Written answers

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation

Covid-19 Pandemic

Matt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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588. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if she will meet with representatives of cinema operators to ensure that reopening of cinemas occurs at the right time and with the right procedures. [6096/20]

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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The Government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business sets out five stages for unlocking the restrictions put in place to contain the Coronavirus, at three week intervals. The Roadmap sets out how we can keep the level of transmission of COVID-19 as low as possible while balancing continuing restrictions in proportion with the positive social and economic benefits which will be brought about by businesses reopening.  It is important to note that all decisions taken by Government on the timing of any lifting of restrictions as envisaged in Phases 2 to 5 of the Roadmap will be guided by the public health advice at the time.

On 15thMay the Government announced that we would move to Phase 1 of the Roadmap from Monday May 18th. This is in line with advice received from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). The categories of workers, list of retailers and other facilities that can re-open under Phase 1 are available on the Government’s website gov.ie.

I have not met with the representatives of cinema operators. However, I have regular engagement with the various business representative groups through my Department’s Enterprise Forum on Covid-19 and the Retail Consultation Forum both of which I Chair. I will continue to maintain that dialogue with stakeholders so that we can work towards getting people back to work safely.

Businesses should review the Roadmap carefully and carry out a detailed assessment of their activities with regard to the continuing public health measures.  Businesses should, based on their assessment, identify which category in which phase of reopening they will be in a position to reopen safely and in line with the continued public health measures.  It is not necessary for businesses to seek official authorisation to reopen.

The National Return to Work Safely Protocol is a useful guide for businesses in making their assessments and adapting their workplace procedures and practices to comply fully with the COVID-19 related public health protection measures. It sets out in very clear terms for employers and workers the steps that they must take firstly before a workplace reopens, and then while it continues to operate.

The Protocol is available at

The Health and Safety Authority, which is an agency of my Department, is the lead agency in overseeing compliance with the Protocol in the workplace.  If employers or employees need further guidance on the Protocol, the HSA Helpline can be contacted at 1890 289 389 orwcu@hsa.ie.

In order to assist businesses to address the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Government has put in place a comprehensive suite of supports for firms of all sizes, which includes the wage subsidy scheme, grants, low-cost loans, write-off of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities. These supports are designed to build confidence, to further assist businesses in terms of the management of their companies and to allow them to begin looking to the future and start charting a path forward for weeks and months ahead. For a full list of supports for business please see .

On 8thMay the Government agreed details of a further support which will give direct grant aid to micro and small businesses to help them with the costs associated with reopening and reemploying workers following COVID-19 closures. The Restart Grant will be available to businesses with a turnover of less than €5m and employing 50 people or less, which were closed or impacted by at least a 25% reduction in turnover out to 30thJune 2020. It is a contribution towards the cost of re-opening or keeping a business operational and re-connecting with employees and customers. The grants will be equivalent to the rates bill of the business in 2019, with a minimum payment of €2,000 and a maximum payment of €10,000.

I recognise the impact that this pandemic is having on businesses right across the country, I know that employers and employees want to get back to work and I support them in that ambition, but it must be safe to do so.  My Department contributed to the considerations around the phased re-opening of sectors and I will work within Government to secure further details and clarity for businesses as we progress through the phases outlined in the Roadmap.

A wide range of stakeholders including employers, unions and representative groups were consulted and their advice formed part of the considerations when drawing up the Roadmap. It is a living document and Government has the ability to amend its plans depending on the circumstances existing as we progress through each phase. It will be subject to regular review in the context of the progression or suppression of the disease in Ireland or new guidance or research that emerges from other sources.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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589. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if correspondence (details supplied) will be examined; when smaller tech hubs and co-working hubs in rural Ireland will be permitted to open during the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6119/20]

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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The Government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business sets out five stages for unlocking the restrictions put in place to contain the Coronavirus, at three week intervals. The Roadmap sets out how we can keep the level of transmission of COVID-19 as low as possible while balancing continuing restrictions in proportion with the positive social and economic benefits which will be brought about by businesses reopening.  It is important to note that all decisions taken by Government on the timing of any lifting of restrictions as envisaged in Phases 2 to 5 of the Roadmap will be guided by the public health advice at the time.

On 15thMay the Government announced that we would move to Phase 1 of the Roadmap from Monday May 18th. This is in line with advice received from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). The categories of workers, list of retailers and other facilities that can re-open under Phase 1 are available on the Government’s website gov.ie.

Businesses should review the Roadmap carefully and carry out a detailed assessment of their activities with regard to the continuing public health measures.  Businesses should, based on their assessment, identify which category in which phase of reopening they will be in a position to reopen safely and in line with the continued public health measures.  It is not necessary for businesses to seek official authorisation to reopen.

The National Return to Work Safely Protocol is a useful guide for businesses in making their assessments and adapting their workplace procedures and practices to comply fully with the COVID-19 related public health protection measures. It sets out in very clear terms for employers and workers the steps that they must take firstly before a workplace reopens, and then while it continues to operate.

The Protocol is available at

The Health and Safety Authority, which is an agency of my Department, is the lead agency in overseeing compliance with the Protocol in the workplace.  If employers or employees need further guidance on the Protocol, the HSA Helpline can be contacted at 1890 289 389 or wcu@hsa.ie.

In order to assist businesses to address the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Government has put in place a comprehensive suite of supports for firms of all sizes, which includes the wage subsidy scheme, grants, low-cost loans, write-off of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities. These supports are designed to build confidence, to further assist businesses in terms of the management of their companies and to allow them to begin looking to the future and start charting a path forward for weeks and months ahead. For a full list of supports for business please see .

On 8thMay the Government agreed details of a further support which will give direct grant aid to micro and small businesses to help them with the costs associated with reopening and reemploying workers following COVID-19 closures. The Restart Grant will be available to businesses with a turnover of less than €5m and employing 50 people or less, which were closed or impacted by at least a 25% reduction in turnover out to 30thJune 2020. It is a contribution towards the cost of re-opening or keeping a business operational and re-connecting with employees and customers. The grants will be equivalent to the rates bill of the business in 2019, with a minimum payment of €2,000 and a maximum payment of €10,000.

I recognise the impact that this pandemic is having on businesses right across the country. I know that employers and employees want to get back to work and I support them in that ambition, but it must be safe to do so.  My Department contributed to the considerations around the phased re-opening of sectors and I will work within Government to secure further details and clarity for businesses as we progress through the phases outlined in the Roadmap.

A wide range of stakeholders including employers, unions and representative groups were consulted and their advice formed part of the considerations when drawing up the Roadmap. It is a living document and Government has the ability to amend its plans depending on the circumstances existing as we progress through each phase. It will be subject to regular review in the context of the progression or suppression of the disease in Ireland or new guidance or research that emerges from other sources.

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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590. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation her plans to adequately deal with businesses that are closed due to Covid-19 and that are unable to keep their terms of their commercial leases; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6132/20]

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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The issues businesses are facing in respect of commercial rents/leases have been raised with me through the Enterprise Forum and Retail Forum, both of which I chair, and other channels.

These are difficult times and many companies have had to temporarily close their businesses and/or premise(s), curtail their activities or make alternative work arrangements due to COVID-19 restrictions. I am keenly aware that some businesses, particularly in the retail sector, are concerned that some landlords are continuing to insist on the payment of rents and leases as normal despite their premises being closed.

At the same time, we must remember that landlords have their own financial obligations, like debt repayments, insurance or security costs, that still need to be paid. Where a landlord has debt in place, their flexibility will likely be driven by what their bank / lender will accept. The Minister for Finance raised the broader issue of rents in meetings with the pillar banks. He referenced this in his announcement of 18thMarch concerning an arrangement with the banks to the effect that any landlord who has agreed a deal with the banks on foot of the arrangement will be expected to pass the benefit on to their tenants. I reiterated this in the Dáil on 30thApril last.

While commercial leases are primarily a contractual matter for the tenant and the landlord, the Government has urged landlords to demonstrate forbearance in these extraordinary times and to play their part, as everyone must, in helping the country through this difficult period. I would encourage tenants and landlords to engage with each other on this matter and come to some arrangement as it is in everybody’s interest that terms are amicably agreed.

I have asked my officials to raise the matter of commercial rents and leases across a number of Government Departments. An initial inter-departmental discussion has already taken place and I understand further engagement is underway with a range of stakeholders, including groups representing businesses and landlords, to gain additional insights and gather intelligence to inform any further discussions. I have also asked my officials to look into the different responses from other countries and to identify possible options for supports.

While different options are being explored, I would point out that any support to business in respect of rents alone would ultimately end up as a support to the landlord. Not only would it be difficult to estimate the costs involved for such a scheme, but the offering of support, or even the perception that such supports will be forthcoming, may affect the market and lessen the impetus for landlords to renegotiate with tenants.

The matter of legal protections for businesses who are unable to pay their commercial rents has been raised with the Attorney General. Specifically, I asked about the potential for legislation to prevent the eviction of commercial tenants who have failed to pay rent as a result of the pandemic and the possibility of legislating to place a moratorium on businesses having to pay rent for premises they cannot used due to the restrictions imposed by Government. I have just received a response in which the Attorney General advises that there are significant legal difficulties in respect to both of the questions posed. The difficulties stem from a variety of legal bases including statutory, constitutional, contract and common law. I have asked my officials to consider the advice.

The Government is committed to ensuring as many businesses as possible survive this challenging period, and it will continue to look at how we can support businesses that have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. I would like to point out that, on 2ndMay, the Government announced an additional suite of measures to further support small, medium and larger business that have been negatively impacted by Covid-19. These included:

- A €10,000 restart grant for micro and small businesses based on a rates waiver/rebate from 2019;

- A three-month commercial rates waiver for impacted businesses;

- A €2 billion COVID-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme to support lending to SMEs for terms ranging from 3 months to 6 years, which will be below market interest rates; - A €2 billion Pandemic Stabilisation and Recovery Fund within the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), which will make capital available to medium and large enterprises on commercial terms; and

- The ‘warehousing’ of tax liabilities for a period of twelve months after recommencement of trading during which time there will be no debt enforcement action taken by Revenue and no interest charge accruing in respect of the warehoused debt.

These supports acknowledge that impacted businesses need time and space to restructure and resume activity, without the added pressures of trying to repay legacy debts, such as commercial rents, when revenues are just beginning to return.

Further information on all of these and additional Government supports for COVID-19 impacted businesses can be found at www.gov.ieor on my Department’s website ().

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