Wednesday, 20 May 2020
Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
906. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if urgent consideration will be given to the issues raised in correspondence from an association (details supplied) in view of the need to have marts functioning as much as possible with appropriate restrictions in place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6660/20]
I recognise the vital economic and social role that livestock marts play in cattle and sheep farming in Ireland, and note the engagement between marts, their representative organisations and my Department, which has resulted in marts being permitted to conduct limited operations at this time.
The restrictions arising out of Ireland’s public health response to the unprecedented challenge of Covid-19 is affecting every aspect of Irish life, and marts are no exception. On 31 March, my Department informed each licensed livestock mart that they could put in place alternative trade facilitation mechanisms that would support the orderly sale of animals necessary to support the essential business of farming. Any livestock mart wishing to engage in limited activities to facilitate the buying and selling of livestock was asked to submit for approval a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) demonstrating to the Department’s satisfaction that the individual mart would be in a position to operate in full compliance with HSE guidelines in relation to hygiene and physical distancing. 80 of the 86 licensed marts submitted SOPs, and were approved to operate.
My Department will continue to engage constructively with marts and representative organisations. at this challenging time. In recent weeks a lot of preparatory work has been done, so that when considered appropriate in the context of the broader approach to Covid-19, further activities in marts can be facilitated while continuing to ensure the safety of mart staff and clients.
With regard to the financial challenges currently faced by marts, I have engaged with the banks on the specific liquidity and financing needs of farmers, fishers and agri-food businesses and have stressed the need for the banks to support and work with their customers through this challenging period. All the banks have announced that they will offer flexibility to their customers, and that they may be able to provide payment breaks or emergency working capital facilities. The advice is that farmers, fishers and agri-food businesses should engage with their bank at an early stage to discuss emerging cash flow issues. I welcomed the recent announcement by Banking & Payments Federation Ireland that their members, including the five main retail banks, have extended their payment break from three months to six months for those directly impacted by Covid-19.
In terms of supports, agri-food businesses, including marts, are eligible for the wide range of supports put in place for businesses generally. This includes the National COVID-19 Income Support Scheme, encompassing both the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme and the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment. The €250 million SBCI COVID-19 Working Capital Scheme, co-financed by my Department, has also been deployed to address liquidity and financing needs of eligible businesses arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. For smaller businesses of less than 10 employees, Microfinance Ireland is also offering a COVID-19 Business Loan, providing working capital loans up to €50,000. The Future Growth Loan Scheme (FGLS), also co-financed by my Department, was launched last year and made €300m of investment loans available to eligible Irish businesses. Loans are competitively priced, for terms of 8-10 years, and support strategic long-term investment. As a result of the significant and sudden financial impact of the pandemic on businesses a second tranche of €200million, with up to 40% available to the agri-food sector, will be made available through the banks, with details to be announced shortly.
In addition, the Government has announced agreement of a further suite of measures to further support businesses that are negatively impacted by Covid-19. Work has commenced on a €2 billion COVID-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme to support lending to SMEs, including agri-businesses, farmers and fishers, for terms ranging from 3 months to 6 years, which will be below market interest rates. Other measures include 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; 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.
My Department will continue our close engagement with stakeholders across the agri-food in relation to the impact of Covid-19.