Friday, 30 April 2021
Business and Covid-19: Statements
I echo the comments of my colleague from Wexford on the technological university of the south east. I also welcome the Tánaiste's engagement with us on this very important topic of business and post-Covid recovery. Yesterday was undoubtedly a very exciting day. The sense of optimism that circulated the entire country awaiting the news on the reopening plan was palpable.It has probably gone a little bit further than what many expected, which was a good surprise. It is now up to us, as a collective, to ensure the reopening plan is completed in the most efficient manner possible. We made significant progress on the reopening of house building at the start of this month and I welcome the moves to reopen construction fully from next Tuesday. We have been an outlier in Europe and we have seen a loss of some of our skilled workers to other countries in recent months. I hope that when we are fully reopened and projects are proceeding at a pace we can get many of these workers back to Ireland.
The confirmation that there will be no cliff edge for the financial supports for businesses has been well flagged by the Government despite many in opposition stating the opposite. The fact there will be a double CRSS payment, up to the statutory maximum of €5,000 per week, to support businesses in reopening as they exit the scheme is very welcome.
Many will be eagerly awaiting 10 May for barbers, hairdressers and personal services to reopen. I wish all those businesses well in getting through the backlog. I do not have to worry too much about my hair but even I could do with a haircut at this stage. In this context, I wonder whether the Tánaiste agrees that we have to re-examine the €2 billion Covid credit guarantee scheme, which is targeted at small and medium enterprises, small and mid-caps and primary producers. It is an excellent scheme but despite the Government underwriting 80% of the loans, it seems, on the face of it at least, that the banks are not living up to their end of the bargain. The most recent figures I have show that only €215 million has been approved despite the applications made amounting to €358 million. Something is not tallying and we need to rejig the scheme and hold the banks to account so they do what we are asking them to do, which is to lend to SMEs because they will need funds as they open.
Looking forward to June and the reopening of the hospitality sector, it is hugely welcome that the Oireachtas joint committee passed a waiving of fees for section 254 licences during the week for outside tables and chairs for the remainder of the year. I welcome that we are not distinguishing between traditional pubs that do not serve food and those that do. It is only appropriate that we do not differentiate between the supports available to them. This is why I call for the €17 million outdoor dining enhancement scheme to be available to all hospitality businesses.
We know that all gyms are not equal. Many training facilities have adapted and changed their protocols and have been operating successfully with pods of one and no sharing of equipment and no interaction between people. These are different to commercial gym operators. I had calls last night and early this morning from people looking to see whether something can be done for them. Perhaps the Minister will take this on board.
The arts and entertainment sectors, which were referenced by Senator Malcolm Byrne, are part of a big industry that employs many. People in the sectors believe that because they were not mentioned, the sectors have not been included. I know they are incorporated in the plan but I would appreciate if some clarity could be given to these sectors.
I would appreciate it if the Minister would engage with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, on the tax treatment of the pandemic unemployment payment so that people returning to work are not placed on emergency tax. It is an issue that we need to examine.
I welcome the plan outlined yesterday. It gives an element of certainty at a time when we do not have much certainty in the world. I thank the Minister and his colleagues in Cabinet for their work.