Credit Guarantee (Amendment) Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages

Sections 1 to 4, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 5
Deputy Louise O'Reilly: I move amendment No.1:
In page 4, line 36, to delete “6 years” and substitute “7 years”.
This amendment is pretty much just a technical amendment designed to increase the timeframe in which a guarantee given pursuant to this agreement will increase from six years from the date of the agreement to seven years.
In 2013 the Department commissioned a review of the temporary partial credit guarantee scheme, which was carried out by First Choice Financial Services and AJS Financial Advice Limited. They were appointed by the Department specifically to review this scheme. The review focused on giving the scheme the best possible chance of success. In the recommendations submitted to the steering committee appointed by the then Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, the review findings stated that the three-year term was seen as too short as most loans are for a minimum of five to seven years. They made a key recommendation to extend the term of the guarantee to seven years. This was to allow for guarantees to be extended and, thereby, loans also. The Bill seeks to extend that term to six years, and I submitted this amendment in part to seek to understand why one of the key recommendations of the report commissioned by the Department was not taken on board.

I got a chance to touch on this briefly on Second Stages. I will first explain what section 5 is about. It introduces a new section 4A into the Act of 2012. This new section 4A provides the Minister with the power, subject to the consent of both the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, to give guarantees in accordance with the Covid-19 credit guarantee scheme. The Covid-19 scheme will be open for guarantees to be put in place until December of this year, or no later than 24 December 2021 if the change is in the framework. The later date allows the Minister, with the consent of the other two Ministers, to extend the scheme if the European Commission extends the provision in the temporary framework on state aid beyond 2020. As of now there has been no confirmation from the Commission with regard to any extension.

The focus of the amendment is actually about the temporary framework. In the framework put forward it guarantees that the loans will not extend beyond six years in duration, which is in line with the flexibility contained in the Commission's temporary framework on state aid responses to Covid-19. The maximum amount of credit, as we know, is up to €2 billion, but the six years is the issue. The timeframe of loans specified in this section of the Act is in direct correlation with the timeframe for permissible loans in the European Commission's state aid temporary framework. Under the framework, within which the Covid-19 framework would operate, the maximum permissible duration of a loan is six years. While we recognise the average loan performs over seven years, and we would not be against this ourselves in the context of normal schemes, we must work within this framework. If loans are offered outside the terms of the framework it runs the risk of not being complaint, which can in turn have state aid costs implications for our small and medium businesses and the small mid-caps that borrow money under the scheme.

I draw Deputy O'Reilly's attention to the future growth loan scheme, which offers longer-term loans of up to ten years. During the discussion on this legislation and on the microfinance scheme, we were at pains to stress that this is not the only tool in the box. It is one mechanism being put forward to try to guarantee credit out there. It is only one of many. The future growth loan scheme has a longer timeframe of ten years and might have better conditions for certain customers, depending on who they are. The future growth loan scheme will be available to eligible SMEs and smaller mid-cap businesses and, importantly, to the primary agricultural and seafood producers in Ireland to support strategic long-term investment. It captures the same cohort of businesses as the Covid-19 credit guarantee scheme, but with longer terms also.

In policy terms it is important that these two schemes have different features for business. The Covid-19 credit guarantee scheme is designed to meet the liquidity needs of SMEs in the short to medium term, while the future growth loan scheme is more focused on longer-term strategic investment purposes.

I hope the Deputy understands. It is not that we think the amendment is illogical. It is quite logical, but we have to work within the framework or else there could be an implication in respect of state aid rules later on.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 2 not moved.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 5, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:

“(4A) The Minister shall ensure that monies loaned in accordance with the Covid-19 credit guarantee scheme shall—

(a) be loaned interest free with zero repayments for the first 12 months of the loan, and

(b) interest rates on such loans shall be capped at 2.5%, with interest only being applied to cover the overheads of administering the scheme.”.

The interest rates charged on the loans are normal business loans rates from the respective banks with the additional 0.5% charge because of the Government guarantee. Furthermore, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, which funds the scheme through the guarantee, plays no role in the application or decision-making process, which is fully delegated to the participating lenders. As a result, the loans are issued at the respective banks' market interest rate. In other words - and this has been pointed out by trade unions and others - the banks now administer the scheme and make the decisions as to whether or not to issue loans based on their own for-profit criteria for loan issuance, and not the criteria of a Government Department. We are here today to debate a scheme designed to keep businesses afloat during a global pandemic. There is nothing in the scheme that speaks to the pressure thousands of businesses across the State are under. I put it to the Minister of State that we have discussed this previously and one of the things that keeps coming back to me when I engage with business owners, and especially small family businesses, is the absolute resistance to taking on additional debt and unsustainable debt. They are absolutely petrified of this. Businesses themselves have pointed out these flaws, so the Minister of State is more than well aware. Organisations such as Chartered Accountants Ireland have also had their say. They have highlighted at first hand the problems businesses have in accessing loans with such high interest rates as those provided by the scheme. They have stated that the Covid-19 credit guarantee scheme is too onerous and complex to administer, and that the interest rates are prohibitive. They say the interest rates need to be closer to the ECB rates than to commercial rates.

As the Minister of State already said, he will have no hand, act or part in that decision-making process.

Sinn Féin has been calling for similar low interest rates for a number of months. This was included in our letters to the Minister for Finance, in May, and to his predecessor. We have been calling for interest rates to be capped at 2.5% with interest rates preferably only applied to cover the overheads of administering the loan scheme. Low interest rates will encourage SMEs to take up the loans that are available. We have heard this first-hand from businesses and their representative bodies. They have also indicated that it would be a huge incentive and would help them greatly if the loans were interest-free, with zero repayments for the first 12 months. This is standard practice for many of the Covid-19 credit guarantee loan schemes across the EU. It would make a significant difference to the loan scheme here.

The Government should be looking at a payment deferral process to facilitate employers getting workers back to work and the economy going again. The deferral of interest even for 12 months would go a long way towards that. The acceptance of these measures would make the credit guarantee scheme loan scheme more attractive to business during this unprecedented and extremely difficult time. Unprecedented measures surely have to be the order of the day.

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue of interest costs because I did not get the chance to go into the detail on this yesterday. It is important that when we are having these discussions, SMEs, as well as those who provide assistance to them, such as State agencies and Chartered Accountants Ireland, recognise that this is only one of several interventions that the State is making, using taxpayers' money to help businesses to reopen, restart, survive, grow and create employment, as well as to maintain existing employment and take back some workers. We recognise that businesses need a combination of access to finance, loans, direct grants, rate waivers and wage subsidies. The wage subsidy scheme has already cost the taxpayer over €2 billion but is money well spent and everybody recognises that. Most SMEs have told me that they could not have survived without it.

Most SMEs and business owners are practical people. They know that the taxpayer will not be able to write the cheque for every part of this. Some part of this credit guarantee will facilitate the refinancing of existing loans. I get it that businesses of all shapes and sizes are reluctant to take on more debt. One cannot blame them because it is an extra cost. We have to make it as easy as possible to access the finance and then keep costs as low as possible. That is what the State guarantee is about. We will reduce the costs, but access is important. All the research shows that access to money is the main priority for businesses. We can then trash out the cost. Getting one's hands on finance is the first priority for a business to survive. It might be for a new loan or just to reorganise the existing finances.

The way that this legislation and the legal agreements and documentation which will underpin it have been drafted is intended to provide assistance from the State to qualifying enterprises. The legislation leverages financial institutions and their network to provide much needed liquidity to our SMEs, small mid-caps and primary producers. Deputy O'Reilly quoted Chartered Accountants Ireland on the administration of and the red tape relating to the scheme. This scheme is not yet in operation, however. That has to be done in negotiations. The Deputy was referring to a previous scheme which we are now changing. Every effort will be made to make that easier. With the new criteria, that will happen and the scheme will be easier to administer. It will lead on to reduced interest rates across a whole range of financial products. It will be much more attractive for the financial providers to use it and for those drawing down loans.

Unlike the lending through Microfinance Ireland we discussed two weeks ago, this is not lending from the State but through participating financial institutions, such as commercial banks, credit unions and others, that will successfully apply via the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland's open call. Much of the focus last night was that this is only for the three main pillar banks. That is not the case. This is for all financial providers which want to provide loans to SMEs, including credit unions. The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment has been clear in his most recent meetings with the CEOs of the pillar banks that he expects an interest rate reduction from them for participating in the scheme in order that participating enterprises will benefit from those reductions. He has received positive indications from those banks and this will be reflected in the legal agreements for the scheme involving the Department, the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland and the financial institutions.

The interest rates for the Covid-19 credit guarantee scheme differ from other schemes administered by the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland such as, for example, the future growth loan scheme. Precise reductions are still under discussion. We need to remember that there will be different rates for different financial products, with different customer profiles and for different financial sizes. Accordingly, it is difficult to be precise about interest rates in this legislation. The reduction to customers will be transparent, however, when they sign the deal with banks or other institutions, as a result of this Government's support. This will also show the premium to be paid as part of the state aid rules.

This is a good opportunity for businesses to get strong levels of State support without any state aid implications. Also important is the fact that this scheme is a support for businesses, not for the banks. That needs to be stressed because it was missed in the debate last night. The advantage of a credit guarantee scheme is that it leverages the detailed local knowledge of finance providers, including banks, credit unions and others, in what supports are needed in their local communities.

The Department has the right of audit on all transactions. The Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland will interact with the finance providers on a frequent basis. Between us, we will ensure that the discount has been applied. No doubt Deputy O'Reilly will be keeping an eye on the matter too. People will vote with their feet. If customers feel they are not getting a proper discount, they will not use the product.

Capital and-or interest moratoria for up to one year will be permitted under the scheme. It is important to emphasise, however, that any decision in this regard will be by agreement between the finance provider and the participating enterprise on an individual basis. This has been a matter for discussion between the banks and the Department. We should also remember that some of these loans may only be for terms of one to three years. It is not best practice to backload all the payments for a business into a short-term loan because this could lead to financial stress being just as acute at the end of the loan as the start. Naturally, the banks and other lending institutions will work with individual customers to see what terms suit them best. There is great scope to adjust at the local level for existing and new customers. Of course, it will be monitored.

The Government cannot accept restricting the use of any interest earned to solely cover the costs of administering the scheme. The costs of administering the scheme are quite large, for both the financial institutions and the State. If we were to charge these costs directly to the participating enterprises, it is likely that the interest rates would be much higher than the discount rates we are discussing with the banks. I accept that Deputy O'Reilly would like to see what that would entail. It is only when those discussions conclude and the scheme is up and running that we will get a real clear picture of what has been achieved as a result of this scheme. We are confident that this legislation will enable this conversation with the banks because it will allow them to make credit available cheaply.

The State is covering its own costs through Exchequer funding rather than passing these on to businesses. It is only charging the premium to cover the guarantee, which is required by state aid rules and which will be administered by the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland on behalf of the Government.

I hope Deputy O'Reilly understands that the Government's intention is to retain some flexibility in the operation of the legislation to allow for changing circumstances rather than freezing a given set of conditions into the primary legislation. This is why we are dealing with these issues by means of the statutory instrument, which sets out the details of the scheme and the operating agreement and other legal agreements involving the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland and the participating finance institutions.

We are acutely aware of the difficulties faced by enterprises and are doing all we can to put in place a range of measures to help those enterprises to recover from the impacts of Covid-19, as well as to keep the costs of these measures as low as possible. This includes the interest being charged on loans and the administrative costs of applying for schemes, as well as providing advice, guidance and grants through our enterprise agencies and helplines on the range of schemes available that are most suitable for the needs of individual enterprises.

In the debate on this Bill, reference has been made to what other countries are doing. We track what they are doing. A credit guarantee scheme similar to ours is in operation in many of them. They are slightly different versions. Most have a ratio of 80:20 like we do. Some have greater percentages of risk on the part of the state for lower loans of up to a maximum of €50,000. Our microenterprise loan provides up to €50,000 with a rate of practically 100%, given that it is a State-guaranteed bank. Not every scheme can be measured in one sentence, but we have tracked them all and we believe that our credit guarantee scheme is up there with the best in any other country. However, I accept that Deputies will only see that when it is up and running. One cannot judge what is going to happen in the future based on the current scheme, as it is different from the one proposed in this legislation.

I wish to respond to some of the Minister of State's points. I do not mean this in a disrespectful way given that he is in attendance, but we raised the issue last night of the relevant senior Minister not being in the Chamber. The Minister of State advised that was because there was a Cabinet meeting. I do not believe it was ongoing at the time, but I appreciate that he may have been busy. However, this legislation is before us again and, once more, the Minister is not present. The Government scheduled the time for this Bill and it knows when its own meetings will be. It is not beyond reason to expect that the relevant Minister - to stress, I do not mean this disrespectfully to the Minister of State who has turned up - should be in attendance to take legislation. This is not good practice. I appreciate that people are busy and we are approaching the end of the Dáil term, but the Government schedules business with the Business Committee. At the next Business Committee meeting, perhaps the Government representative could have a chat with the relevant line Ministers to ensure that they make themselves available when their own legislation is being debated. What is happening is not acceptable and is bad practice and I do not want to see it creeping in. We are on Committee Stage and it would be preferable were the Minister present. This is something that we cannot allow to become a pattern.

Notwithstanding that, I wish to respond to some of the points the Minister of State made. He mentioned that the Tánaiste had received positive indications from the banks. Could he give us anything more concrete than that? I would appreciate a briefing on the Government's meetings with the banks to date and what they are saying. They will be administering the scheme. Once the legislation is passed, the Government has made it clear that it will be up to the mostly for-profit banks to administer the scheme. The Government stated that it will have a hands-off approach. There are different rates for different financial products, but if a struggling small family business is trying to get back up on its feet and hears a Minister saying that there will be different rates for different products, that just means the rates could be higher. There is a possibility that they could be lower, but the possibility also exists that they could be higher. These are people who are in very desperate situations.

According to the Minister of State, a moratorium will be permitted under the scheme. I am relieved, as I am sure others are, that the Government will not outlaw such a prospect, but that does not mean that there will be moratoriums. It just means that moratoriums will be allowed. In the course of the Government's deliberations with the for-profit banks, what have they been saying about a moratorium? Are they minded to give people a moratorium? Are they minded to realise the sort of pressure these people are under? We should bear in mind that many of these small businesses are only just emerging from the debts they incurred because of the last recession. The prospect of more debt and dealings with the banks will not fill them with any kind of hope. Will the Minister of State give us more detail about what the Government has been saying to the banks and what they have been saying in response?

I am sorry, but I had to step out for another meeting. I have no issue with the Minister of State's good self and this has nothing to do with him, but it is a disgrace that the Minister is not present. This day last week, a Minister of State was sent in with ten minutes to go. Unfortunately, I was in the Chair and I had to suspend the House because the Minister of State had no briefing and was unable to answer. We had to go into the corner over there and talk to his officials about the significant borrowing and schemes in which we are about to engage. This is not good enough. We are supposed to have pre-legislative scrutiny, detailed discussions on Committee Stage and the legislation deliberated on in the House, but we have waived the pre-legislative scrutiny phase, no committees have been set up and, according to the reports from the Dáil reform committee I have heard in the past half hour, there will be bulldozing all the way by the new Government. And we are expected to pass this Bill.

I stand here as someone who voted for the bank guarantee. I am like a bad record saying that it left a bad taste in my mouth and was the greatest mistake I ever made in my political life. Here we are again, though, looking at proposals like this one. It is being put through on a whim without scrutiny, Committee Stage debate, any real time for amendment or so on. I am concerned when the Minister of State says that we have to get this through and that time is not on our side but that there will be statutory instruments. The House has no discourse about or input into what goes into statutory instruments.

According to the Minister of State, the heads of the banks have given positive indications. The banks do not know what positive is. They do not do positive. They do it for themselves. The people are in penury trying to pay back the bailout because of the way the banks were allowed to carry on. There has still been no legislation introduced to deal with them.

I have major concerns about the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, SBCI, and the three pillar banks getting their claws into this. There may be different suites of options and rates, but the banks' raison d'être is to make healthy profits. They have no interest in the struggling people. We saw what solace the banks gave them. There was supposed to be a moratorium over the past four or five months and no evictions because of the pandemic, but there has been nothing but evictions, court appeals and the like in the commercial area. It is as if there is no pandemic. The banks tell the Government one thing and it listens to them. This is like the European situation. Instead of being the whipping boys, the Government could tell them what to do, but no. There is no legislation to control them so the banks can give us the two fingers on both hands.

I am worried about how they will handle this money and deal with people who get into distress, particularly small SMES of one self-employed person and two or three employees. I have seen this happening already in the case of employees who were in receipt of the pandemic payment. They had loan approvals for mortgages, but because they were in receipt of the payment, the banks pulled their approvals. The banks want any reason, big, little or small, not to lend to and support people. They are just looking for those reasons. It could be the most minute issue, but they want a reason to refuse support. In the spirit of ní neart go cur le chéile, we support one another, but banks do not do that. They have got away with so much. They had free rein in what they did to the country during the banking crisis. They were then bailed out and my grandchildren will be paying that back. The banks did not learn their lesson because they walked away scot free. There are conflicting messages from the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach about the Government's meetings with the banks. The banks wheel out their former politician and now PR spokesperson. I have no issue with him, but they are putting a spin on this and putting people through grief.

There are businesses that are on their last legs. Some of them are run by people who are over 66 years of age and on the old age pension. They are self-employed, be they publicans, shopkeepers, bus drivers, undertakers or candlestick makers. They cannot get a bob and the banks will give them no leniency to stay afloat. They cannot feed themselves. They will be forced to get assistance from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. They literally cannot live. They cannot live on the wind. There have been some horrific stories. There is no point in going to a bank with the béal bocht. One will get an doras dúnta. Banks will not even meet someone now. They have removed themselves from most small towns in the regions. They have pay machines and so on.

A customer does not meet the bank manager any more. At one time the bank manager knew the bank's customers and their capabilities and he or she had a good relationship with them. There was two-way trust. Now, the banks are screwing the customer for whatever they can get out of him or her. They want only to take in whatever money they can and to make as much profit as they can. We all know what happened in regard to the tracker mortgages. Do we need any more evidence? I note a new case has arisen.

I know. I am sorry that I was called away for a meeting. I spoke on the Bill last night. I have huge concerns about what is going on and the way we are passing this legislation without proper scrutiny. It will come back to bite us. Biting us is one thing, but it will bite the people we represent and they are the families throughout the country that need support. They do not want anything for nothing. All they want is fair play and a decent interest rate. In these times, they should be getting money at low interest rates. If the banks were any way loyal and supportive or nationalistic, they would be giving out money and supporting people, but they exist to make massive profits. They have friends in the receiver companies, the legal firms and so on. It is big, murky business and to hell with the little people.

I will try to deal with most of the issues raised. I will not stray into the mortgage issue. I will leave that to the Minister for Finance.

I will respond to the questions in reverse order. Deputy Mattie McGrath did contribute to the debate last night and I did try to address some of his concerns. The Deputy had to leave early last night as well and I did not get an opportunity to do a full wrap-up today.

The Deputy mentioned he has concerns about the legislation. This legislation amends existing legislation which has been in place since 2012 and was also amended in 2016. This is not new legislation that has popped out of nowhere. We are adding in new schemes to deal with the Covid-19 emergency situation under the EU framework, which will lead to lower interest rates and more finance being available to companies of all sizes. More important, for a man from Tipperary who is very concerned with producers, it adds in opportunities for producers, farmers and fisheries as well. That is the key. We are strengthening the legislation. We will be able to reach more people and, as I said, it will lead to cheaper interest rates, which we will monitor closely.

I accept that I cannot put the table of interest rates before the House. I accept the Deputy's concerns in that regard. We had discussions with the banks, led by the Tánaiste. Their focus is on getting a good quality product across a range of different offerings out to people who need this money. I do not share the Deputy's concerns. This legislation has been talked about since May and it was produced back then. We had to form the Dáil to bring it through. I have thanked the Houses for their co-operation in bringing it through quickly. I acknowledge that people waived their right to committee scrutiny because everyone recognised the importance of reaching SMEs with finance. We sometimes have to move fast in this House. The legislation is not dramatic. It does not change the legalities of the scheme. Rather, it makes it a much better scheme. It is a scheme that we own. The State gives this guarantee. We only give the guarantee to the banks. It is apportioned out to each of the individual banks if we agree with what they are going to do and if they are doing what we want them to do. If a particular bank does not decide to use the scheme in the right way, then it will not be using the scheme. That is fair enough. Customers will go somewhere else. The Deputy might dislike banks but I am sure he would complain if a bank announced it was moving out of a particular town in Tipperary because jobs and so on would be lost.

(Interruptions).

We are using the existing bank network to distribute the finance to people who need it. If we set up our own network, it could slow down the process, it could be cumbersome and costly and so on. The credit guarantee, which works all across Europe, is done this way. We guarantee the financial products. This puts the banks in a stronger position to give people a better deal on their loans. That is what we are trying to achieve. We all want the same thing, namely, access to finance and access to it on simpler terms and at lower cost in monetary terms as well. That is what we are trying to achieve with this legislation. We believe this will happen because this legislation also removes the portfolio cap, which, as rightly identified by many in this House, was a major impediment to achieving those lower interest rates. In passing this legislation, we will be in a much stronger position to reach out with a better financial product.

I mentioned a mix of products. There are numerous banks and lending institutions that will use this scheme and, therefore, there will be a range of products available. I hope we will see competition in terms of prices and interest rates. There will also be different types of loans such as overdrafts, term loans, and longer term loans of three years, five years and six years. That is what I meant when I said there would be a mix of products. We will track them all. Following enactment of this legislation, we will work with the banks in the weeks ahead to have these loans up and running by September or, all going well, before that if we can with lower cost of funding as well. Legislation is not where one would write in the interest rate or the terms and condition of loans. That is part of the agreement process and the legal documents that will be signed between the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland and the lending institutions that are going to avail of this scheme. This is not confined to the pillar banks. Lest members missed this point last night, this is not just about the pillar banks, although they are the predominant entities in the discussions thus far. The first 30% of funding will be allocated, if they want it, to those banks. The remaining 70% will be an open call to credit unions, post offices and other financial institutions that want to avail of the scheme. I ask members to bear in mind that it is open to all of the financial institutions that want to lend money.

I will move now to the questions raised by Deputy O'Reilly. I do not take offence that she is insulted that I am here and not the senior Minister. To be clear, I would expect that business people who follow this debate and listen to us discuss matters that will affect them and their businesses in accessing funding would expect this House to act in a reasonable businesslike manner. I refer not to Deputy O'Reilly but to Deputy Pearse Doherty who last night made a big drama out of the Tánaiste not being here for the debate. He was acting like a child. I mean no offence to Deputy O'Reilly. I know Deputy Doherty is her colleague but he was acting like a child.

That is offensive to Deputy Doherty.

I did not interrupt Deputy O'Reilly when she spoke.

(Interruptions).

I will use Deputy O'Reilly's words.

I ask Deputy O'Reilly to allow the Minister of State to make whatever point he is making and then we will decide.

With respect to Deputy O'Reilly's terms, I put them back at her. In my view, her colleague did not act like a businessman last night. Rather, he acted like a child and a spoiled child at that. He knew that the European Council meetings ran over by a couple of days, the knock-on effect of which was that the Cabinet and sub-Cabinet meetings were rescheduled. The Tánaiste wanted to be here to open the debate because this is legislation on which he has worked in his Department and in respect of which he has been on the airwaves. It was arranged by Government to make sure we could all be there for the debate and the Tánaiste was to open that debate. He could not do it because of the knock-on effect of EU meetings, which are important to this country, which Deputy O'Reilly knows because she is an intelligent person. The knock-on effect of the rescheduling of Cabinet meetings meant that he could not be in the House last night. That is why he was not there. That should be acknowledged and respected. We acknowledged it.

Last night, I was the first to thank all Members for their co-operation in getting this important legislation through the House. I recognise we are doing so in difficult circumstances in terms of moving back and forth to Leinster House and so on and that can be complicated. I thanked everybody for their efforts in facilitating the fast-tracking of the legislation. Sometimes, fast-tracking legislation and setting agendas a week before means that speakers might not be able to make it. That happens on the Opposition benches as well. The Tánaiste could not be in the House for the debate last night but he would have like to have been there. I can assure Deputies we discussed this Bill again today and we also discussed the amendments. The Tánaiste is involved because this is legislation drafted by his Department. As I said, he would like to have been there last night but he could not. Making an issue of that is a little bit out of order.

On a point of order-----

Deputy Louise O'Reilly indicated first on a point of order.

The Tánaiste is not here today. That is the excuse he had last night.

That is not a point of order.

He is not here today. It is important that that is recorded. He is not here today. The Minister of State has given an excuse for yesterday. We need a new excuse today.

It is not a point of order. I call Deputy Mattie McGrath on a point of order.

The Ceann Comhairle has just ruled out of order Deputy O'Reilly's point that the Tánaiste is not here. He should be here.

With respect, I was asked to address the situation last night. People do not like that I am here; that is fair enough.

We did not say that.

It is great to have the Minister of State here. He is fully on top of the legislation and he can deal more than adequately with it. Let us conclude our discussion on this, if we can, please.

With regard to the issue of evictions raised by Deputy McGrath, the legislation that went through the House towards the end of March to ban evictions was solely in regard to domestic and residential housing. I took that legislation through on behalf of my then senior Minister. We announced that there were no evictions and that businesses are still under pressure but those evictions are linked to domestic and residential premises, not commercial premises. I make that point in case there was any doubt in regard to that legislation.

Deputies are right that, for businesses, rent and their conversations with their landlords and lending institutions around how they can pay that fixed cost form a big issue. There is no doubt that there is an issue brewing in that regard. It comes up in all of our discussions with the SME groups as well and we trying to address it. The programme for Government commits to bringing forward criteria to deal with that as well. Other measures are being examined. The July stimulus package that will be announced later this week will include more supports. We are very much aware of the issue but Deputies are right to raise it. I want to clear up the concern in regard to evictions. It is not possible under that legislation to deal with commercial evictions. That was not the intention behind it. We are aware that there is an issue. Different countries are taking different approaches in terms of how to address it. My Department and other Departments will come together to work with the sector to identify ways we can help it to get through that as well.

I will return now to the scheme and the interest rates and making them available.

I stress that this is one offering in the toolkit. There are also restart grants and waivers of rates and other costs. I ask Deputies, therefore, not to consider this to be the only solution. It is not a silver bullet and it is not meant to be. We firmly believe that this scheme will facilitate lending at lower interest rates. It has to do so under the EU framework; that is what it is about. Everyone in our meetings knows that is what this is about. It has been proven to work in many other countries. We all agree the existing scheme in this country does not provide the solutions we now need for Covid, which is why we are addressing the scheme in the Bill and changing the criteria for it within the scope of the EU framework.

I acknowledge that Deputy O'Reilly would like to outline the interest rates in the legislation but, again, it is not the suitable place to do so. If she wants briefings on the interactions with the banks, I can arrange that for her. Those discussions will continue in the coming weeks if we get this Bill through this House today and the Seanad tomorrow. Hopefully, the President will be able to sign it into law quickly. We can then finish our negotiations with the banks on the details of the scheme and statutory instruments will be signed. I think the Deputy will be happy with what comes out of that and the offer that will be made. As I stated several times, I acknowledge that the Deputy does not agree but I ask her to let the legislation go through so that we can finish this work and get the money to businesses that need it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 5 agreed to.
Sections 6 and 7 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.
Sitting suspended at 6.35 p.m. and resumed at 6.40 p.m.