I thank the Ceann Comhairle. The Minister looks like she is about to deliver the votes of the Swedish Eurovision jury. I hope Louth gets douze points when she responds.
Earlier, the Minister raised the anomaly in the temporary wage subsidy scheme as it relates to women who are returning to work having spent time on maternity leave. I and my Labour Party colleagues are very pleased that this anomaly looks like it is about to be addressed. I am, however, very concerned that it is taking a considerable number of weeks to do so. This issue was first raised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the National Women's Council and colleagues including my comrade, Senator Marie Sherlock, who articulated a strong case as to why and how this issue could have been dealt with on an administrative basis. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has today given the Government a bloody nose, essentially stating that this was handled in a discriminatory way towards women on maternity leave who could not access this support. The commission made it very clear that it has always been open to the Revenue Commissioners and to the Government to address this anomaly, and that it did not require a legislative intervention or a change to primary legislation, as we have always said. This whole farrago is embarrassing. While it may be politically embarrassing, it is most important that it is fixed to make sure those women caught in the middle of it do not suffer any more.
I am concerned at the level of foot-dragging that has taken place, given that this issue could have been comprehensively resolved long before now.
While the Minister may not have the figures available to hand, but the Department will, what is the number of women caught up in this scenario? Does the Minister believe there is a case that some back money would be owed? If that is the case, will that be paid as quickly as possible? Revenue, of course, has real-time data in terms of payroll. When this issue gets fixed on an administrative basis, financially these women should be supported as quickly as possible.
Earlier, Deputy McAuliffe referred to the back to work enterprise allowance, BTWEA, scheme. There seems to be a reduction - it is almost halved- in the allocation under that particular subhead. Hopefully, as an enterprising State, we will see many people who are out of work at present seeking to develop their own businesses, come off jobseeker's payments and join the BTWEA system to get the support they need to develop their enterprises. Will the Minister explain why that amount appears to be reduced at a time when it might need to be increased to support potential entrepreneurs to create jobs?
On the employment supports subhead, how much was expended by the Department last year and how much was planned this year in terms of the short-term work scheme as it is currently constituted? There is a strong argument for introducing a new enhanced short-term work scheme to support people as they go back to work, as we hope they will, over the next few months. That is a way of supporting employers to dip their toe in the water and give them the State support they need to bring people back to work on a phase-by-phase basis. We know that there are many employers who will not be able to do that on a full-time basis, given the nature of their business, the restrictions around social distancing and so on that will be in place and the modifications that they will need to do in their premises. There is a massive and persuasive case to reform that scheme. That should be one of the first items the Minister and the Department should consider trying to get people back to work and provide them with the supports they need.
There is every possibility of the V-shaped recovery we all hope for if the right things are done. By the right things I mean more and clearer accessible supports for businesses in terms of liquidity. It means using the firepower that will be made available by the European Union to support economies as we move, we hope, into a growth phase. It will also mean dropping the conservative conventional kind of political economy that we have consistently heard from some who should know better, given the experience of the last recession. Those types of responses are not necessary now. We have the EU firepower available. Multilateral institutions have learned, we hope, from the mistakes made in the late 2000s and early 2010s. That was a time when, heaven knows, this State had few options available to it and when we had to rely on the lender of last resort to help pay our public servants, to keep the State afloat and to help pay for the incomes of those who depend on the State for their small meagre incomes when they are not working or caring for somebody or when they are disabled and not in a position to work or manage a business.
Much learning should be applied from the last recession. We must make sure that we develop a new deal for a new generation. That will mean massive investment in State supports for training, upskilling and activation, particularly for young people who we simply cannot leave behind in these circumstances. Young people in this country no longer have the option, as they traditionally had, of going to the UK, Australia, US, Canada and elsewhere to pick up employment when things went pear-shaped in this country. That is why we need an absolute laser-like focus on our own domestic economy in particular, given the vicissitudes of the global economy and the kind of reforms coming down the tracks over the next few years in respect of corporation tax for which we need to prepare.
We need to make sure we build up our export-oriented companies, for example, and develop high-value jobs in those sectors and build up our indigenous economy. We know, as does the Minister, that up to 70% of all the jobs in this country come from our domestic sector and they need to be supported in every way possible.