Seanad debates

Friday, 30 April 2021

Business and Covid-19: Statements


10:00 am

Photo of Emer CurrieEmer Currie (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Tánaiste and commend him on launching his pathway out of the pandemic which successfully combines hope and caution. The Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, summed up our health approach quite nicely on Wednesday when he said that we need to keep the numbers low and the vaccines high. I would add that we need to continue to limit our contacts but widen our access to services, allow the movement of people but continue to restrict the virus. We have always focused on saving lives and livelihoods but we have put severe pressure on our hospitality, retail, leisure and events industries and the communities which depend on them. We have learned a great deal along the way and we cannot miss the opportunity to build back better.I am reassured by the steps the Government is taking in that regard, such as introducing a living wage, working with the Low Pay Commission, introducing sick pay, the proposals on the right to disconnect, the right to request flexible work and, of course, the SME task force that it is hoped will look at issues such as the challenges around digital working.

The businesses with which I have engaged talk about ongoing EWSS and CRSS payments, grant waivers, debt warehousing and VAT at 9%. They could not be eased into the crisis but they can be eased out of it. They are worried about their levels of debt, so the double CRSS in May and June is good news which will support businesses reopening, as is the commitment that by the end of May we will have a clear path for people and businesses from July onwards. Certain sectors, and even sectors within sectors, will continue to need particular support, especially restaurants and pubs that cannot serve outside and the tourism, events and aviation industries. Hotels in Dublin and other cities will need additional attention as they may not pull in the same numbers during the summer as other parts of the country. Outdoor dining supports should be made available to all pubs.

We need to think about waste management in our public outdoor spaces. I am talking about litter. I have spoken previously in this House about the Casual Trading Act 1995. Councils need to look at their individual by-laws and bring in things like litter management, and the relevant Minister can issue guidelines on that. I hope the role of antigen testing comes into clearer focus as part of the plan the Government will be bringing out in May.

The traffic on our streets has increased in the past week so I welcome the advice that people should continue to work from home until September. The Return to Work Safely Protocol was last updated in November, before the vaccine roll-out. Maybe we should update it to address the vaccine and include vaccine-related advice for employers.

I could not have the Tánaiste here and not talk about remote working infrastructure. Surveys currently show that most people want a hybrid approach to office life but people can only ask for what they know. I want us to ensure people who want to move to places where they cannot commute to the office two or three days a week can still benefit from the Our Rural Future plans, which are excellent, and with the right approach they and those communities can do so. There are growing numbers of Irish-founded, location-agnostic companies in Ireland like Flexco, which has more than 1,000 employees, Flipdish and Glofox. There are also international companies like Spotify and GitLab, which is the biggest remote employer in Ireland. These companies are run through a technology-first approach. It is tech that brings the company together rather than a building, so it does not matter if people are in Malin Head or Mizen Head because they will have the same work experience and opportunities. Organisations that want to embrace hybrid working could learn a lot from these companies. Not all roles can be done remotely, but if we are going to make remote working work, we need to look at merging the successful principles of the remote companies we have here in Ireland with those of office-based companies to create the best hybrid practices. The Government can play a leadership and educational role to help ensure the supply of good remote jobs and opportunities if we are going to make the rural future strategy flourish. A little in this area will go a long way.

The announcement of €5 million yesterday for the connected hubs fund as part of Our Rural Future is fantastic. However, I do not want to see our cities, urban villages and suburban areas left behind. There seem to be fewer funds available for those areas. These areas do not have the real estate for home offices. They could have a potent mix of traditional businesses on the main street combined with innovation-driven remote working hubs, which could be very powerful. Places like Blanchardstown village could benefit from such an approach. I could go on but I will finish up on time.


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