Seanad debates

Friday, 30 April 2021

Business and Covid-19: Statements


10:00 am

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

The Tánaiste is very welcome to the House on this important day on which hope, supports, a path forward and a significant level of vaccinations intersect. This is all in stark contrast to India, the homeland of the Tánaiste's father, from where we see upsetting and disturbing images. I am glad Ireland is playing a role in helping those in need but we must do more, especially to ensure vaccines can be supported worldwide.

From speaking to business owners in County Kildare, I know they have been glad of the supports rolled out in recent months. On that fateful day last March when the then Taoiseach, and now Tánaiste, addressed us as a nation from Washington, none of us could have foreseen the 14 months we experienced subsequently.It is good that we did not know but the plans that were put in place gave a very supportive lifeline to many businesses. It has been a learning curve for all of us, in particular for those businesses. There are a few areas we need to re-examine, particularly businesses that did not have a rateable premises. They were treated unfairly. We need to look again at the VAT issue for tourism and hospitality because it will take some time before we get back to the days we had, when we still wanted more supports.

I salute the workers in businesses and retail that kept our country going and kept us on our feet, particularly those essential workers in the retail industry who manned the tills, stocked the shelves and made sure we got everything we needed. We need to acknowledge and support those workers, many of whom are on the minimum wage. That is why I welcome the sense of moving towards a living wage. We also need to acknowledge the situations that Debenhams workers, for example, found themselves in and do our best to ensure none of our workers ever find themselves in that situation again.

On access to credit, from speaking to local businesses I know that many of them have been struggling. They are looking at how they move forward. There is a huge squeeze on from the banks and a lack of compassion and understanding which, in fairness, the Government has shown. I believe that strong conversations and more than that need to happen between the Government and the financial sector. The stresses on business people are absolutely massive and we need to make sure they are not added to.

Kildare is getting ready for business. We are a vibrant county, strategically located and with a highly educated workforce. Normally, this week we would be in the midst of the Punchestown festival, where visitors from all over the world come and spend money in our hotels, restaurants and shops. Sadly, that is not happening even though racing is going ahead. We also have the greenway and the blueway opening up, so there are many opportunities there. However, we need more investment in terms of enterprise supports for north-west Kildare and south Kildare. These areas were dependent on Bord na Móna and associated industries, and have been completely left behind. I ask the Tánaiste to look at supports he can bring for them.

I pay tribute to our local chamber of commerce and our local enterprise office headed up by Jackie McNabb and her team. They have done tremendous work in rolling out the supports and in being a sounding board for people and businesses, where needed. There is a focus on supporting remote working and that is hugely important. I have a concern about all the online activity that happened over the last 14 months. We need to look at ways to support shop local and for people to support their community shops.

My time is up. There is much more I would like to say but I appreciate having the opportunity to speak.


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