Seanad debates

Friday, 30 April 2021

Business and Covid-19: Statements


10:00 am

Photo of Malcolm ByrneMalcolm Byrne (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I join others in welcoming the Tánaiste. I agree with Senator Keogan about the importance of social enterprise because as part of our recovery we do not just need an economic recovery, we also need to look at a social and community recovery. At the heart of that, I ask that we put young people first. That is important. Young people have made major contributions to help us through the pandemic. We know the levels of youth employment are temporarily off the charts but it is essential, as part of the recovery, that we ensure there is a new deal for young people. Part of that, as colleagues have stated, involves addressing low pay.The minimum wage for those aged under 18 must be addressed. In recognition of the contribution of young people, we need to address the fact that 16 and 17-year-olds continue to be paid a minimum wage of only €7.14 per hour.

I also want to talk about the importance of our cultural institutions and their reopening. The Tánaiste referred to the issue and I am aware that it falls within the brief of the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Martin. Our cultural institutions are not just important from an artistic perspective; they are also employers. For theatres, arts and music venues and for those in the entertainment industries, I ask that specific measures and packages be put in place.

We are currently reviewing the national development plan, NDP. I agree with Senator Currie on the importance of remote working and that it must be taken into account as part of the NDP. We are also dealing with the fallout from Brexit. One of the benefits of Brexit is that Rosslare Europort is continuing to grow. It is essential that the M11 be completed, from Oilgate to Rosslare, to allow greater access to the port.

Many colleagues have spoken about the impact on specific businesses. I want to address how consumer behaviour has changed, the impact that will have on business and the approach that Government will need to take as a result. IBEC showed recently that in the period from November 2020 to January 2021, 49 cent in every euro spent on credit and debit cards was spent on e-commerce. There has been a dramatic shift to online purchases, not just booking flights, as has traditionally been the case, but in a whole range of other areas. This has big implications. Many Irish businesses, including in the tourism sector, are still not online to the same extent as their international competitors. We must continue to roll out supports to get all of our businesses online.

While I welcome the commercial rates waiver, that decision exposes how outdated commercial rates are as a model for funding local government. The idea that local government is funded based on the size of a shop floor is a nonsense. The commercial rates model dates back to the era of George IV in 1826. The business environment has been transformed since then. As a model of funding local government, we should abolish commercial rates. We need to find a new way of doing this. It is completely unfair that a shop on our main street that contributes to the local community is asked to pay commercial rates, whereas online operators with which it may compete do not have to contribute. This represents unfair competition.

We are seeing growing rates of cybercrime and the State needs to address the issue. The banking world is being completely transformed. There are discussions on having a new commission on the future of banking. I ask that the Tánaiste ensure that consumers are represented on that commission, both businesses and individuals. If it is only the old established players, they will not innovate. We have to look at new blockchain technologies and how they will support our businesses.

We see the adoption of new technologies and wonderful new opportunities becoming available in education and training. We must focus on upskilling and reskilling. We are seeing how technology is changing everything we do and disrupting. It is crucial that we invest in upskilling and reskilling as we come out of this period.

I am very happy today as we see the bid for the technological university of the south east being lodged. I am sure Senator Cummins will also refer to this issue. Investment must be made in higher and further education to ensure we are able to recover properly and fully.

I thank the Tánaiste for his work and the Government’s commitment and I look forward to his response.


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