Friday, 30 April 2021
Business and Covid-19: Statements
I welcome the Tánaiste to the House. I am delighted to be here and thank him for his kind welcome. I also thank all Members for welcoming me back warmly. It is a great honour and privilege to be here. I thank the Members of the other House for being so welcoming and supportive over the past number of months. I look forward to working with all Oireachtas Members.
It is a most opportune time to have this debate in respect of the business sector and Covid-19. Even before my election to the House, I spoke to many business owners who told me they have found the past 12 months most difficult. In the agrifood business and agriculture sector, there has been a significant shift in consumer demand and trading conditions. When I have spoken to small agrifood business owners, they have reported that while they have welcomed the emergence of remote working, there has been an effect on productivity. While they have overcome it, they have encountered difficulties when trying to obtain containers for the exporting of goods to non-EU countries. It has been a major issue for many agrifood businesses. The cost of transporting some of those crates has gone into double digits, which certainly has been a barrier to international trade. That is an issue that perhaps could be looked at.
Off-farm employment is also a significant issue. CAP has been spoken about a lot and there is an ongoing debate on it. It is very important that CAP payments be retained and given to farmers on a transparent basis. These payments are an important support to the farming industry.
Another issue that has been reported by business owners concerns access to funds. Normally, business owners have to pay trade invoices within 30 days. They are finding it difficult to access finance from the bank. Some of them are seeking to extend that period to 80 or 90 days, and it is affecting small businesses. I ask for something to be done about this issue. I understand that in France there are mandatory state credit terms and a debt collection procedure is in place. Perhaps that is something that could be considered here. I am sure it would require legislative change. While businesses have tried to work together, there are differences.
I welcome the clear plan that was announced yesterday and all the positive supports that have been in place. I support Senator Casey's view in respect of the inequality in the hospitality industry. For example, hotels will be open to residents in the short term and subsequently opened up, but people cannot dine inside restaurants and gastropubs. Many businesses cannot reopen because they do not have the outside space to facilitate outdoor dining. A special case should be made for the industry. I support the call on the VAT rate and I am of the view that a reduction in employer PRSI would be a great help. I am in favour of a proper marketing campaign for the hospitality industry, because as the Tánaiste acknowledged, it is one of the industries most affected by the pandemic. The industry is also facing a skills shortage, because many skilled workers left the industry for other sectors when there was uncertainty during the pandemic.
I would also like to raise the issue of the aviation sector. It has three key demands: a multi-year funding arrangement for State-owned regional airports, a stimulus package for airlines to encourage the rebuilding of air traffic and increased regional route marketing funds available to tourism. These demands are important because airports play a key role in the sector.
The Tánaiste also referred to the vaccine programme. Some 12,000 pharmacists have registered to become vaccinators. They have not yet been called to take up this role. Will they be used in the vaccine roll-out? It would certainly help increase the number of vaccinators available.
Many businesses have shown resilience in the pandemic. I would like to wish them all the best for their future opening.There are many other things I would like to say but time has run out.