commercial tourism - because our city centres have been more affected than anywhere else - introducing a VAT refund scheme for conference events from outside Europe would be an option. These are among the little changes the Government can make and directly intervene to help the industry survive. It is all about our margins at the end of the day and the Government has many things it could do in that regard.