Written answers

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Department of Trade, Enterprise and Employment

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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21. To ask the Minister for Trade, Enterprise and Employment the status of the newly opened Microfinance Ireland fund pursuant to the Microenterprise Loan Fund (Amendment) Act 2020; the number of applications received; the number and value of loans approved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25976/20]

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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The Microenterprise Loan Fund operated by Microfinance Ireland assists businesses with fewer than ten employees. It provides much-needed funding to help microenterprises meet payments for stock, working capital requirements and other overhead expenses through the provision of low-cost loans.

Microfinance Ireland provides finance to microenterprises by filling a gap in the market by lending to business that cannot obtain loans from other commercial lenders. It lends to businesses that do not meet the conventional risk criteria applied by commercial lenders and applies interest rate charges for its lending which are not reflective of its credit risk.

With the arrival of COVID-19 in Ireland and the subsequent impact on businesses across the country, Microfinance Ireland introduced the COVID-19 Loan Scheme to provide loans to microenterprises directly impacted by the effects of the virus.

The Microfinance Ireland COVID-19 Loan Scheme assists businesses which have been impacted negatively by COVID-19 with loans of up to €25,000. The first six months are repayment and interest free. Repayments commence in month seven for the remaining period of the loan. A Government rebate is available for the interest paid in the following six months (months 7-12 of the loan). A rate of 4.5% for the remaining period of the loan is applied. This reduced rate is available to all micro-enterprises where the application is made through the Local Enterprise Network or referred by a bank or Local Development Committees. The rate for direct applications to Microfinance Ireland is 5.5%.

The Microfinance Ireland COVID-19 Loan Scheme has seen a very strong uptake with 1,015 applications received, and €18.68 million in loans approved to 687 businesses under phase 1.

Following implementation of the Microenterprise Loan Fund (Amendment) Act 2020, which made additional capital available to Microfinance Ireland, I was pleased to announce the launch of phase 2 of the scheme on the 31st of August. Since the launch of phase 2, 256 applications have been received, of which 97 have been approved for a value of €1.9 million, with a further 96 applications in progress.

The total value of loans approved under the Microfinance Ireland COVID-19 Loan Scheme is €20.58 million which represents more than three years of normal lending volumes for Microfinance Ireland in a period of just over six and a half months.

Importantly, with 77% of its lending to businesses outside Dublin, Microfinance Ireland provides an essential support for businesses who are hoping to resume or boost their economic activity over the coming weeks and months in every county in Ireland.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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22. To ask the Minister for Trade, Enterprise and Employment if he is satisfied that there are adequate frameworks in place to assist enterprises to undertake restructuring necessitated by Covid-19 or otherwise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29713/20]

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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The pandemic has caused untold damage to peoples’ lives and livelihoods. I know that many businesses have been severely impacted by the restrictions needed to ensure public health safety during the pandemic. Our response to COVID-19 will continue to support those businesses affected.

Budget 2021 provides a significant package of tax and expenditure measures to build the resilience of the economy and to help vulnerable but viable businesses across all sectors to restructure and transform their businesses and build resilience for the recovery.

The measures in the Budget are in addition to those announced in the July Stimulus, which was a substantial financial package to stimulate our economy worth more than €5 billion, with an additional €2 billion in loan guarantees for the new Credit Guarantee Scheme.

As of 9th October, 45,505 businesses had applied for the Restart Grant, with €155.2m approved. As of 9th October, 54,938 had applied for the Restart Grant Plus, with €273.4m approved.

As part of Budget 2021, the Exchequer allocation for our Department will increase by €252m and we are allocating €50 million to Enterprise Ireland.

In addition to the schemes and programmes available from my own Department, there are also a range of other measures announced in Budget 21 for enterprise and the SME sector. These include the introduction of the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) for businesses temporarily closed or who have significantly reduced turnover as a result of public health restrictions; the extension of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme; reduced VAT rate for the hospitality and tourism sector; extension of the Commercial Rates waiver and the extension of the tax debt warehousing scheme for employers and self-employed. These are all major elements in the overall package of assistance available for businesses.

I can assure the Deputy that Enterprise Ireland, Local Enterprise Office (LEO) and Údarás na Gaeltachta continue to be available to eligible firms to help with strategies, access to finance, online trading activity, reconfigure business models, cut costs, innovate, diversify markets and supply chains and to improve competitiveness.

The recently established SME Growth Taskforce meets for the second time tomorrow and will input to the National Economic Plan next month. The Taskforce and the National Economic Plan will further explore how to help SMEs at this difficult time.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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23. To ask the Minister for Trade, Enterprise and Employment the steps taken to support the conferencing and events industry to recover from the closure of its livelihood owing to restrictions imposed due to the pandemic; and when he will announce a roadmap to recovery for the industry. [30086/20]

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I recognise that the events and exhibition sector is a critical part of the ecosystem for business and commerce in the country, enabling buyers and sellers to meet and develop their businesses.

I am acutely aware of the difficulties the sector has faced in recent months due to the impact of social distancing requirements.

My Department officials are in continuous engagement with the sector and Minister of State Robert Troy TD in my Department is also in ongoing contact with sector representatives.

I am pleased the Government's COVID-19 published in September, 'Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19' specifically deals with this category of organised events and we will continue to work with the sector to progress the development of agreed protocols to enable the hosting of trade events in the near future.

My Department and its agencies have been focussed on coming up with solutions to help businesses overcome the challenges presented by the unprecedented difficulties caused by COVID-19. In that context I welcome contact with the sector regarding their challenges and suggestions.

Details of the wide range of supports available are noted on my Department’s website at .

In the wider context of the Government’s Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19, the operation and reopening of Ireland will be guided by the need to manage risk and repairing the damage that COVID-19 has inflicted on society, and the implementation of appropriate measures to do so across business and society as the situation evolves.

Budget 2021, announced earlier this week, together with the measures we announced as part of the July Stimulus Package, provides a substantial financial package to stimulate our economy and to help businesses to open, to help those already open to stay open, to get staff back to work and for those who cannot go back to their old jobs, there are new opportunities.

The range of measures in place to assist businesses include direct grants to support viable businesses and jobs, including new hire. We have extended the wage subsidy scheme and we are giving companies extra assistance through an enhanced Restart Plus Grant Scheme, rates waivers and reductions in VAT.

We are providing more and cheaper loan finance through MicroFinance Ireland, SBCI and the new €2bn Credit Guarantee Scheme. I announced the reopening of MFI lending on 31stAugust and I launched the €2bn Credit Guarantee Scheme on 7thSeptember.

I am working with my colleagues across Government to assist businesses impacted by Covid-19 and I will continue to keep the supports provided for enterprise under review with the goal of setting our country towards economic recovery.

My colleague, Minister Catherine Martin T.D., Minister for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht, may be able to provide more specific details on a roadmap to recovery for the events industry as she intends to establish a dedicated Taskforce for the Arts and Culture Sector, for which she has lead responsibility.

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