Protecting Jobs and Supporting Business: Statements

I welcome this opportunity to update the House on the Government’s work to protect jobs and support business during this pandemic. This is precisely my focus as Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment: to lead our country through the economic crisis and to help people to get back to work. There are no rules and no manual for this crisis. It is a public health and economic crisis like no other we have seen in our lifetime. Until a vaccine or treatment is widely available, physical distancing, testing and isolating will be the main instruments to fight the spread of the virus.

The Government yesterday published Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with Covid-19. It sets out how we plan to keep the virus under control, how we can anticipate and understand the virus and how to live our lives for the next six to nine months. It is designed to protect our families, friends, communities, jobs and businesses. I know that many people are feeling frustrated, but we must remain vigilant.

Irish businesses have shown remarkable grit and the Government will do everything it can to help businesses to open and to stay open and to keep people in employment. We have sought to protect jobs and back business by pumping billions of euro into the economy through wage subsidies, the pandemic unemployment payment, cash grants for businesses, low-cost loans, targeted tax cuts and commercial rates waivers, as well as increased Government spending on public services generally and public infrastructure specifically. The €9.5 billion deficit recorded at the end of August demonstrates the extraordinary nature and scale of this Government intervention.

The economic hit has been severe. GDP contracted by 6.1% in quarter 2 of 2020, but this masks a much more severe impact on the domestic economy, with modified domestic demand falling by 15% year on year. However, the economic figures that matter most are those relating to people staying in work or returning to work and these are now starting to go in the right direction, with the number claiming the pandemic unemployment payment falling every week. The monthly unemployment rate, adjusted to include those in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment, has fallen from 28.5% in May 2020 to 15.4% in August.

We are under no illusions that the recovery will be smooth. There may be multiple hits to the economy, matching the multiple waves of the pandemic over a protracted period, which makes responding to the crisis all the more difficult. We know that the economic impact of Covid-19 has not been the same across all sectors of the economy. For those sectors where remote working had been already part of their operation, making the transition to remote working has been much easier. For other sectors, especially those that require personal contact with customers, it has been more difficult to adapt to distancing requirements.

The July jobs stimulus was, as promised, a financial package of a scale that demonstrated the Government’s commitment to save enterprises, limit the damage to our economy and get people back to work. Indeed, it was bigger in scale than most annual budgets. It is being deployed at speed and is monitored by the Cabinet subcommittee on the economy which I chair. Building on the extensive enterprise and employment schemes that have been already deployed, the additional €7.4 billion announced in the July jobs stimulus will have a wide reach across the economy, resolve some of the limitations of existing schemes and be of sufficient scale and longevity to help our businesses and economy through the worst of this pandemic.

The temporary wage subsidy scheme and its successor, the employment wage subsidy scheme, have provided critical assistance to impacted businesses across the economy. For the most heavily impacted sectors such as hospitality, the schemes have given businesses a chance to resume activity and operate under the constraints demanded by public health requirements by heavily subsidising their largest variable cost, that is, labour. Without this support, it is likely that many businesses in this sector would have remained closed.

We have introduced a temporary reduction in VAT from 23% to 21% to boost employment and encourage spending. This tax cut will assist the retail sector in particular, but also benefit many other sectors of the economy, including fuel and personal services. The stay and spend initiative which will take effect in October will see consumers benefit by up to €125 each for expenditure on hospitality during the traditional off-peak season for this sector. We also allocated €10 million to a restart fund for the tourism sector. We have waived commercial rates for six months for many impacted businesses and, again, this waiver helps those business most in need. We will examine extending the rates waiver in the context of the budget in October.

Although these schemes are wide-ranging, they will, by their nature, be of most assistance to the most severely affected firms and sectors.

We have provided substantial restart grants of up to €25,000 to a broad category of businesses such as hairdressers, sports clubs, cafes, restaurants, bed and breakfast accommodation, and independent hotels. This grant is helping businesses cover the other fixed costs which continued throughout their enforced closure and, importantly, provides funding to help cover the cost of steps taken to ensure a safe environment for staff and customers on reopening. By Friday last, approvals to the value of €156 million were approved under the restart grant and €145 million under the restart grant plus. A total of 62,700 approvals have been made under the two schemes to date in every county in Ireland.

Last week, we announced the opening of the new €2 billion Covid-19 credit guarantee scheme to provide businesses with access to low-cost loans over a five or six year term as they respond to Covid-19. It is the biggest ever State-backed loan guarantee in Irish economic history.

A large number of non-bank finance providers, including some credit unions, have also applied to participate in the scheme as part of an open-call process. These applications are currently under assessment by the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, SBCI, and my Department. I welcome the demand from finance providers to be part of the scheme, as it will mean more choice for Irish SMEs in being able to borrow from institutions other than the traditional banks.

The Microfinance Ireland Covid-19 loan scheme also recently reopened. Under the first phase of this scheme, 687 loans were approved to a value of nearly €19 million. This represents three years of normal lending volumes for MFI in a period of just over four months.

Importantly, with 80% of the businesses receiving the loans based outside of Dublin, MFI provides an essential assistance for businesses that are hoping to boost their economic activity over the coming weeks and months in every county in Ireland. I expect this new tranche of funding will provide a lifeline to even more micro-enterprises enabling them to reopen, stay afloat or expand. It is worth bearing in mind that in Ireland nearly 60% of small and medium-sized enterprises carry no debt at all and have the capacity to borrow if they choose to do so.

The Government has also expanded the future growth loan scheme to make €800 million in lending available for terms of seven to ten years. Funding under this scheme helps businesses as they seek to make long-term strategic investment. This includes businesses that have been or will be impacted by Covid-19 and Brexit. Demand for this scheme has been high and has continued throughout the pandemic. As of the most recent report on 4 September, there have been 1,372 loans approved under the scheme, to a total value of almost €300 million.

We have also devoted some funds to specific sectors in order to take advantage of particular opportunities. One good example of this is the Covid life sciences fund which will see us set aside an initial €25 million of a potential €200 million in the form of state aid to enable enterprises, primarily in the pharmaceutical sector, to significantly and immediately ramp up production to help the EU efforts to Covid-19. The opportunity being presented to those firms by this funding will generate a significant return to the State in due course in the form of additional jobs and taxes.

One must remember, as we all do in this House, that a job provides more than an income. It can provide a sense of self-worth and well-being. While we will continue to help our businesses, we are also assisting those who have lost their jobs as a result of Covid-19 or whose jobs continue to be in a precarious position, getting staff back to work and creating new opportunities for those unable to return to their old jobs.

A €200 million investment in education and training was announced in July. A new apprenticeship incentivisation scheme has also been announced to assist employers to continue to recruit apprentices during the immediate Covid-19 period. This is in addition to 60,000 places in further and higher education, skills training, and work placement and experience schemes that will be funded. In fact, this autumn more people than ever before will enter higher education in Ireland.

A clear timeline as announced for the continuation of the pandemic unemployment payment will provide assurances to those who lost their jobs. While the headline figures are being reduced, it will continue in place at least until April and will remain open for new entrants. It is in marked contrast to the payments made north of the Border, for example, with the universal credit, which is close to one third of what is paid in this jurisdiction.

Young people have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19 and we must ensure they are not left behind. The JobsPlus scheme provides subsidies to encourage employers to take people on if they are under the age of 30 and they are on the live register or receiving the pandemic unemployment payment.

Many people who have lost their jobs in some of the sectors living with the long-term effects of closures and other restrictions, such as aviation and events, have moved into other sectors where they have additional or transferable skill sets. This shows the importance of continuing upskilling and reskilling for all workers, especially as the transition to a digital and low-carbon economy, which we know is likely to significantly change and in some cases even make obsolete certain roles, is still ahead of us. The advantages of a dual-qualification cannot be underestimated.

While we cannot keep every firm and job alive, I believe our emphasis should still be to preserve these insofar as we can within the fiscal constraints. We need to ensure that firms that can survive do.

We also need to examine why those in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment are disproportionately young, from migrant backgrounds and work in the private sector. These are people whom we relied on during the pandemic - shop workers, delivery drivers and cleaners. They tend not to be well paid or well protected. In the future, we need to value their work more and do better by them.

The next steps in our recovery journey will be mapped out in the October budget and the subsequent national economic plan. The national economic plan will set out a vision for what our post-Covid economy will look like. While the focus of Government action up to now has been on protecting workers, households and firms, the plan will look to the future and show how our economy can be positioned to exploit opportunities for growth in emerging sectors and in areas such as new ways of working, while also addressing how we will prepare for the transitioning of enterprises and workers in response to technology and climate change developments.

Unlike the response to the recession ten years ago when we lost the confidence of the European institutions and the international markets, we will be in a position to continue to borrow in the near future and that will allow us to continue to increase capital budgets and spending on public infrastructure in the coming years under Project Ireland 2040. We will be able to go ahead with the planned €1 billion increase in capital spending on public infrastructure next year - an increase of more than 12%. This, in itself, will generate employment and economic activity when we need it most. We can afford to borrow cheaply to invest in infrastructure and we will do so.

Covid-19 has forced us to take a step back and think about the way we live our lives. We do not want to return to the same society we had before. It gives us an opportunity to make fundamental changes for the better – for a better quality of life, a better economy and a better environment.

Protecting jobs and supporting business is fundamental to our economy and society. The Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation has spoken about the challenges facing our businesses and the unprecedented levels of financial supports which the Government has made available. We also have to ensure that the right conditions exist for our businesses to flourish.

As Minister of State with responsibility for trade promotion, digital and company regulation, my focus is on protecting jobs and supporting businesses by ensuring company law supports jobs and business, ensuring the responsible behaviour of companies through effective enforcement, ensuring a competitive and fair marketplace and helping to drive insurance reform, increasing consumer protection, especially online, and driving the digital agenda and creating opportunities for our businesses through trade promotion and digital opportunities.

Company regulation puts the legal framework in place for doing business in Ireland. It enables entrepreneurs to take risks, enterprises to grow and jobs to be created. Our regulatory regime is intended to ensure that business is conducted with probity and integrity but without undue administrative burdens, and the rights of investors, consumers, employees and creditors are protected, transparent and enforced.

Already, I have steered legislation through the Houses to assist in the running and survival of companies during Covid-19. The Companies (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Covid-19) Act makes necessary temporary amendments to the Companies Act 2014 and related legislation. This work is part of a sustained Government plan to ensure that company law is fit for purpose and protects not only companies but also the workers for which hundreds of thousands of Irish and Irish-based companies provide employment.

I will continue to review the Companies Acts and make necessary changes to simplify and improve receivership, examinership and liquidation laws in response to the Covid-19 crisis. The programme for Government has important commitments in this regard. Small businesses, the backbone of the Irish economy, are at a distinct disadvantage in availing of supports afforded by examinerships for the rescue and return to health of ailing but potentially viable companies. The current process of examinerships are beyond the means of many SMEs which are thus deprived of the opportunity to restructure and remain viable, and instead face closure.

With responsibility for company regulation, I will advocate for better processes for businesses in Ireland and work with colleagues and stakeholders to bring effective change. At the Tánaiste's request, the company law review group, CLRG, will report in October on its review of a rescue process for small companies. It is also undertaking an expedited review of commitments on insolvency, assets and redundancies.

A programme for Government commitment and a legislative priority this autumn is to progress the legislation to establish a new corporate enforcement authority. By establishing the office of the director of corporate enforcement as a stand alone agency, the new body will be better equipped to investigate increasingly complex breaches of company law. I look forward to working with Deputies shortly to deliver on this, which is a priority shared by many in this House.

Competition policy is about ensuring a competitive and fair marketplace. I will ensure the transposition of the European directive commonly known as the European Competition Network, ECN+. The directive empowers the competition authority of member states to be more effective enforcers and to ensure the proper functioning of the internal market. The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC, Comreg, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Irish courts are national competition authorities for the purposes of EU competition law. Officials in my Department are working towards the transposition of this important directive and, subject to Government approval, additional competition enforcement powers will be included in the legislation which I hope to bring before the House in the coming months.

We have a competitive insurance sector. The cost and availability of insurance is a major issue for consumers, business and community groups across the country. Insurance is one of my top priorities as Minister of State with responsibility for the Personal Injury Assessment Board, PIAB. As one of the first bodies I met on taking office, I am committed to seeing through substantial change in personal injury processes. I requested a report from PIAB on how its role could be enhanced and reformed to improve the functioning of the insurance market in Ireland. I have received this report and met with officials to discuss its suggested measures. I look forward to progressing and engaging with stakeholders to bring about effective change to the current unsustainable solution. The high cost of insurance is a top priority to me as Minster of State and to the Government. Its impact on business has consequences for the economy and jobs and we will address it.

Other matters are important to consumers especially when many are buying online. Work is underway on a major consumer rights Bill that will set out rights and remedies in contracts for sales of goods, the supply of digital content and services and the supply of non-digital services. The Bill will also provide for stronger consumer protection in online contracts and against unfair terms in consumer contracts. The scheme of the Bill should be finalised for pre-legislative scrutiny before the end of the year.

The Tánaiste and l, subject to Government approval, also intend to introduce legislation shortly to prohibit the resale of event tickets above their original sale price. I am particularly mindful that a resumption of sporting and entertainment events with very restricted attendances will create obvious potential for the resale of scarce tickets at inflated prices. I want to ensure that there is fair access to tickets for events both during and after Covid-19.

Covid-19 and its impact are not the only challenges ahead. Concerns grow regarding Brexit and we must not lose any focus in our preparations. As part of the Government's work to ensure business is Brexit ready, we are working to facilitate the operation of an EU regulated security settlement system in respect of the Irish market as the current UK CREST system will no longer be authorised under EU law. This will be achieved through the upcoming withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2020 to be introduced by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Bill will address all the foreseen legislative needs which arise at the end of the transition period regardless of the outcome of the EU-UK future partnership negotiations.

Brexit repeatedly reminds us of the importance of trade. As a small open economy, trade and its promotion are key. lreland relies on external demand and international markets for sustainable and continued growth. International trade has been central to our progress in the past half century and will continue to be central to our progress in the years ahead, though there will be challenges. Given this priority, diversifying our markets is a necessity.

The OECD SME and entrepreneur policy review found only 6.3% SMEs were trading internationally. Our ambition is to increase that to 9.6% by 2024 and while the Covid-19 crisis has adversely affected our ability to travel overseas on trade missions this year, I am determined to bring forward policies to support this aim.

On Covid-19 measures that impact business, I will continue to advocate for and address the concerns of business owners and SMEs whose ability to trade has been curtailed by the pandemic. Matters that need to be examined include travel restrictions for essential workers, Enterprise Ireland companies and extending moratoriums for performing loans.

In recent weeks I have advocated the adoption of an integrated travel policy. I welcome the announcement earlier in the week that that will be the way forward. It will bring certainty to those in trade, tourism and other impacted sectors.

As the Covid-19 crisis evolves we must consider the impact of extended closure on given sectors. Moratoriums for normally performing loans should be extended. We must show flexibility and take account of the extraordinary pressures placed on businesses in sectors adversely affected. We must engage with the ECB on these matters, determine the levels of flexibility that can be afforded and develop national guidelines.

Promotion of our companies abroad continues through the work of our State agencies and in particular their offices located on the ground internationally. I will work closely with the enterprise agencies and key stakeholders to ensure that we can continue to highlight the benefits which existing EU free trade agreements provide for Irish exporters. In the next three weeks, I will undertake a programme of engagement across the country, looking at all aspects of Ireland’s exporting ecosystem and meeting with Irish companies at all stages of their exporting journey.

One of the areas affording some of the greatest opportunities for Ireland in the road ahead is in the digital space. We have benefited from the presence of large technology firms that have based themselves in Ireland, but it is also important to ensure that we do not become complacent. The Covid-19 crisis has further highlighted the reliance that individuals and businesses alike have on digital platforms for personal and business matters. We need a whole-of-Government approach to bring forward a national digital strategy that is actionable, responsive and agile with regard to the pace of change in this space. I will work with colleagues to ensure continued stakeholder engagement in this process.

The new EU platform to business regulation on online platforms has just come into force and I look forward to building on this through the future digital policy initiatives planned at EU level. These include the development of a digital services act package and work on artificial intelligence policy. I will bring forward Ireland's first strategy on artificial intelligence. It will provide high level direction to the design, development and adoption of artificial intelligence in Ireland. The work at EU and national levels are major opportunities for enhanced productivity and innovation in our enterprise base and we must remain an attractive place for digital businesses to grow and prosper. I look forward to working with my team in the Department under the stewardship of the Tánaiste, to listen to businesses and employees and to put the right policies and legislation in place to protect jobs and support businesses. These are just some steps that I am taking to ensure that businesses and workers are not only protected in these challenging times, but also enabled and supported in their ambitions.

The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent public health measures implemented to reduce the spread of this virus have created unprecedented challenges for small and medium enterprises, SMEs, microbusinesses and the workers that they employ. These public health measures have required businesses across several sectors to close or to implement physical distancing measures that have significantly reduced their capacity to operate. This has had a negative effect on consumption and their trading opportunities. The subsequent losses experienced by SMEs threaten their survival.

Employing more than 1 million people, with extensive linkages throughout the domestic supply chain, the survival of our small to medium enterprises is crucial to getting people back to work and will play a central role in any recovery that might follow. Put simply, without a recovery for small to medium enterprises and family businesses, there will be no real recovery. Investing in SMEs and microbusinesses to rescue jobs and protect our communities is a priority for Sinn Féin but equally important is delivering on workers' rights. The economic recovery from Covid-19 cannot be built on the back of low pay and precarious work, nor on the exploitation of workers. Some of the most negatively impacted sectors of our economy are those with the lowest pay and worst conditions.

The recovery for those affected sectors cannot be a simple reconstitution of the past. This means that from now on, the State must play a central role in supporting our microbusinesses, our SME sector and our family-run businesses and the State and business must also play a central role in delivering on workers' rights, decent jobs and decent pay. IBEC reinforced this today in its submission for budget 2021, stating "The goal of measures introduced to promote economic recovery should not be simply a return to business as usual but rather should be taken as an opportunity to improve quality of life in Ireland." Many other groups have said this since the onset of this crisis, including the trade union movement, the community and voluntary sector, those in the health service and many more. Sinn Féin believes that the central plank of the economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis must be a real commitment to our microbusinesses, SME sector and family businesses, as well as a steadfast commitment to workers' rights embedded in legislation and the creation of decent jobs with decent pay and conditions. The State must protect workers and support businesses, which should be taken as a given. An analysis of the current situation for workers, SMEs and the broader economy has shown that the vast majority of the Government's actions have been too little, too late, or more often than not, both. My colleague, Deputy Doherty, will delve into this in detail in a few minutes.

The experience of the last financial crisis left most SMEs and microbusinesses unwilling to take on additional external debt through loans. They pleaded with the Government for injections of liquidity through grants. Instead of listening to the sector, the Government proposed a 4:1 debt:grant ratio in the July stimulus, with a focus on loans rather than grant aid. The paltry and often inaccessible nature of some of these grants has meant that many businesses are still in an extremely perilous position. I was speaking with a businessperson in Kildare and have written to the Tánaiste about this person. He informed me that phase 1 of the restart grant scheme had its closure date changed and that meant that countless businesses that had applied for or were waiting to apply for grants lost out. Instead of being entitled to and receiving the restart grant and the restart grant plus, he instead only qualifies for one. That does not seem fair or right.

What supports are there for wet pubs, the live entertainment sector and artists? All of these sectors were essentially ignored. The wet pubs were essentially ignored. One pub worker I spoke to at the weekend said that they were kicked around by the Government. Their reopening has been put back countless times. Instead of coming up with a plan for these pubs to reopen in a safe and secure manner with set guidelines and sanctions, they were ignored. I know many have correctly stated that this particularly penalised rural areas and rural pubs, but it also penalised many pubs in urban working class areas that do not have recourse to kitchen and cooking facilities. Additional supports for workers in these businesses when they reopened were continuously put back. They did not get a thing. Instead of engaging meaningfully with affected sectors and working to protect the jobs, livelihoods and businesses, the main supports for those affected, the pandemic unemployment payment and the temporary wage subsidy scheme, have been put back. Such moves threaten to undermine investment in these affected sectors since the beginning of the crisis. The State either ensures that the workers in these sectors are protected through wage supports and that the businesses are helped through grant aid or help with debt, or jobs will be lost and businesses will fold.

We have seen in the north of England and Scotland how communities were destroyed through the Thatcher years because of the failure of the state to invest in communities, protect businesses and protect jobs. The failure has cost demonstrably more in the long run through funding for social protection measures and the destruction wrought on these communities. We know that leveraging through debt is often necessary for growth. That principle applies in our current circumstances. We need to borrow and invest in workers, jobs and small businesses to stabilise them and help them grow. This is the only way forward.

We can and should use this period to reset the economy and rectify the mistakes of the past. While Covid-19 has created instability in our economy, it has also laid bare an insecure economic base that is centred on low wages, low growth and low productivity. If we are to create a truly progressive economy and a happy society, we need to have substantial economic change. Unfortunately after the last economic crash, the conservative political parties and their corporate affiliates came together to ensure that the old economic order, which was responsible for the most catastrophic domestic elements of the crash, was repaired and put back together the same as before.

In a post-Covid-19 world, we cannot go back to business as usual and have a reconstitution of the economy as it was. We need to propose and advocate for how we can build a robust, socialist, progressive, sustainable and green economy. We must eradicate precarious low wage work, which has been a feature of our economy, and we need to see a serious move towards a living wage. This cannot be done in a vacuum. There most be a whole-of-Government response to tackle the high cost of housing, insurance, education and the crippling cost of living.

Sinn Féin is committed, as the lead party in Opposition in the Dáil, to be constructive and robust. We will work with all parties and all political groupings to support workers' rights and micro, small, medium and family businesses.

When it comes to protecting jobs and workers, the Covid-19 global health emergency has put a necessary focus on the need for high standards of health and safety at work. In a time of a global pandemic, access to paid sick leave becomes an important instrument of public health. This State remains one of the few in Europe not to have paid sick leave for all workers. When we talk about what workers want and need, then give them a round of applause and a pat on the back, we have to think about what would be a meaningful legacy after what was done to some workers during this crisis. A really meaningful legacy for those workers would be a State-backed sick pay scheme that would ensure that they could take time off from work. I am not naive enough to believe that this could be done overnight. I know it cannot simply be done with a flick of a switch. I know it would require much detailed consultation.

I know the difference between a sound bite and a decent sick pay scheme. What I am saying to the Tánaiste is that we need to use this time to build that into the system. It is going to take some time. That is why Sinn Féin has proposed an extension to the force majeure scheme to ensure that people who cannot be in work have the capacity not to be in work and not to lose out in terms of money because of Covid, but also that we use this time to build a decent State-backed sick pay scheme which will bring us into line with the rest of Europe. Many employers went above and beyond to save their businesses and protect the jobs of their staff. Some employers and businesses saw this as cover for poor treatment of their workforce. The behaviour of Debenhams is one such example. The Tánaiste and I have spoken about this previously. We know about the need to immediately implement the Duffy Cahill report immediately. Successive Governments have failed to learn the lesson from Clerys, TalkTalk, the Paris Bakery, La Senza and the myriad others. We know them all and can rhyme them all off.

The Tánaiste has a proposal on his desk from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. It is backed by the workers in Debenhams and Mandate Trade Union. I ask him to give it serious consideration, not over the course of months as the Minister of State, Deputy English, has said but over the course of the next couple of weeks. They have put a lot of effort into this proposal. It reflects the Duffy Cahill report. It is not by any manner or means radical. It is something that is done in other countries. It would make a real and meaningful difference in the lives of those workers and would ensure we do not keep coming back to the same place again, to the same problems and issues, and to the same shrug of the shoulders and "let us not let this happen again." We need to make sure when we say we do not want it to happen again that we actually put measures in place to ensure it cannot. As a State, we need to move towards a much more robust and progressive economic base. We have to move towards a recovery that is built on the back of decent pay and decent work, and we have to fix that which has been exposed by this pandemic.

Since the public health emergency began, and in order to contain the spread of the virus, sectors of our economy have been entirely closed while others have suffered severely reduced activity as a result of restrictions which were necessary at that time. As a result, thousands of workers have lost jobs and their incomes. With trading brought to a halt, many businesses are currently fighting for their very survival. Chruthaigh an pandemic seo agus na srianta sláinte a tháinig léi deacrachtaí móra dár gcomhlachtaí, idir beag agus mór, go háirithe comhlachtaí beaga agus na hoibrithe atá fostaithe acu. The statistics, which I know the Tánaiste values, reveal the stark reality facing workers and businesses across the State and also the failure of his Government and Department to act fast and do whatever it takes to support them. The numbers speak for themselves. Figures published by the European Commission on 8 September showed Ireland suffering the second highest level of job losses in the second quarter of this year. That is more than twice the European average. Figures published the following day by the Central Statistics Office, CSO, found the rate of unemployment for August stood at 15.4%. That is higher than the unemployment rate in the United States of America under President Trump. These figures cannot be disputed.

The real reasons for the scale of job losses which are out of kilter with our European competitors are quite clear. I will briefly mention two of them before discussing the third in greater detail. First, we know that the greatest level of job losses has been felt among low-paid workers in the sectors most affected by the public health measures, including hospitality and tourism. This has been repeatedly confirmed by monthly Exchequer figures, the most recent of which have shown that despite unemployment in the month of July being 17%, income tax receipts were only down 0.7% on the previous year. These sectors make up a large proportion of our economy and jobs market, more so than in other European countries, resulting in heavier losses.

Second, the level of job losses is directly related to the severity of the public health measures that needed to be implemented to contain the spread of the virus. One of the reasons these were necessary was the simple fact that we have among the lowest hospital capacity and the highest levels of hospital occupancy in the OECD, after a decade of Fine Gael mismanagement of our health services. That is the reality and we need to be clear. A decade of underinvestment and mismanagement has left the State more vulnerable to the virus. That is one of the reasons such stringent public health measures have been required, which in turn have damaged the economy and cost jobs.

Third, the Government and the Tánaiste's Department have been slow to support businesses and jobs. Bhí an Rialtas ró-mhall ag cuidiú le comhlachtaí agus ní raibh na tacaíochtaí a cuireadh ar fáil do chomhlachtaí láidir go leor. Chuir sé seo leis an méid ard daoine a chaill a bpoist le cúpla mí anuas. Despite a sharp reduction in income, non-payroll costs for SMEs have remained the same. With the accumulation of rents, utilities, debt repayments and insurance to pay, these businesses are building up unsustainable debts. Research published by the ESRI just yesterday estimated that SMEs suffered a revenue shortfall of between €6 billion and €10 billion from March to June this year. By the end of this year, the ESRI estimates that these firms will suffer a revenue shortfall of between €8 billion and €15 billion. The question is how has the Tánaiste's Government performed in supporting the SME sector which, crucially, employs over 1 million workers. In this regard, what matters is not announcements or press releases but the release of funding. SMEs will not survive on press releases but on real financial support.

The credit guarantee is a case in point. On 7 September, the Government finally opened its €2 billion credit guarantee scheme. This is better late than never, no doubt, but it comes five months after similar schemes were opened in other jurisdictions such as Germany, Britain and France. As of Friday, not a cent of this scheme has been lent out by participating banks. There were changes made to the scheme which I welcomed, for example the removal of the portfolio gap which will increase the level of guarantee and facilitate lending to SMEs. I proposed this very change to the Minister back in May. It was rejected then but I welcome the fact that Sinn Féin policy has now been adopted by the Government on this issue. It comes five months later than similar schemes in other advanced economies and no doubt this delay has cost jobs and is threatening the viability of businesses. In terms of grant support, again, the Government has moved too slow. By last Friday, €299 million had been released to businesses across the two restart grant schemes with only 50% of the overall funding available dispersed and 30% of applications at this late stage in September still awaiting approval. By the end of March, five months ago, grants of £10,000 or £25,000 depending on the size of the company, with a total value of £300 million, had been provided to SMEs in the North, providing rapid liquidity to businesses that needed it and jobs that depended on it. In Germany it took them 24 hours to get the money into the accounts of businesses in payments of €25,000, yet this Government has delayed and delayed. The reality is that this is costing jobs.

I welcome other measures announced in the July stimulus such as the commercial rates waiver and a number of tax measures which will offer real relief to businesses, such as the warehousing of tax liabilities and income tax loss relief for the self-employed. However, the Government's stay and spend initiative is badly designed and unfairly distributed. It took a good idea that we presented to it and butchered it. As the tax strategy papers published on Monday show, 30% of earners will not be eligible for this scheme. Nearly 1 million taxpayer units are not eligible for it. Furthermore, with any claims made in 2021 not being refunded by Revenue until 2022 it is really questionable whether this initiative will drive the level of spending required in this sector. It would have been of more benefit to small businesses in the hospitality sector if the Government had adopted our position of reducing VAT from 13.5% to 9%, providing them with real flexibility to pass on this reduction to their customers or to improve their balance sheets. I urge the Tánaiste and the Government to look at this issue again and consider it in the budget.

On the employment wage subsidy scheme, the temporary wage subsidy scheme was a crucial policy measure that Sinn Féin supported having submitted our own proposals to the Minister back on 23 March, before any announcement was made. We worked constructively to address the deficiencies in that scheme, successfully arguing for an increase in the subsidy for the lower paid and also the inclusion of women returning from maternity leave. By the end of August, the scheme provided €2.8 billion, supporting 663 employers and over 65,000 employers. As of 1 September, this scheme is now replaced with a new scheme which is going to run until the end of March. I have serious concerns about the design of the employment wage subsidy scheme. I have raised them in the Dáil and with the Minister for Finance. It provides no support whatsoever for an employee who earns less than €151.50 per week.

That locks out 153,000 workers across the economy. Given that it is the low-paid workers who have been most affected and most likely to lose their jobs, it is a policy choice by Fine Gael that I see no sense in. I cannot understand it. The new scheme also cuts the level of wage support for workers by as much as 50%. There are things that can be done to improve the flaws in this, and we have given solutions.

The Tánaiste and his Government need to do better in terms of protecting jobs. We can look to the pandemic and we know it has caused huge disruption, some of which is outside of our control, but in no way should the State have twice the level of unemployment as that across the EU. It is simply unacceptable. The reasons for this must be looked at in the Tánaiste's own Department, and in the Government's slow, lethargic and not big enough response to supporting workers and small and medium enterprises.

Yesterday's announcement will have offered very little in the way of comfort or clarity for those working in the tourism and hospitality industry. Those representing the sector had hoped to see additional sector-specific support, but unfortunately it was not forthcoming. The tourism season is now over and hundreds of thousands of people who work in the sector are staring into the abyss. The Irish Hotels Federation has said that 100,000 people working in tourism have already lost their jobs and another 100,000 jobs are now at risk.

The tax rebate solution provided by the Government is woefully inadequate to deal with this situation. We have told the Government this umpteen times. The rebate is not due to come out until October, a time when most people cannot or will not go on holiday. It offers a limited rebate next year for those who can afford to go on holiday. Worst of all, the scheme excludes more than 700,000 people who are on low pay, those who are carers, the vast majority of pensioners, and people who have lost their work or their job due to the pandemic. All of these people are excluded. It is a shambles, but a cleverly drafted shambles to exclude the maximum number of people.

Sinn Féin put forward a plan that would have given vouchers during the summer, when families were in a position to take a holiday. Our plan would have seen each adult receive a voucher worth €200 and every child in the State being entitled to a voucher worth €100. Schemes of this type are in place in other jurisdictions. It would have put money directly into the pockets of every adult and child in the country, regardless of their tax or socioeconomic status, which would then have been spent in the Irish domestic tourism and hospitality sector. Instead we have a €105 tax rebate for the very small cohort who are eligible and which is available for holidays from October and in November.

Another sector brought to its knees by the pandemic is the entertainment sector. This comprises 35,000 full-time and part-time highly skilled workers, who have been almost entirely out of work since 12 March. The industry has been completely shut down by the Government due to the pandemic. There are no job opportunities for these workers and there is, literally, no end in sight for them. The sector needs specific and long-term support if workers and their families are to survive the next few months. Now is not the time to make cuts to Covid-19 payments.

Some months ago Sinn Féin called for the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, and the temporary wage subsidy scheme to be extended to the end of the year and at the original rates for all the sectors still shut out of work due to the pandemic. We need specific grant funding for 2021 for this industry or until such time that it can reopen and resume work to make sure the people in it are in a position to do so when the industry is reopened. Sinn Féin put forward three substantial grant schemes of between €12,000 and €25,000 for SMEs and microbusinesses, as well as sole trader grants of €5,000, similar to what was done in the North and in other European Union countries. The €5 million live performance support scheme is welcome but it is clearly too little, too late. The allocation of €1 million for the music industry is a drop in the ocean. Again, a whole swathe of musicians are excluded because only professional musicians will qualify. Sinn Féin also brought forward solutions this morning for the taxi industry and practical measures that would help the taxi drivers to make a sustainable living in the next few months. I have only had a few minutes to speak this evening but one would need a few hours to go through the whole list of sectors the Government has let down.

We had a debate earlier on workers' rights. I know the Tánaiste will have an interest in what was said and in the nature of the economy we are trying to grapple with, even since before Covid arrived, which is a low-pay economy. The Tánaiste spoke about this in his remarks also. We have spoken before about the disproportionate number of young people and migrant workers who are on low pay and the huge numbers of young people in insecure work.

I will give context to the debate and what we are facing. This is not a debate on building an economy after Covid. We are very much in the thick of this. Professor Philip Nolan has stated that having seen the statistics tonight, he is more concerned than he has been at any stage of the pandemic since late April.

Without trying to rehash a debate about yesterday, I put it to the Tánaiste that there is a level of confusion about what is happening in Dublin. Perhaps the Tánaiste will confirm to the House the situation with household restrictions. Only two households, regardless of their size, and a limit of six people can meet and socialise together. I understand that this also means bars and restaurants but I am not sure if this has been communicated, or if it is as well known throughout Dublin that restrictions are that no more than six people from two households can socialise. People cannot, therefore, socialise in a bar or in a restaurant beyond two households either. I am not sure if this has been clearly communicated. The Tánaiste might clarify this in his concluding remarks. This would have an economic impact on the city. It would have an impact on those who are booking tables and hoping to sell their wares in bars and restaurants.

The point is well made for having a sector-by-sector response. I appreciate the efforts the Government has made. I am aware that it is difficult and that the Government has tried to keep as many people as possible on the standard of living they had been used to. The Tánaiste will appreciate that it can be frustrating for sectors that are not getting the same amount of media attention when they hear certain lobby groups in certain industries getting a huge amount of airtime. Other sectors may not be getting as much attention, which is frustrating.

Some industries are clinging on but others may not survive as a total industry. I will refer to two, one of which is the travel agent industry. My office met with representatives of the travel agencies yesterday. The industry supports 3,500 workers. The industry has been though a lot, as one might imagine, such as ash clouds, wars and 9/11. The industry has survived but it cannot just close its doors and then hope to reopen after a period of time. The agencies must try to recoup refunds for people they deal with, and they provide a particular service because there is a callback or a guarantee that is a friendly Irish voice for those who depend on travel agents. The industry has told me that if specific sectoral supports are not put in place now, there will not be an Irish travel agent industry after Covid. It could be run from abroad or from the UK. We need to be mindful of this when formulating responses to Covid and when formulating budgets. How do we decide sector by sector and how do we formulate responses to protect jobs? The Tánaiste will know that it is much easier to protect or maintain a job than to create one. The travel agent representatives have some very practical suggestions as to how this might be done and I wanted to flag this with the Tánaiste.

While the travel agents industry represents 3,500 jobs, another group that makes the case for 35,000 jobs is the live events industry.

I have to say this is absolutely remarkable. I would not walk out in the middle of a Deputy's contribution in this Chamber. I have stayed to the end when other Deputies were making their contributions and then I have left. The previous contribution I made in this House was on the matter of workers' rights and we did not have a senior Minister for the debate. I did not make that point again when the Tánaiste was here. I thought I had made my point on that and that I would leave it. He sat there, listened to half of my contribution and then he left. I find that incredibly disrespectful to what we are trying to achieve here. Honestly, I walked into the House thinking that the time for party political point scoring was over. I thought let us have some practical solutions here and let us talk about the travel agents I talked to yesterday and about the live events industry that supports 35,000 jobs but in the middle of my contribution the Tánaiste decides to walk out. He could not wait, literally, for five minutes. Is there any point in me continuing my contribution?

The point is made Deputy.

My point is made but I want it to be recorded. The Minister of State, with respect, is here and he made a contribution which was well put together and was appreciated, but the Government cannot go on the airwaves and in the media and suggest that the Opposition is not being constructive, that the Opposition is part of the problem or that the Opposition is trying to sow confusion when in the middle of a contribution by the Opposition the Tánaiste decides to leave. He left halfway through it.

We are all in this together. We are all doing our best. We are all trying to show leadership in our communities and to say to the people we represent that we can get through this, that we will get through this, that there will come a day when we can hug our grandparents again, meet our friends again, walk to the shop again, not have to wear a mask again, go to a football match again and that there will come a time when we do not have to be worried about this virus again. That day will come and we will celebrate that day. Hopefully, when that day does come we will have an economy and a country of which we can be proud. So many things have been ripped open and exposed by this virus, including the inequality, the housing problems, the issues of low pay that I mentioned already, with 23% of Irish workers on low pay - I am sick of saying it - and large numbers of young people in insecure work. All of these issues have been ripped open, including the issues in education with overcrowded classrooms but we can work together on these things. We can find solutions together on these issues. We can actually prove to the people of this country that when it comes down to it, Irish politicians are better than what is happening in the UK or the US right now. We are a collective that, when it comes down to it, has the Irish nation at its heart. We should be able to say, on examining the Irish nation, how it is formulated, the economy, society and all of the rest of it, that when we went through a pandemic, we came out the other side of it and we actually decided to repair what was wrong - the disadvantage, the housing, the inequality, the way that our systems and our Parliament are formulated. We can work on a huge amount of that together. I have spoken to the Minister with responsibility for higher education, Deputy Harris, about his belief in doing something about adult literacy. I have spoken to the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Foley, about her belief in doing something on free schoolbooks. We have spoken across this Chamber about things we can achieve together and we actually have achieved an awful lot together on a cross-party basis. That is what the people of this country want. They want to see us working together.

It is perfectly legitimate for the Opposition if it sees something that is wrong or inherently contradictory in a presentation by the Government to point it out. Two minutes ago, before the Tánaiste walked out, I said that there seems to be some confusion about the number of people who can meet together in their own family home compared to in a pub or a restaurant. I raised a legitimate point and sought clarity because we are all are getting phone calls from our constituents who are asking what they can and cannot do in the context of the regulations. Can I leave the county or not? Is the Government serious about not leaving the county or is it only half serious? To go back to my earlier point, midway through my contribution, the Tánaiste decided to get up and leave in some kind of mock protest. I wonder if there is any point in me engaging with the Tánaiste on this level because he seems to find it tedious when people decide to raise such issues with him.

I have already referred to the live events industry which employs 35,000 workers. It is at a very serious point. It absolutely accepts why the restrictions were introduced and the rationale behind the Government's decisions. It has suggested that the Government reinstates a support payment of €410, the previous level of the temporary wage subsidy scheme and €350, the previous level of the pandemic unemployment payment which is vital for the skilled workforce in the sector until it fully recovers. The sector is unique in that it is almost entirely closed under Government mandate, with no opportunity to trade. This is the real issue here. This is not about it trying to re-establish a relationship with its consumer base; it is mandated by the Government not to operate. A sector by sector, strategic investigation by the Government as to how we can recover certain elements of the economy would be beneficial to us all. Issues concerning workers' rights, low pay and representation rights for workers were dealt with in the previous debate this evening, so I will leave it there for now.

I am sharing time with Deputies Carey and Bruton. It is good to see the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, in the Chamber taking questions. I congratulate him on his new portfolio.

The past number of months have been extremely difficult for everyone in this country but there are certain industries and sectors that have been disproportionately hit. At the moment there are 5,809 people on the live register in County Clare and a further 12,000 people in receipt of Covid income supports. The live register figures are alarmingly higher than the figures for this time last year, with in the region of 1,200 additional people unemployed in our county. That is a real testament to the economic ravages of Covid-19.

I would like to raise a number of pertinent topical issues in the Chamber this evening. Last year the High Court ordered that Avara Pharmaceutical Services in Shannon be wound down after it emerged that it had annual losses in the region of €9.5 million and was insolvent. The plant when fully operational employed 115 people but many of these have been made redundant over the past few months and now only a skeletal staff remains on site. Avara was once owned by UCB Pharma SA, a French company. As part of its corporate social responsibility, that company has offered to make a redundancy payment to its former employees on top of the payment being offered by Avara. This is unprecedented. I looked but could not find any examples of former company owners wanting to pay more out of a sense of social responsibility. The offer is being examined by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation but has been delayed. A spurt is needed so that those who are losing jobs and incomes can get the money owed to them. The IDA is engaged in talks to find a buyer for the Avara site and I would like to hear how those talks are progressing. I believe a Swiss company was interested at one point and I would love to hear where that is going because it has the potential to breathe new certainty and confidence into the Shannon area.

The events and live entertainment industry has been heavily lobbying all Deputies in recent days. Nationally this sector employs 35,000 people and includes theatres, clubs, festivals, musicians, comedians and many other performers and people involved in the cultural sector. It is worth €3.5 billion annually to the economy. On the basis that arts and entertainment may not return to normal operations for many months to come, I hope the Government will consider various supports to help workers and the industry overall to be resilient and to financially survive the current crisis.

Earlier this week I received some positive clarification from my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, concerning a fund of €2.6 million that his Department has made available to keep key Shannon Heritage sites in the mid-west open over the autumn and winter months. I found out that this money will be ring-fenced for Bunratty Castle and Folk Park and King John's Castle and will not be spent, as many had feared, on sites that the group also owns in Dublin. Job losses at Shannon Heritage were averted by this injection of capital but it is important when we get to the end of 2020 that the Government looks at ways of priming that unit with more money so that job losses are avoided and the sites remain open in the new year.

The aviation task force does not fall under the Minister of State's brief but it is essential to jobs in the mid-west. Many elements have been adopted and enacted, and I was very pleased to see that due to the mid-term plan the Government announced yesterday, there is a real prospect of aeroplanes returning to the skies and people flying once more.

There is one key element, which is priming the airports and the sector with money. That has not happened yet and it has to happen to ensure they do not become insolvent. Last week, employees directly employed at the airport by Shannon Group had to take a 20% pay cut without a ballot or without what I would consider normal procedures being followed, and the matter is in dispute. I want to mention that in the Chamber because it was a real hammer blow to people who have worked in the airport for a long time, although it is not something the Government can intervene in when the dispute is ongoing. We certainly need a sector primed with money.

I want to speak today about three sectors that have been badly affected by this pandemic and the need for us to make plans to ensure their recovery. The three sectors are: aviation, including Shannon Airport and the related industries associated with the mid-west; the tourism sector, not only in Clare but right along the Wild Atlantic Way; and the entertainment and hospitality industry.

Shannon Airport is the key driver of the economy in the mid-west region. I am aware the Government is formulating an assistance package for the airlines. This package must ensure that strategic routes are maintained and that vital connectivity to Heathrow and to North America is retained.

In terms of jobs, Aer Lingus has more than 150 people working at that base and the airport itself has 230 direct employees. Outside of that, there are 80 different aviation companies in and around Shannon and many more businesses have chosen the Shannon region for its connectivity and airport facilities. In addition, more than 10,000 people work in the Shannon industrial zone and a multitude of industries and companies are based in and around Shannon Airport. These companies depend on connectivity and the vital links to all corners of the globe. Some 40% of foreign direct investment companies in Ireland are based in the Shannon region. We need to examine the options available for pre-departure and arrival testing, including temperature testing, to be incorporated in our travel plans, especially for the transatlantic routes. The essential element of Shannon's recovery is connectivity, that is, connectivity with the vital links to Heathrow, to Boston and to New York.

Aer Lingus has invested in six new planes which meet tighter environmental controls. These aircraft can play a vital role in Shannon's recovery. Any assistance package provided by the Government must guarantee that at least two of these are based in Shannon as part of a transatlantic hub, while also servicing Heathrow.

In view of the very limited time available to us today, I ask that the Minister of State would arrange a suitable time for statements on aviation policy and a debate on these vital issues in the coming weeks.

The tourism sector has seen a drastic reduction in the income of both business and employees in County Clare. Prior to Covid-19, tourism across County Clare supported 12,000 jobs and generated €266 million in revenues annually for the local economy. The local tourism economy is in deep crisis, with tourism revenues down €200 million in Clare alone this year, and 8,800 tourism jobs are now at risk. Tourism businesses are facing a stark choice. They are calling for a new financial package, including bank loans and guarantees, a reduction in the VAT rate to 9% and investment in marketing and tourism budgets.

As part of the recovery strategy from the last recession, the last Government devised ideas such as the Wild Atlantic Way and the Gathering, and these strategies dramatically grew both tourism numbers and income right along the entire western coast. Now is the time to devise new ideas and I ask the Minister of State to organise a new ideas forum for the recovery of the tourism industry. In 2022, Ireland will have been an independent State for 100 years. We could use this as a marketing strategy to celebrate our centenary and invite people from the four corners of the globe to come to Ireland. Let us remember both the United States and the Australian bicentenary celebrations some years ago. We could start by inviting the President of the United States to celebrate St. Patrick's Day in Ireland, after landing into Shannon Airport, of course.

The curtains have come down on the entertainment and gig economy for musicians, artists and sound, light and visual technicians. This sector has been virtually locked down since the middle of March and I ask the Minister of State to make a special case to keep this industry going at this time.

I held the post of jobs Minister back in 2011 and, to be fair, I think some of the characterisation of the recovery that we forged in those years that has been presented by the Opposition does not ring true with me. We built a stronger economy, a fairer economy, with a lot of really strong employment and diversified sectors, and that has to be reflected. However, I absolutely agree that the design and implementation of the next national economic plan is going to be the most critical challenge we face. We are facing a perfect storm with the decline of consumer confidence, with returns in most of our sectors dramatically down in terms of profitability, with acceleration of change distorting and putting pressure on sectors, and, of course, with the prospect of disruptive impact on our key exporting sectors.

What Ireland needs to do in this plan is not to try to recreate the economy we had last year; instead, we have to break new ground to get ahead of the trends which are reshaping our society. The big challenge in this economic plan is to show our capacity to do that and it will require bold investment measures from the Government. The crucial thing is not how much we borrow, it is what we use that money for. We have to make the right choices. If we aspire to something better than the developer-led growth which has misshaped our society in recent years, we have to put in place the tools that can deliver better, and that represents a big challenge to us. The first thing we need to do is increase the level of investment. The €9 billion that has been set aside for next year will not be enough, and it will not be enough in the years beyond that. However, we must also take steps to speed up some of the critical investments in infrastructure that need to happen very quickly. We have real problems in regard to regulatory approval and inertia in our system of getting necessary investments done. We need to adopt design, build and finance approaches, which was a part of how we designed the national broadband plan, so we can get more ambitious programmes off the ground and not just wait for the traditional ways of building. We need to be really ambitious in strategic areas of investment, be it in broadband, in digital, in renewable energy and so on, as these are going to be crucial for us.

I share the view of the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, that we have to look at our sectors in a more creative way. I agree with him that examinership is not the way to go and that we need to design much simpler and easier ways for people who are in genuine difficulties to move forward. We also need to find a way of mobilising banks, insurance companies and higher education institutions to support the structural change we will have to see in many sectors. They have tended to take a hands-off view but they have to be engaged in this because it will affect the future of their business if we do not make the right decisions.

We need to protect our success in many parts of the digital economy, in biopharma and in the globalised economy. That means addressing some of the imbalances we have seen in that globalised economy because the strength of those sectors will depend on the quality of regulation, and there is a real opportunity for Ireland to lead in quality regulation in many of these sectors.

We also have to recognise the hugely painful adjustment that is going to fall on individuals in our society and on families. That is why this is the time, as we build a national economic plan, to recognise that we need the wider concept of a new social contract, so we can recognise that the economic change has to be accompanied by social change. If we want a sustainable, fair society, we need a strong economy, but if we want a strong economy, we also need to ensure a sustainable, fair society. This is the opportunity to see those two drivers of progress in our society go in harness together.

The last six months have been extremely difficult for many businesses. Business owners and employees recognise that they had a part to play in flattening the curve, and supports were put in place at that time. As the restrictions were lifted some businesses were in a position to reopen, but in many cases they still need supports. Others are still unable to open and many people are still out of work with no prospect of returning any time soon.

One sector that has little prospect of reopening soon is the entertainment and hospitality sector. Hundreds of theatres, venues, clubs, festivals and events of all sizes have been silent since March. The entertainment industry employs more than 35,000 people, between full-time and part-time workers. The vast majority of these people have had no employment since 12 March. It was the first industry to shut and is likely to be the last one to reopen fully. The events sector alone directly contributes over €3.5 billion to the national economy. It is estimated that for every €1 spent on a ticket for an event an additional €6 is spent in the wider tourism economy. Until recently, the sector has been ignored and received virtually no Government aid. The workers and their dependants desperately require serious Government support to survive. Workers at all levels in this sector have no prospects of earning a living in the foreseeable future. The supports must be appropriate to address the dire financial situation facing almost every person and business in this sector.

We have discussed several times in the House how important good mental health is for everyone and how seriously it is being impacted by the Covid crisis. Music and entertainment have an important role in contributing to good mental health. However, it is the people in this sector, who normally bring such joy to others, who are suffering now. At a minimum, they require the immediate reinstatement of the wage subsidy scheme or the pandemic unemployment payment at the full rate per week until the sector is allowed to return to work, because it is fully closed by the Government under public health advice at present.

Many SMEs are suffering but one example is the dry cleaning and laundry business. That business is heavily linked to both the hospitality and tourism sectors. It should, therefore, receive the same benefits as those sectors, especially considering that most cleaners report that 60% to 80% of their work comes from those sectors. These businesses remained open during the lockdown, but many of the businesses they rely on for work were closed. Cancelled functions, such as weddings, graduations and so forth, have impacted the industry. Working from home has had an impact on it. Many in the industry are reporting a decrease in footfall from walk-in customers. They have also lost sales from corporate bodies who get uniforms and so forth cleaned. This is a sector that requires some support so I ask the Minister to consider formally allying this industry with the hospitality and tourism sectors. Any rescue packages given to the latter should also be given to this industry.

Many indigenous SMEs depend on trade fairs and exhibitions for product testing and future sales. For some businesses, these events are the only places they get to meet their customers face to face. I have been assured that trade fairs and exhibitions can recommence in a safe and responsible manner. They have informed me they have full contact details for all attendees and they have large venues with multiple exit or entrance points. They are not social events so the attendees can be staggered and allocated time slots. In addition, there are specific health and safety protocols drawn up by the Irish Exhibition Organisers Association for all event organisers to put into effect. They include temperature testing and isolation rooms. These protocols have already been the subject of detailed consultation with the Health and Safety Authority, HSA. The majority of such events in the rest of Europe are back in operation or have been given a commencement date by their respective governments for when operation can commence. Through this network the event organisers in Ireland are learning of the many successful approaches to running safe and responsible events. I ask the Minister to consider that as well.

Covid-19 means businesses are operating under uncertainty and with considerable economic challenges. The SME and microenterprise businesses are facing disastrous consequences as we head into winter. The SME sector employs 63% of people working in Ireland and it will have a catastrophic 2020. It needs a clear strategy outlined by the Government so businesses will know what will occur should restrictions be reimposed, and we know that is possible for many businesses as we approach winter. There is no room for ambiguity. They need to know what the right decisions should be, what they can be certain of and that they can trust in what the Government's response will be.

I am spokesperson on a variety of issues for my party, such as education, social protection and the arts. This is the first occasion on which I have seen a Minister being present for opening statements and then leaving the Chamber before the full Opposition has had a chance to engage. It debases parliamentary democracy. We have to be better than that and hold ourselves to a higher standard.

I will begin by highlighting some of the slogans that we used to convince ourselves that we were on the right track. Some of them were appropriate. When the pandemic began the slogan we used was: "We are all in this together". Some of the measures that were initiated suggested that this was the case. We introduced a pandemic unemployment payment of €350 per week. It is not an extraordinary amount, but it was enough to afford dignity to those who needed it and to ensure they could live their lives without experiencing or facing the anxiety of poverty. The temporary wage subsidy scheme was highly appropriate and reflective of the lessons we learned from the crash in 2008. It meant that workers could maintain a connection with their employment. It was a worthy time in dealing with the pandemic.

However, gradually darker clouds have set in and, suddenly, we are no longer all in this together. There are new slogans now. We are now being told that we must learn to live with the virus. Learning to live with the virus seems to be a way of acknowledging that somehow we have let go of it a little and we must live with it. Some of the workers and companies I have been talking to in the last ten days have said that while we are telling them to live with the virus, some of the measures and the fact that we are ignoring their calls suggest that we want them to live with the virus while experiencing anxiety and removing their wages and social protections. It is harsh, discriminatory and unfair. It means that some of the indigenous industries that we spent a long time building up over the last ten years are precariously placed.

I wish to give a voice to some of those industries and the different groups with whom I have had conversations over the last ten days. I will refer to two indigenous industries that are essential to our re-emergence from the Covid-19 pandemic. In referring to them I am mindful of a saying on a wall down the road in Westmoreland Street: "There is a good time coming. Be it ever so far away". When that good time comes, we will be relying on the events industry. That will be when we can go to concerts again and when we can dance and laugh with our friends. When that happens, it will not just be the person on the stage who we paid the ticket to see who will be the important factor in ensuring everything comes together, but the thousands of events industry workers. There are 35,000 people who make their living as freelance technicians, work in promotions, do the stage design and ensure that when a person gets on a stage to perform the sound is of a quality that everybody can hear. That industry is on its knees at present. It is struggling.

We made massive strides to ensure we protected our artistic community through a €20 million grant to the Arts Council fund. However, the arts industry could not survive without the people who were excluded from that fund. This has been raised several times tonight and since the industry first made its presentation to the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response in July, but nothing has happened. Eventually, in a post-pandemic world, if such a thing will exist, and I believe it will, we are going to need that industry. If it is to survive and be sustained, we must provide it with proper State support so its workers can afford to feed themselves, pay their bills and not be at risk of losing their homes. That is not their experience at present.

The other group that will be vital to how we live our lives when we emerge from this pandemic is the travel agents. Both industries have done a good job of talking to their public representatives because all of us are raising this tonight. However, let us not raise it in a way whereby once we say it in the Dáil it must be over with. It is frustrating that the senior Minister is not present to acknowledge the fact that when we raise these matters, we would like some action to result from it. There are 3,500 travel agents in this country and they are worth approximately €1.2 billion in turnover to our economy. That is money on which they pay tax. It comes back to us and we get to reinvest it. It is vital, but the industry has lost 90% to 95% of its income since the pandemic. That is probably more than any other industry. The travel agents are not asking to reopen or saying that they want to send people all over the world. They are saying that when we ask them to put their industry on hold, we should provide them with the appropriate safety net in terms of income and security that they can pay their rent and bills.

That way, when we can eventually aspire to go on holiday again, we can make a booking with the Irish industry that has built itself up, rather than go to one of the international companies with which the Irish ones were already competing before the pandemic.

We cannot talk about travel agents without talking about other industries that are under threat. In the last few days I had the opportunity of meeting people from the Irish Aviation Authority, including workers such as baggage handlers and others who ensure we are all safe and looked after when we go to the airport. When they heard the slogan "We are all in this together", those workers responded by accepting a 20% cut to their wages and taking a four-day week. It was unfair that they had to do that but they stepped up because they were told that we were all in this together. That was phase 1 of that particular measure in the Irish Aviation Authority. As part of phase 2, those workers are now being told that their terms and conditions are being altered and that they will lose particular protections that they have always had, under the guise of the company having to make changes because of Covid-19. Many people are being forced out of that industry and if we lose it, it will be gone forever. Those workers have built up a wealth of experience and they need protections. In cases like that of Debenhams and others, industries are taking advantage of the pandemic and workers' hard-fought terms and conditions are being altered under the auspices of the pandemic. The Irish Aviation Authority is a semi-State body and the people involved in it are just using the pandemic as a way of undermining their workers. It is absolutely wrong. We are seeing it in Debenhams and elsewhere too.

I refer to living with the pandemic. St. Monica's nursing home is in my constituency and St. Mary's nursing home is just up the road on the south side. Workers who have built up those care homes and built relationships with elderly people in their time of need have now been told that they have been made redundant and they do not have any access to appropriate measures. The Sisters of Charity, if one can believe that name, has washed its hands of them and said it cannot pay them. This industry is really important. It provides care to our older people when they are most vulnerable. Those workers are gone and it seems we have just let them go. That is totally inappropriate.

We could sit here all night and talk about the industries that are being impacted, such as the taxi industry. These are statements on protecting jobs. Has a bigger statement been made than the taxi drivers taking to the street yesterday in their thousands and demonstrating what would happen if they removed their labour? Again, to protect them, they need income support. We have asked them to put their livelihoods on hold in many ways. A percentage of their income has been drastically cut. They have lost the tech industries and the wet pubs, from which they ferry people around. All they are asking for is an appropriate payment, until such a time as they can recommence their labour and once again step in for the entirely unsatisfactory standard of public transport in this city. Yet, they are being ignored. I guarantee they will not be ignored for too long. They are working with my colleague across the Chamber. They will be back out on the streets and it is highly appropriate that we look after them.

We cannot separate protecting workers, or what the Taoiseach referred to earlier as a job providing "a sense of self-worth and well-being", from the societal provisions we need to offer our workers. We were all elected in February and the concerns at that time were access to housing and childcare and an inability to pay for healthcare. These same workers went out and voted for change back in February. Many of them were told that we were living in an Ireland of full employment and that that was great. If the only ambition of our Government and Parliament is to recalibrate back to January 2020 and look for an Ireland of full employment, then we are failing and missing an opportunity, because that Ireland of full employment was backed up by 160,000 workers living in poverty or precarious housing conditions. Let us be ambitious for our workers and acknowledge and protect those who have been left behind, of whom there are thousands. We rely on the workers who built indigenous industries that are the envy of the world in certain sectors. Let us be entirely ambitious for them and no longer lie or use the figure of full employment when those people are suffering.

We are engaging in an unprecedented level of State intervention to combat the Covid-19 crisis. We should ensure this money is invested smartly and in a manner that future-proofs our country, not only for living with Covid-19 today but also for living in a post-Covid world. It has been a difficult time for many in this country and the virus has exposed many of the structural problems across our economy. I believe strongly we have an opportunity, as President Ursula von der Leyen stated today in her state of the Union address, to turn this "fragility towards a new vitality". We must pursue a new model of stakeholder engagement and invest smartly in the future development of our country. We need to ensure regional balance is at the centre of this new social contract. Protecting and building indigenous industries and putting sufficient capital infrastructure in place is vital to ensuring the ecosystems of local economies are sustainable and self-sufficient. I recognise the good work the Government has done in ensuring the employee-employer relationship was maintained through the wage subsidy scheme. Grants were also given to SMEs to get them through this crisis. However, we must recognise that the pandemic has fundamentally changed the way some sectors in our economy operate. There has not been enough engagement with these groups in creating a roadmap to adapt to this new normal.

I have seen at first hand the damage this pandemic has done to industries such as the aviation sector. I spoke in the Chamber last week about the need for clarity on international travel. I also met representatives of Cork Airport, the managing director of the airport and the CEO of Ryanair, along with Deputies Pádraig O'Sullivan and Aindrias Moynihan. The Government announced that we will be following the European traffic light system for travel, which is coming into place next month, and updating our current green list. However, there is a serious need for the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation to work with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to implement the report of the task force on aviation recovery, which clearly states that State intervention within the aviation sector is required. The wage subsidy schemes are redundant if the industry is structurally broken. The estimated GDP contribution of air transport to Ireland is €8.9 billion is and the aviation sector supports 140,000 jobs. We saw what that looked like at our visit to the airport. I am extremely concerned about this issue and would like to see more engagement from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. Those attending the meeting asked for that engagement and I wish to feed that back to Dáil Éireann and the Minister.

It is not only those in the financial sector and the IFSC who benefit from the aviation industry. I am talking about the pilots at Aer Lingus and Ryanair, the cabin crew, the baggage handlers and the airport staff. Many members of Aer Lingus cabin crew who are very unhappy with their treatment by Aer Lingus have been in touch with our office. I hope that airline will significantly step up its dialogue with its staff. We must also consider the countless spin-offs of employment that occur as a consequence of the well-functioning aviation industry in this country.

Reform of the national development plan, NDP, is also required to ensure this country is match fit to support businesses. In the lead-up to the budget in October we must support projects that have a net positive return for the economy. Strategic capital investment is required in a reformed national development plan to ensure strong regional growth across the country. Without a solid infrastructure base, no jobs can be supported. That is a simple fact. Over the last week, I have received news of two major school complexes in my constituency, in Carrigtwohill and Mallow, pressing ahead with tendering. These State-led projects are a prime example of ways we can reboot our economy in constituencies such as Cork East, which I represent. I am also very excited about the review of the national development plan and the opportunity for the Government to review some of the areas that had been left out of the previous plan, which was drawn up in 2014. For example, I had a strong dialogue with the Taoiseach on the need for projects such as the upgrade of the N25, which would benefit people living in parts of east Cork like Midleton and Youghal, to be included in that plan. I would like to see greater State expenditure on transport and infrastructure to ensure the skilled labourers who have returned to Ireland and those who are out of work have an opportunity to go back into employment. There is no doubt we will need massive Government support to build our way out of this recession and that should be done through building projects. I thank the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, for his engagement. I am aware there will be some degree of consultation with Deputies around the review of the NDP and that will be exceptionally important to ensure all of us get a chance to have some input into that process.

As we saw in the July stimulus package, this new Government is investing in key projects and supporting workers and businesses at an unprecedented level at an unprecedented time. The massive scale of the response underlines our commitment to protecting jobs and communities.

With the July stimulus package, the State is spending approximately €87 billion in 2020. There is one category of worker, however, which has been adversely affected by this pandemic and which urgently needs further supports from the Government. That category is the self-employed. Every day they are often the first people up in the morning or the last to head to bed. They run their businesses from their vans or mobile phones and they were hot-desking in their kitchens long before the rest of us. They take home all the worries of that business on their shoulders, with few assets, resources, supports or working capital, yet they are the backbone of many of our local economies.

The Government rightly supports PAYE workers to the tune of €203 per week per employee in businesses that have seen more than a 30% reduction in their turnover, and that support will continue until next April. As one business put it to me, it just would not be open without the payment. A self-employed person, however, in arts, tourism, hospitality or other sectors impacted by Covid-19 receives no such income support. Such people are asked to leave the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, and to go into a market that has often been reduced not by 30% but by much more. We are treating two categories of worker differently and should address that. We are supporting PAYE employees significantly but are not doing the same for the self-employed.

To take taxi drivers as one example, they are forced to come off the PUP to claim the Government restart grant of €1,000. They then receive no further State support and rely on a market that simply does not exist at the moment. I spoke to one taxi driver on the rank in Finglas this morning who said his business was down 60% today alone. There are other sector-specific measures that we could take to help taxi drivers, such as extending the nine-year rule, a temporary pause on new entrants, or providing a restart grant before they come off the PUP. Ultimately, however, some step-down payment that provides a basic income is the most important step we can take to helping them and many other self-employed people.

One such solution could be a special Covid back-to-work enterprise allowance, or a pandemic payment like that which is given to professional artists on jobseeker's allowance, or any other step-down alternative. Employers are encouraged to keep employees on their books, supported by the employment wage subsidy scheme, but no such support exists for those who are self-employed. One of the criteria of the wage subsidy scheme is that the employer is operating at 70% of its turnover, and I firmly believe that self-employed people should be given State support at the same level. We need to give these people a helping hand. We cannot load the tools into their vans for them or unpack a delivery that arrives, but we can put our hand on their shoulder and say we have their back. This is a matter the Government urgently needs to address.

We are all aware that Covid-19 has thrown up some real challenges for our nation, especially in respect of health, but the massive strain on jobs and business too has been thrown to the fore. The ways in which people have engaged with their week's work has for some become better but for others worse. Workers have found themselves working from home, an idea their employers would have said was a non-runner just 12 months ago. On the opposite side of the scale, hundreds of thousands of people have been laid off, many of whom have never been on a social welfare payment before, and have been plunged into unemployment, all of a sudden on reduced incomes, which obviously has led to struggles to pay mortgages, keep food on the table and pay all the other household bills owed, as well as the stress of trying to adjust and manage it all.

Covid-19 has offered many changes to how we operate in Ireland, both in the short and the long terms. Working from home for some may very well be a long-term arrangement, given that we have heard from some that workplaces have told their staff they will not be back on site before July 2021. While some will welcome this and are happy to work from home as it may allow for more flexibility with childcare and other family duties, it is imperative that we legislate for more security and rights when working from home. We have seen cases where employees are working much later hours from home, with some employers expecting the later working time to surpass their usual working day, something that would not be accepted if they were in an office environment. The phrase "out of sight, out of mind" comes to mind and these circumstances are not acceptable.

On many occasions over the summer, I stood in the Chamber along with other Deputies and outlined challenges being faced by many sectors of society that had been left behind during Covid. I take this opportunity to raise the issue of these people and their sectors once again, starting with taxi drivers. We are all aware there is a large gathering of taxi and hackney drivers outside the gates of Leinster House calling for supports that have been severely lacking. At the height of lockdown, these drivers were out of work and claimed the PUP. For some this may have been just about enough to get by, but for many others it was not. Throughout this time and since the start of the easing of restrictions, many taxi drivers have been aware of their public service obligations and have been cognisant of the front-line workers who have relied on their service. They have returned to work, even through the night when business hours have been severely reduced, and these drivers should be acknowledged for that.

There is also the tourism sector, a cohort of businesses that can be broken down into many parts. Back home in County Kerry, there are small business owners all along the Wild Atlantic Way who are totally dependent on tourists to survive. At the start of this pandemic, these businesses were not able to claim the temporary wage subsidy scheme, TWSS, due to being closed during the off season, unsure of whether it would be worth their while to reopen, leaving many unable to return to work when they wanted to. Bus operators in rural Clare and throughout the State were left unable to garner business. No sports teams, schools or tours meant their buses were left parked with nothing to do, but the costs did not stop. The loans needed to be paid and the insurance covered, and that was without supports. There are many others, such as travel agencies, the events industry, musicians, and artists, as well as horse and trekking companies in Clare with no tourists, business or supports, but the animals still have to be fed. A total of €350 a week would not go far, when one thinks about it, for a family of four with another 15 or so animals to feed on top of that.

I turn to the issue of Shannon Airport and the heritage sites. While we welcomed the announcement by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, that he would carry out a review of the Shannon Group structures, here we are nine weeks later with no sign of the review nearing completion. The review is needed and is eagerly sought by the people of the mid-west. There are staff at Shannon Airport and at the Shannon Heritage sites who need to know where their jobs will be in 12 months' time. Again, while there was a last-minute announcement of funding to keep the heritage sites open past the end of August, we need to ensure these sites will get the supports they need to stay open into 2021. We cannot allow circumstances in which workers are left waiting until just four days before an impending lay-off to find out whether their jobs are safe. While supports were made available via Exchequer funding, such as the PUP and the TWSS, many, including Sinn Féin, warned about the risk of cutting the TWSS and replacing it with the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS. As the matter unfolded, however, the Government went ahead with it anyway.

Finally, I raise the issue of those over the age of 66, who have been completely forgotten about. Many publicans, such as in rural Ireland, are over the age of 66. They were forced out of work and were unable to claim the PUP. This does not relate just to publicans but extends to taxi drivers, chauffeurs and many others who are unable to work.

I am sharing time with Deputy Barry, unless Deputy Paul Murphy comes to the Chamber, in which case we will change it slightly.

This place, I have to say, makes me laugh or cry sometimes. We have had an hour of Government speakers before we get reached, by which time the Minister - no disrespect to the Minister of State, Deputy Troy - is gone. That is what the changes to the speaking order were designed to do. They were designed to knock down a significant section of the Opposition to the point where it is lost in the order, and to allow the Government to be both the Government and the Opposition. We have this fascinating situation where the Government refuses to give an income subsidy to taxi drivers and entertainment, music and arts workers, and intends to cut their incomes tomorrow, even though Government measures mean they cannot return to work or that if they do so, they will lose all their payment, but there is nothing even close to a viable income out there because their sectors have been impacted by Government measures.

The Government is going to go ahead and do this. We then had a Government spokesperson speak after a Member of the Government and before the Opposition, and say how terrible that is. The Government is the Government and the Opposition. It is brilliant. That speech should be played out in, I think, Finglas, which was mentioned. The Deputy said that he is standing up for the taxi drivers, but he is part of a Government that is going to slash their payment tomorrow. He also said he is standing up for the arts workers, but, again, he is part of a Government that is going to slash their income tomorrow, has ignored their calls and is only now talking about them because earlier today we had the biggest ever demonstration of taxi drivers in the history of this State. I note Deputy Paul Murphy has arrived, so I will take only five minutes. This is an unbelievable example of speaking with a forked tongue. These people do not want tea and sympathy. They have stated their case. I recall raising the issue of taxi drivers and the arts and music workers during Leaders' Questions last March and the Minister at the time in the previous Government looked at me as though I had two heads, wondering why I was talking about them. I had to fight to get both groups an opportunity to present to the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response. I spent weeks arguing in online meetings for the taxi drivers and the events workers to be allowed to appear before that committee because they are disproportionately hit. It was a hard fight to get them in. I eventually got them in during July. There was a lot of tea and sympathy at the Covid committee but nothing was committed to.

I would like to know if the Government is going to give the taxi drivers an income subsidy. I do not see what has changed. Is the Government going to give the events and arts workers and musicians an income subsidy because nothing has changed for them since it introduced the €350 payment? Nothing has changed. In fact, the situation is looking more precarious for them as we move to level 3, level 4 or God knows what. Why was it okay to give them €350 and now it is okay to cut their payment? Similarly, with the Aer Lingus workers or people in similar sectors and people working in cafés, bars and so on who are on the wage subsidy payment, the Government is going to cut their income. The companies get the money no problem. All they have to do is sign a declaration stating that their earnings are down by 30%. The arts workers' earnings are down 70% and the taxi drivers' earnings are down 70% but they get nothing. Aer Lingus declares that its revenues are down by 30% and there is no problem with giving them money. When it comes to what has happened to the workers on the ground, the Government has no idea what to do. There is no oversight of whether they get top-ups or whether on the days they are not working they actually get their social welfare forms signed. The ordinary person does not get looked after. Tea and sympathy is all they get until they take to the streets and put a bit of pressure on the Government. The only lesson one can draw from that is that taxi drivers will need to come out onto the streets until the Government does give them something, as will the arts, aviation and other sectors who clearly are not in it together with some of the others who are being cosseted by this Government.

At the start of the Covid crisis we were told that there was a need for national unity and that we were all in this together. The treatment of the Debenhams workers shows that we are not all in this together. In the words of the United Irishman leader, Henry Joy McCracken, "The rich will always betray the poor." Debenhams is not the only employer using Covid as cover to promote a race to the bottom. There are many others, some of whom I propose to call out this evening. We have the case of Aer Lingus, a privatised company, that availed of wage subsidies but tried to starve workers into accepting massive cuts to wages and conditions by reducing their income under the wage subsidy scheme to between €100 and €200 per week and then refusing to sign the forms needed to allow people access social welfare for the days they were not working. After an outcry Aer Lingus relented on signing the forms but the payments are not coming through fast enough and this needs to change.

We have the case of Easons which closed seven branches in Northern Ireland, making 144 workers redundant, and then transferred all of its stock to the Republic of Ireland. Easons availed and continues to avail of wage subsidy schemes North and South, about which Sinn Féin in the Northern Ireland Executive has some explaining to do, in my opinion. We then have the case of Aramark Catering, which made workers redundant, made a disgraceful offer and told workers to take it or leave it after they had been promised by AIB the previous year that their terms and conditions would carry over. Congratulations to those workers now picketing the AIB Bank Centre in Ballsbridge.

Congratulations also and a big shout-out to the workers at Premier Periclase in Drogheda who have been on strike since 17 August. These are workers who are classified as essential, who went to work all through the lockdown despite the risks. Their further sacrifices were rewarded by their employer with the lay-off of 20 staff, termination of sick pay and pension arrangements and derecognition of their unions. Last but not least we have the cases of St. Mary's and St. Monica's nursing homes and the Caritas convalescent centre in Dublin which are being closed by the Sisters of Charity with the loss of 200 jobs. As in the case of Cara house in Cork, these facilities should now be taken over by the HSE.

We are not all in this together. Workers throughout the country should follow the example of the Debenhams workers and organise to defend their best interests.

Naomi Klein wrote a book entitled The Shock Doctrine which was published in 2007. It outlines how political and economic elites, the capitalist class and their political representatives in this case use national or international crises to try to reshape social relations, laws and norms in their favour. The truth, which is very far from the "we're all in this together" rhetoric, is that substantial sections of the boss class in this country are taking advantage of the coronavirus to reshape things in their own interests. The most classic example is Debenhams in terms of obvious abuse of the coronavirus pandemic to engage in tactical insolvency. There are other cases.

I will give the example of Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, the workers of which are fundamentally ultimately employed by the public sector. The DAA is rolling ahead with further investment. It proposes to roll out another runway but it is attempting to get rid of 1,000 of its 3,500 staff. To do that, it is engaging in tactics which have been described to me by a number of different workers as terror tactics. It is putting real fear in people and telling workers they have the option of voluntary severance; a career break of up to five years or reduced hours, or alternatively remaining in their job and agreeing to new ways of working and threats of reductions in pay of up to 60%. The DAA made €150 million last year but it now sees the pandemic as an opportunity to get rid of directly employed, unionised workers. These workers will be needed in the future. The DAA is pushing ahead with the investment in the new runway and so on. This is about getting rid of unionised, directly employed workers and replacing them with contracted agency staff in the future that will be on substantially lower wages and conditions. The workers in the DAA will not accept this. They are going to follow the example of the Debenhams workers and they are going to fight to defend their terms and conditions.

I am sharing time with Deputy Cahill. I welcome this debate which is taking place in the run-up to the budget, which will, presumably, represent the next instalment of Government measures to alleviate the impact of Covid-19. Covid-19 does not discriminate between individuals but it does have a profoundly different affect on different sectors of the economy. In terms of our economy, the biopharma and tech industries are booming while the hospitality and tourism sectors have been hammered. The level of wages in the businesses or industries that have been relatively unaffected by Covid tends to be much higher than those in the sectors which are most affected.

I am wondering whether the Government's approach of one size fits all is the proper one. Much money has been spent but I cannot get away from the notion that sometimes if one spends just a little more, or alternatively if the same money is spent in a different way, or in a combination of both approaches, a much better result can be achieved. The question arises as to whether the sectors that are most affected should get most help. The Minister would of course say that different measures are in place for the different sectors but there is no doubt that with the big measures, there is uniformity.

I cite for example the main initiative taken by the Government, the temporary wage subsidy scheme, TWSS. In the affected sectors, one of the main indications to me anyway, and I am sure the same applies to everybody else, is that the TWSS should not have been suspended in its original form on 1 September but rather continued to the following April for these sectors. There is a mighty difference between the TWSS and the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, with the former being much more valuable than the latter. In many cases, the difference between the TWSS and EWSS would be the difference between life and death for a business. It would determine if it can recover or re-establish itself.

The economists have expressed some surprise that income tax returns have remained particularly stable because there was an expectation that income tax returns would drop by approximately €2 billion because of Covid-19. That has not happened and the reason is obvious. We have a very steeply progressive income tax system where above average wage earners pay the vast majority of income tax. This illustrates quite dramatically and very clearly that the people most affected by this pandemic are those on low wages, young people, part-time workers and people in the gig economy. In other words, these are the less well-off.

These people are most affected by the pandemic and from now we must focus on helping them. Otherwise we will have what the economists like to refer to as a "K-shaped" recovery with differences according to household income. It would deepen inequality in a society that is already very unequal if we leave those people behind. I dread to think of a large pool of young, semi-skilled or part-time workers being separated from the economic activity of their own country or left in a position where they have no emigration safety valve for the first time since the Second World War. This would have a scarring effect on society and it will not have a good effect on politics and social cohesion.

Many of these more vulnerable sectors, including wet pubs, have been closed for six months but they have enormous fixed costs. The people in these areas are very unhappy with the measures that have been put in place by the Government to assist them and which will not help many of them to reopen. There will be a consequent effect, particularly in local communities or rural areas.

Somebody mentioned travel agencies and these are in a unique position. They have seen no income since last March but they had to return much of the gross income they took in last year as holidays were cancelled. The live entertainment sector has 35,000 people involved and it is worth €3.5 billion to the economy. People also mentioned the taxi industry, which has been absolutely devastated.

If we took those particularly vulnerable sectors of the economy and determined the number of workers directly involved before calculating the cost of continuing the TWSS until next April for those sectors, if it could be done legally or constitutionally, I wonder what the extra cost would be. I know the extension of the EWSS is costing approximately €2.3 billion and I cannot imagine my proposal would add greatly to that cost because it concerns particular sectors.

The Government should not focus on the deficit. I know we must worry about our deficit but so must every other country in the world. All the efforts against the pandemic around the world are largely financed by debt anyway. We must focus on the primary task of getting our economy rebooted while at the same time keeping society together.

It is clear from the July stimulus package that the Government is dedicated to investing in key projects and supporting workers and businesses. An historic level of expenditure will see the State spending approximately €87 billion in 2020 as part of this package. This is aimed at injecting much-needed money into our economy by supporting workers whose employment has been affected by Covid-19, providing supports for businesses to keep them operational during the lockdown and investing in large-scale infrastructure and capital developments.

I will highlight some matters that need particular attention and support. I was delighted last week to organise a meeting between a delegation of Tipperary publicans and the Taoiseach. These people represented their industry and rural pubs exceptionally well and made their points on the reopening of pubs in rural Ireland very clear to the Taoiseach. I welcome the announcement that pubs will reopen from next Monday but I call for additional supports to protect and help these businesses and save jobs in the industry. While restrictions remain in place that will affect footfall and turnover, supports must be provided with no age restrictions.

Many rural pubs are family-owned and family-run. They are local employers and provide key services to their local communities. They are hubs that allow local people to meet, socialise and get out of their homes after what has been an extremely challenging six months for so many people in a mental, physical and emotional sense. Rural pubs are so much more than just a pub and for many people they function as the heart of a community. They need additional supports.

The Tipperary publicans made these points clear to the Taoiseach when they met him last week. These pubs now face large costs in their reopening, including restocking and getting the business in line with public health measures. I am calling for these businesses to be supported by allowing for a full-year waiver of commercial rates.

Insurance companies must be called upon to honour payouts for those who were insured against pandemics with an infectious disease clause. It is completely unacceptable that companies are holding payments owed to businesses affected by Covid-19 restrictions and which were covered under these policies.

I call for banks and lending institutions to be more flexible and give publicans the breathing space they need to get back in business. I have been contacted with stories of pubs reopening on a Monday and getting a letter from the bank by the end of that week indicating that the bank is aware the business has reopened and that repayments should be recommenced. Publicans are under enough pressure without adding this to the mix so soon after reopening their doors.

This week I have received much correspondence from people in the entertainment industry, which has been so badly affected by Covid-19 restrictions. In hundreds of theatres, venues and clubs, taking in festivals and events, the domestic live events and entertainment industry employs in excess of 35,000 full-time and part-time workers. The vast majority of these highly skilled people have not had any employment since the middle of March. Never in the long history of staging live performances and events on this island has there been such a sudden and total cessation of all work or activity.

This industry is very large and extends far beyond those who we might see performing on stage. It also covers backstage staff, management teams, video production companies and the list goes on. I have met some affected people in my county and I know all too well the impact Covid-19 is having on the industry. It was the first industry to shut and, most likely, it will be last to reopen.

I welcome yesterday's announcement that the pandemic unemployment payment will remain open for applicants until the end of the year instead of closing this month. I ask for the immediate reinstatement of the employee wage subsidy scheme for people who will face the toughest restrictions until normality returns. I also call for grant funding proportionate to what has been allocated by the Arts Council in 2020. The live events sector accounts for 90% of all tickets sold in Ireland and it is by far the largest employer and contributor to the Exchequer in this economic area.

I welcome the announcement by the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, of €6 million for a live performance and music industry package. It is a good start but we need to see further supports. We cannot afford to lose this industry and I ask for supports for these workers and their businesses until they can reopen and get back to doing what they do best, which is to entertain.

Travel agents are another prime example of businesses that are viable and profitable in normal times.

They currently have no idea when they will be able to operate normally again. Once again, I call for the continuation of the employment wage subsidy scheme for these businesses. As Deputy O'Dea pointed out, these companies have had no cash flow this month and have had to refund a lot of the previous month's cash flow to customers.

I refer also to tour bus operators. Some €10 million was recently allocated to them, to be distributed by Tourism Ireland. This money should be distributed on the basis of recipient companies' turnover from tourism in 2019, rather than the current basis of buses registered using the VAT 71 form. This change would mean that operators whose entire fleet is not employed in tourism would be eligible for some of the €10 million. It is essential that the €10 million fund is distributed to those tour operators who need it most. To allocate funds on the basis of 2019 turnover from tourism, the figures for which have been given to Fáilte Ireland, is the fairest means by far. I ask the Minister to impress this on Fáilte Ireland.

The businesses I am discussing are viable. They were vibrant and successful before the pandemic and can be again. They need the Government to act in their best interests now so that when we eventually get back to life as normal, we will not have lost these key businesses and jobs for good.

We are here to talk about protecting jobs and supporting businesses. As part of that, we must also protect workers. None of these measures will work in the world we now live in if we do not have the testing, tracing and isolation infrastructure to underpin them. We all saw the difficulties in this House this week. Thankfully, the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, tested negative for Covid-19. I wish him well. Proceedings could be resumed quickly, despite certain mistakes being made, because the Minister could get a rapid test result. That is absolutely vital. I was somewhat shocked by a report at the end of the "Six One News" showing once again that we do not have the infrastructure we require. We must put all the Government's resources towards reaching the capacity to offer 100,000 tests per week in order that we can keep schools, businesses and this Parliament open and keep all other aspects of our society alive. One difficulty concerns the reagent, which is critical for rapid testing. Difficulties of this sort must be overcome or everything will come to a halt very quickly. I accept that some of these issues are global but we must do our part to address them.

The opening of schools is very welcome, and we recognise the work done by the Government, as well as by teachers, staff and parents. We must ensure that they stay open. This is vital for parents, who are part of the workforce we are talking about protecting.

I welcome some of the points made earlier. The Minister of State, Deputy Troy, spoke about the need for corporate enforcement. Several of my colleagues have already spoken about the need for workers' rights legislation. The recommendations of the Duffy-Cahill report still have not been implemented. Many Members of this House have spoken about the travesty facing the Debenhams workers. An issue arose with National Pen in my own town of Dundalk. A factory was laying people off as the firm was advertising positions in Tunisia. Workers were not allowed to bring in third-party or union representation so the negotiation was between the company, with all its experience, and a collection of individuals. It was incredibly unfair. This is one of the aspects of industrial relations we have not dealt with yet.

I also welcome Deputy Troy's comments on insurance. Long before we had to deal with the pandemic, the leisure and entertainment industry and the aforementioned taxi industry were dealing with huge insurance costs. We need to revise the book of quantum. The previous Government set certain things in train but we were too late to the game and we really need to catch up.

We are once again dealing with the madness of Brexit. Boris Johnson is now willing to break international law and deals that he himself concluded. This is leading to huge difficulties for businesses, companies and this State. We may have to deal with one hell of an unmerciful Brexit, with no mitigations, and this Government must plan accordingly. The mitigation that can be introduced is, literally, Irish unity. People must be given that choice and plans must be put in place. It is as simple as that.

Everybody here has spoken about the necessity for sector-specific supports. They are needed for taxi operators and travel agents. Members have discussed industries whose turnover has declined severely. Travel agents' turnover has fallen by 130%. Consumer protections, which are absolutely necessary, are killing these industries. There is also a difficulty for Aer Lingus workers, who are not able to use the Xs and Os system. That has been dealt with to some degree, but there is still the issue of back pay for the period when workers were supported by the temporary Covid-19 wage subsidy scheme. The entertainment industry is on its knees. If we want to have a society after this pandemic, we must put the protections in place now. Too many companies, sectors, businesses and jobs have fallen between the cracks and we need to give them all the protection they need.

I will be sharing my time with Deputy Verona Murphy. In the past ten days, three economic reports were released by the Department of Finance, the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, and the employers' group IBEC. They examined the financial resilience of Irish small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs, the revenue lost since the onset of Covid-19 and the future revenue trajectory into 2021, depending on the broader economic environment.

The findings were stark. Almost half of firms made lockdown losses. Some two fifths of micro-firms and half of medium-sized firms face revenue shortfalls. Only 58% of hotels and restaurants were reported to be in profit. The total shortfall for the SME sector during the pandemic is estimated at between €6 billion and €10 billion. Firms with cash have largely used those reserves to bridge the funding gap.

The report highlighted several key concerns. Modified national demand, a measure which strips out the multinational sector, fell by 16% in the second quarter of this year. This reflects a two-speed economy as the multinational sector is performing well, with overall GDP falling by just 6%. Household savings are growing, standing at between €5 billion and €6 billion. On the other hand, numbers on the live register, the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment and the temporary Covid-19 wage subsidy scheme remain high. Some 800,000 people were receiving support as of last week. The state of public finances, a rising national debt, concerns about the corporation tax take, higher debt refinancing costs and Brexit all add to our woes. The unemployed are disproportionately younger workers from the hardest-hit sectors, that is, retail, hospitality, tourism and the arts.

This evening I downloaded the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation's tracker to see what money has been disbursed. The restart grant accounts for €298 million; the Covid-19 working capital scheme accounts for €106 million; microfinance loans come to a total of €18.8 million; local enterprise offices account for €43 million; Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland account for €34.5 million; and InterTradeIreland accounts for €1.3 million. This comes to a grand total of €501 million over the Covid-19 period, which has been disbursed to mitigate losses of been €6 billion and €10 billion in the SME sector.

We need corrections to give confidence to those working in the private sector. The employment wage subsidy scheme may have to be reintroduced and extended. The present scheme is not working for businesses that are cash-poor or have low turnover.

Insurance reform has been mentioned. It is amazing that we are here yet again. A book of quantum was produced by the Irish SME Association, ISME, over a weekend but we cannot seem to put one together in two years.

We need something to be done in respect of rent supports and pressure to be brought to bear on landlords and banks to share the burden. Upward-only rents are still a major problem, while banks are not sharing the burden borne by indebted businesses.

Promises were made to bring in an examinership-lite process. It is badly needed, given where businesses are at. When will it be delivered?

A tax strategy for the regions is needed in order to encourage decanting from major towns to more affordable living, a more balanced way of life and a more balanced economy. I have a sense of déjà vu. I spoke to the Minister in advance of the July stimulus and raised most of these issues, but they are still on the list and not much is being done about them. There is a need for more creative tax incentives and supports for business to remodel and reimagine their business models in light of Covid and Brexit.

Another matter I asked be addressed is the issue of bringing about formal interaction between the Government and the SME community on pay bargaining. A seat should be made available on the Labour Employer Economic Forum. Surely it is now time for the SME sector to properly recognised with regard to pay bargaining. The Irish people and the SME sector are resourceful but we need listening and proactive Departments of Finance and Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

As other Members have stated, many industries are badly suffering, including the tourism, leisure, transport, motor and aviation sectors, the gig economy, wet pubs and hotels. They are looking for something but they have not seen it in the measures announced to date. I hope the October budget will have something for them. The SME sector, which employs more than 800,000 workers, needs additional help. The questions those businesses are asking of the Government are "If not us, who?" and "If not now, when?".

The opening statement delivered by the Tánaiste did not go far enough. In order to protect jobs and support businesses, the Government must ensure that the right actions are taken at the right time. Action must be taken to prevent the disruption that will arise from a no-deal Brexit. One form of protection would be ensuring that a daily service is provided across the Irish Sea from Rosslare and Dublin to Cherbourg or Le Havre. That would offer protection because it would lessen the need for many struggling businesses to spend money and energy on tasks such as sanitary and phytosanitary inspections, preparing transit documents and trying to access financial guarantees in order for their valuable produce to be thrust into the unsavoury hands of the UK authorities on the land bridge route. Many businesses will undertake many hours of paperwork and spend thousands of euro because no preparation is being made on their behalf by the Government to ensure the provision of a daily direct shipping service from Rosslare Europort to mainland Europe. Such preparation would allow those companies to circumvent the arduous and costly procedures involved in transiting on the land bridge. The failure to prepare is thrusting their fate into the hands of the UK authorities and we can all see where the UK authorities are at.

Protecting jobs and supporting businesses must entail the provision of an essential daily shipping service to mainland Europe such that there is certainty of delivery and that timelines will be met, thus ensuring that businesses' commitments to their customers and reputations as Irish exporters are protected. Such a service would ensure that the value of the businesses' goods would not reduced as a result of late delivery. It is guaranteed that there will be delays on the land bridge route. What protection is afforded by a failure to provide an alternative to transiting the UK land bridge?

A daily shipping service to the European mainland would serve to support and protect jobs in Slaney Foods International in Clohamon, Irish Country Meats in Camolin and Kavanagh Meats Ireland in Enniscorthy. Those three employers provide 1,100 jobs, excluding ancillary services and the farmers who provide the raw material. Those 1,100 jobs depend on the meat product being delivered to the market on a deadline. Post Brexit, that deadline will not be met using the land bridge because it will provide anything but certainty. In fact, the only thing the land bridge will provide post Brexit is uncertainty. No buyer of which I am aware buys produce on the basis of "I will see you when I see you." Fresh food buyers wish to know when the produce can be delivered because they understand that the longer delivery takes, the less valuable the product becomes and that does not make the customer happy.

We should spare a thought for the truck drivers, the very people whose jobs the Government is protecting. Post Brexit, they will be front-line workers in the same way that doctors and nurses are for Covid: essential but scarce. Do drivers not deserve to have the best chance of going about their daily work without disruption and unnecessary and unwelcome interruptions? The best laid plans for strict driving times will be scuppered because of the failure of the Government to think ahead, prepare and do the thing that makes the most common sense, which is to provide a daily direct service from Rosslare Europort to the Continent now.

Earlier today, the Taoiseach told the House that we have the capacity. I will tell the House where the capacity should be. It is there, but goods can only leave Ireland on a direct ferry sailing on Tuesdays, Thursdays or Saturdays. We need that capacity to move to a service that is available on Mondays to Sundays, inclusive. That is what will protect the €18.2 billion of trade that is carried on the land bridge.

A haulier who was caught up in significant delays at the Port of Dover sent me a report on the matter that was published in The Irish Times. I received it yesterday. It took him 3 hours to travel 1.8 km. He was carrying pharmaceuticals worth €3.2 million in his trailer and he spent an extra ten hours in the UK. That one load was worth €3.2 million.

I refer to the common transit convention and the future of the land bridge. There is a possibility that the insurance guarantee on the insurance will be invoked, as there is no guarantee that the UK will continue to honour the convention. That could all be circumvented by making preparations and ensuring there is a daily direct ferry to the continent. If that were done, the haulier to whom I refer could travel by ferry from Ireland to France. It would avoid giving the UK any more power over us. Support and preparation are what will safeguard jobs and businesses.

We now move back to the Government side, for which there are three speakers. Are the Deputies sharing time?

Yes. I thank the Acting Chairman.

We have learned in recent months that we must find a way to live alongside the virus but we need to trust the people now if we are to protect jobs and the economy. I ask the Minister of State to assure me that businesses in the various sectors will be treated equally as we move through the new plan. For example, there must be equal treatment for businesses in the retail, hospitality and manufacturing sectors. We cannot have a repeat of the confusion that arose in March, when Deputies' offices were inundated with queries as to who could operate and in what way.

We must not single out one section of a sector. It is incredibly unfair that some pubs were allowed to open but others were not because of the requirement that food be served. That was never part of the advice for pubs. Rather, it was for restaurants. All Members know it will not be business as usual. We know we are in a new normal but we must bring everyone on this journey.

That said, I welcome the new plan, which was needed. However, I am concerned that people are being told that they may only socialise in organised establishments. That is not supporting businesses to create work for people. We are closing the door on caterers, bouncy castle operators and photographers, all of whom are ingredients in many family milestone events that are usually held at home. Christenings, first communions and confirmations, many of which were delayed, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences but one is no longer permitted to celebrate them at home or outside the home, such as in a hotel. Many small businesses that catered for such events are effectively being shut down.

The Minister of State may have seen taxi drivers protesting outside Leinster House yesterday. They are fighting for survival and to pay their bills. We need to embrace living with this virus if we are to succeed and give people the tools to continue to operate properly in the economy. Many people are being forced out of work, businesses are being closed and work for the gig economy is being shut off in a bid to keep the country open.

I welcome the news that musicians and live performers may return to work. They are among the most creative in our society and have suffered significantly during the pandemic. As the Minister of State is aware, music and entertainment form a significant part of our culture.

I received a phone call today from a travel agency that is under significant pressure and needs extra support.

As the economy begins to open up, the planning authorities are coming under additional pressure from both corporate and personal applicants. All inquiries are being dealt with through Zoom calls and meeting. These, while understandable, are difficult for both staff and applicants. One-to-one meetings are important. Does the Minister of State anticipate that such meetings will reconvene soon?

I see a significant backlog in healthcare. This is a direct result of this level of restriction. Why can we not set up a contact tracing department and staff it with people who answered Ireland's call, who speak several language, and do the job of test, trace and locate for each case so that we can stamp this virus out? If we do not have work done and people back to work, we will not have a functioning economy, a functioning health service or a functioning Civil Service. We need to get back to work and work living with this virus.

Can the Government ensure that in order to create jobs, IDA Ireland visits to rural counties are increased because there is not enough of them? My firm belief is rural Ireland has been forgotten and the one priority I will ask of the Minister of State is that IDA Ireland comes down to Carlow and other places and works on creating jobs. We need to create jobs in rural Ireland. I am a firm believer that everything is centred around Dublin. We in rural Ireland need help badly. I can speak for that in own area of Carlow-Kilkenny.

I am concerned about the restart grant. It has come to my attention in the past few weeks that applicants in my area missed the deadline, only by a day or two. My understanding is there is no appeal mechanism. Can the Minister of State clarify the matter? I have spoken to other Deputies, who say that they have some who they think will get sorted. Can the Minister of State provide clarification and inform all local authorities that if a person's restart grants application is a few days late, to save the person's business, if he or she has a genuine excuse such as I heard, he or she will be allowed get that restart grant?

I am well aware of the many measures that have been introduced to aid businesses throughout the country to get back up and running. However, I will focus on one sector that was in crisis pre-Covid and will be essential to the country if we are serious about any post-Covid recovery, and that is, of course, the forestry sector.

The introduction of new forestry licensing procedures in 2019 has been a disaster and it brought the industry to a standstill. Presently, only one in four of the required licences needed for production is being issued and many other sectors that are wholly dependent on the forestry sector are coming to a standstill.

We have made much of our programme for Government and stated that we are determined to build our way out of the Covid crisis but the reality is that if we have not got timber, we will not do a great deal of building. Sawmills are now months, if not weeks, away from running out of timber unless this issue is addressed. From a purely partisan point of view, I want to battle for one of our own indigenous businesses, that is, Glennon Brothers, County Longford, which has been established and has been a familiar landmark in Longford town for over 100 years, now employs 250 people right across the country and has an international footprint. Brothers Mike and Pat Glennon have made a significant and detailed submission to the much-flawed Forestry Appeals Committee review, which is currently at consultation as part of the draft agriculture appeals (amendment) Bill 2020.

There are now 400 projects across the country in a quagmire in an appeal process that is evidently designed to bring this industry to a standstill. In one week, in August, orchestrated objectors challenged as many as 10,000 cu. m of timber - enough to build 5,000 homes in this country. Many of these objections are orchestrated and come from the same or similar sources, and their motivation is pure and simple. They want to bring this sector to a standstill and in doing so, put approximately 400 people out of work in the case of Glennon Brothers.

It is incumbent upon us to ensure that we bring the agriculture appeals (amendment) Bill to a speedy resolution. As I was coming into the Chamber this evening, I was delighted to meet the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, who assured me that he will be bringing the Bill to the House next week. That is extremely welcome news for the forestry sector this evening. For the sake of Glennon Brothers, its staff and all the families, and, indeed, the peer companies which are dependent on the performance of this proud company, this is a crisis that we need to resolve.

First, I thank the Tánaiste and Minister with responsibility for enterprise, trade and employment as well as the Ministers of State, Deputies English and Troy, for their work in providing an update on the range of business supports now available. Confidence and certainty are critical sentiments required by local businesses and enterprise operating in the real economy. Thankfully, this week we have moved to a medium-term framework following the publication of the resilience and recovery plan for living with Covid.

We need to make sure that we act collectively as a society to ensure that we never return to a lockdown situation. Our business owners have been incredibly resilient and we need to nurture their needs in the months ahead. Quite frankly, our economic future depends on it.

Many of my extended family are self-employed and I have seen at first hand the havoc caused by prolonged business closures. I spoke in the Chamber last week about protecting the mental health of our older people and in the weeks and months ahead, we must also do the same for our entrepreneurs and business owners. They carry the weight of their employees on their shoulders and ensure that they have enough capital to make payroll, even if that means cutting back on their own take-home pay or forgoing it altogether. This is not sustainable.

I have been incredibly impressed, and, in fact, proud, to see so many changes businesses have made around Mayo since March. I am a strong believer in the only constant being change itself and when I walk into some shops now, it is somewhat surreal when compared to pre-Covid times.

Publicans and retailers and their staff have truly gone above and beyond in doing their part to protect their community. They have changed their way of doing business even if it results in reduced capacity. We need to commend them and their overwhelmingly responsible behaviour.

In terms of more practical business supports, I note that the Department has a detailed booklet available on its website outlining the supports for businesses impacted by Covid. I suggest that it should be distributed nationally to business owners or that at a minimum, hard copies be sent to local enterprise offices, LEOs, if the Department has not already done so.

Before the summer recess, I spoke briefly about the difficulties being experienced by policyholders when claiming for business interruption cover. I note that the UK High Court handed down its judgment yesterday in the Financial Conduct Authority's business interruption insurance test case on behalf of policyholders. I was particularly interested to note that the court found in favour of the arguments advanced for policyholders by the Financial Conduct Authority, FCA, on the majority of key issues. I understand that the Central Bank of Ireland has been in contact with the FCA about the issue here and the Central Bank has since published its business interruption insurance supervisory framework. I raise this point as I want to ensure that the business interruption cover is not forgotten about until the majority of claims have been finalised in adherence with the highest standards of financial conduct. While insurance is not a specific responsibility of the Minister of State, Deputy English's Department, it is an issue weighing heavily on the business owners and is worth mentioning.

The pandemic has delivered the sharpest, deepest and most dramatic shock to our economy and, indeed, society. We thought that Brexit, and everything we had to deal with there, and still have to deal with there, was a shock.

We have now had six months to protect businesses and jobs. At an early stage, it was agreed on a global basis that austerity would not work, it was not the answer and we needed a Keynesian approach. My concern is that we are attempting to do that but we are not doing it nearly enough. We are not doing it in the same way that other countries are doing it and we will not get the results that we want to achieve from it.

The July stimulus package offered some measures, but not nearly enough and not in the form that it was asked for. It is not me saying that. It says something when the Government's own Deputies, whom I have been listening to here, are telling the Minister of State, Deputy English, to stand up for rural Ireland and that rural Ireland and different business have been forgotten.

Loans with uncompetitive interest rates and limited grants with unrealistic timelines were the feature of the July stimulus package.

Banks still charge businesses rates of 6.5%. Credit unions would offer better loan rates than that.

There is an issue in Britain where companies were being set up to draw down some of the guaranteed funding from the state. What measures have been taken to prevent false companies being set up to draw down money the State will be obliged to pay back?

Businesses here were only recovering after years of austerity. They do not have the capacity or appetite to carry any more debt. The Government is falling very short in protecting jobs and supporting businesses during the pandemic. I will give an example. Last week I spoke to the owner of a hospitality business who employs just fewer than 50 people, a significant number, in a rural town. On Tuesday, he was really pleased to get a restart grant of €15,000. He was busy in July and August with people holidaying in Ireland and had just about managed to pay the bills he would normally pay in March and April. He caught up and was ready to batten down the hatches for winter until some sort of normality might return to the sector. He worked out that his insurance bill would be somewhat similar to the previous year, which was in the region of €27,000, a huge amount by any standards. However, his renewal notice arrived two days later and his insurance premium had increased to €120,000. Eventually, after a week of sleepless nights, the cheapest premium he could get was €72,000. His €15,000 grant goes straight to the insurance company along with four times that figure again. Add a huge rates bill and the high interest rates sought by the banks, which are looking for mortgage repayments from October, and one can see why many businesses will close down. The insurance companies are still running riot.

I commend the work undertaken by my colleague, Deputy Doherty, and the Joint Committee on Finance collectively regarding insurance companies, but it is not nearly enough. Businesses such as the one to which I refer are tired of the false promises, reports and a legal system that settles unfounded claims. These businesses and the jobs they provide are hanging on a knife edge. They are worth €7.6 billion to the economy and employ 180,000 people. We received the autumn legislation programme from the Government earlier today but ,unless I missed it, there is no sign of any legislation that will bring about the necessary change to the insurance industry. In recent months, insurance companies have demonstrated their complete disregard for people and businesses. They have refused to pay out on claims from struggling businesses during the pandemic. The sector's income has boomed in recent years but, despite an annual revenue of over €15 billion, pubs, restaurants and hotels have been forced into court to get their coverage. I have carefully monitored the position in Britain. We need to take immediate note of what is happening there.

We must also take note of what the authorities in Britain have done in respect of audit companies. I have much more to say on business but I do not have time. We are far behind the curve in dealing with the big four audit companies, the insurance companies and the banks. We need to take this matter seriously.

We now move to the Rural Independent Group, from which there will be four speakers.

Protecting jobs and supporting businesses is a particularly relevant in the midlands and, specifically, my constituency of Laois-Offaly, which has been very hard hit by threats to employment. These include the just transition process and its dire impact on employment at Bord na Móna and, most recently, the threats to the forestry and tree-felling sectors. All these problems were systemic in my constituency before the Covid emergency. They have affected long term employees and seasonal workers alike. I have been contacted by key local employers, saw mills and businesses that support hundreds if not thousands of jobs, directly and indirectly. They are shocked at the chaos and dysfunction that continues to obtain in the context of licensing in the forestry sector. I call on the Government to ensure that this matter is resolved as soon as possible. Sawmills, farmers and others are seeing large numbers of appeals being submitted under the ecology heading and this is destabilising potential jobs. This cannot continue and must be resolved urgently to protect up to 12,000 jobs in the forestry sector.

Following the publication of the first interim report of the just transition commissioner, I supported the view that a range of measures were needed to ensure ongoing job creation and job retention in the midlands. The commissioner made it very clear that an immediate sense of urgency was needed around developing the employment potential of the midlands, and counties such as Offaly and Laois in particular. Has that sense of urgency been maintained now that the focus is off the just transition process? I highlight these issues because they speak to major deficits in the comprehensive job protection strategy. On one hand, we are here talking about the most recent Government moves to protect and support jobs while, on the other, we must accept that thousands of jobs, particularly in the midlands, are under serious threat from the Government's handling, or failure to handle, of its response to certain sectors. These jobs are also under threat because the Government has taken a very specific policy direction in what it is willing to prioritise. For example, it is not willing to prioritise the peat sector in the midlands because it has prioritised the pursuit of a so-called just transition process which has not instilled any confidence that it can create high levels of job growth. The impact of the process is questionable in that regard. Ecological concerns and the imposition of regulatory directives from Europe on the forestry sector are prioritised, regardless of how they undermine the sector's very existence.

We need to protect SMEs including those in the hospitality, hotel and tourism sector, as well as jobs in entertainment and arts. It is clear from the many emails and phone calls we receive from desperately concerned local businesses and those in entertainment and the arts that these sectors must be prioritised and receive and their problems be given an urgent response. We must hold structured dialogue with the key stakeholders to allow them to advocate across Government to ensure that the needs of SMEs are taken into account. We must support new projects and businesses and help them get off the ground. The Banagher Chilling project needs support from the Government and from Laois-Offaly Deputies. It has been held up by unclear guidance from the evaluation committee of the immigrant investor programme.

The Deputy is out of time.

We have seen how travel agents are suffering. Take a family that has booked a holiday for €3,000. A travel agent does not get paid until someone flies. Travel agents' income in 2019 was zero and it is zero for 2020. What other industry had to give back its 2019 income in 2020? Who was there to answer people's emails and calls about their holidays? Travel agents remained open to help those who had booked holidays and to deal with refunds. They dealt with people around the world to bring them home before the airports closed. They need support from the Government. They need grants, not loans. How would we manage our holidays if they closed?

This is a hugely important time to protect jobs and support businesses but the Government is doing the exact opposite. Take how businesses and private residents in west Cork were destroyed following recent flooding in Bantry, Skibbereen, Rosscarbery, Bandon and Rathbarry, when the only support they got was humanitarian aid, which businesses cannot get if they already have insurance.

No private residence will get anything from this fund even if they have no insurance. The Minister tells me that he wants to protect businesses and jobs when he is doing exactly the opposite. The Taoiseach came to see the floods first-hand, as did the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, and the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, but not a brown cent is following these visits. From what I hear tonight, there is no money for the roads either. They were badly damaged because of the floods. We have only been given a budget which was approved before the floods. This is appalling. It is west Cork and we know that other than a few weeks of holidays, this stunning place is off the Government's political radar.

Another place that needs emergency aid to survive is Cork Airport. This Government must immediately stop all Government charges on Cork Airport if it is to survive. Cork Airport is losing millions and cannot continue, so it is time to wake up to what I asked the then Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, four months ago. We need to have rapid testing in our airports, which would immediately start businesses here again. I asked for rapid testing in our airports and both the Taoiseach and Ministers were looking at me as if I had two heads but now it must be done. Rapidly test all those coming from destinations on the red list and have voluntary tests for those on the green list if the Government wants to save our airports. Wake up quickly, as the train is gone from the station and the Government is still standing at the platform. If the Government will not help the airports and airlines, it will have devastating consequences for jobs and businesses throughout west Cork.

To help to save thousands of publicans and employees from ruination, who have availed of the moratorium on mortgages which ends in September, has the Government intervened with the banks to continue the moratorium? It was the Government that pointed these publicans out and kept them closed in west Cork, including great pubs such as in Ballinadee, Drinagh, and Reenascreena to mention but a few. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have almost ruined these businesses and threw them crumbs after giving them false promises and hope of a survival package, which ended up being a pittance for these businesses that have been closed for over six months.

I too am concerned about the way the Minister is talking about supporting jobs and industry. The music and entertainment industry, the buses, taxis, hackneys, limousines, those aged over 66, the dance teachers and travel agents have all been left behind completely. This is doing nothing for them. The Government gave stimulus money to the banks, which will not loan the money out.

Small business owners and entrepreneurs who have a part-time job to support their enterprise have been left behind. They are unable to claim the restart grant or indeed the enterprise support grant, because they be working for a few hours a week. That is totally unfair. Those who operate a business from their home or online, or a sport or even a dance venture, for example, could not receive the restart grant due to having a second income by way of a part-time retail job, which they had to put food on the table. That continued during the pandemic. They were unable to avail of the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment. The kind of situation that people have found themselves in is shocking. Half of their income was being diminished as a result of the pandemic but they could get no supports. They were restricted in every way. The enterprise support grant excludes those same people who could not avail of the pandemic payment. There are significant anomalies and discrimination there.

I pay tribute to those in the rates and finance section of Tipperary County Council, who have rolled out a restart grant to 1,700 businesses and 800 restart plus grants, with 700 more still in the queue. The staff have been extremely helpful to my office, to all public representatives and to all these business people. It is a welcome source of income for those who can receive it but I am concerned about those who have not been able to receive it. Student nurses find themselves in another difficult situation. They had to give up their part-time jobs because they cannot be co-located, they are helping out in hospitals and elsewhere with the pandemic, and now that they are going back to college, to their education, they have no income because their jobs are gone. They have been left behind. I appeal to the Minister to do something for these groups of people. The over-66s have been forgotten completely.

I am sharing time with Deputies Michael Moynihan and O'Donnell.

I do not need to explain to anyone here the importance of the SME sector in Ireland, the substantial numbers that it employs and the significance of those operations throughout the regions, our towns and rural areas. I listened to Ursula von der Leyen's state of the European Union address today and was encouraged to hear the importance of the SME sector highlighted in her speech, that they are the leaders in innovation, that they will lead the circular economy, and that without a strong SME sector, we will not make progress. President von der Leyen said today that the SME sector is "the motor of our economy and will be the engine of our recovery". I met SME representative groups recently and I am sure many people here have done so too.

I have met representatives of musicians, artists and production teams. I have experience of that sector, I know the work and I know that they have very little. I have met travel agents. Some 3,500 jobs are at risk among travel agents,behind 234 shopfronts in towns throughout the country. They need targeted assistance and they need it now to get through the next stages of rebuilding our economy. All across the SME sector, there is scope to support and encourage investment, to improve energy efficiencies throughout offices and commercial buildings, to improve operations and manufacturing processes, waste and resource management. These are aspects of the business that may not be at the top of the list for the owner of an SME as the business struggles to re-emerge from this crisis, but it is important for its sustainability. This creates savings and jobs, and ensures viability. It is in this area that we can lead and facilitate, and connect investment opportunity and help SMEs.

Digitalisation will have an impact on our economy, monetary policy and almost every job that exists. At the heart of digitalisation and technological advances lies long-term sustainable job creation and apprenticeships, including mature apprenticeships, and upskilling. The pandemic forced many to work remotely or from home. This has shown that many jobs can be in rural towns and villages with the right infrastructure in place such as digital hubs and workspaces. This creates a number of questions for us. How will this impact on city workspaces? How will it impact on car-dependent commuting? Will office blocks be redesigned for residential use and bring life back to urban centres? Will this lead to opportunities for rural rejuvenation and improved economies of provincial towns? We do not know the answer to those questions and until we know the epidemiological path of this virus, we must consider and plan for many of the changes that we have experienced being possibly long-term structural changes rather than a cycle.

We need to seize the chance that we have to borrow at an all-time low interest rate, to invest in the infrastructure deficit that exists in our public transport networks, both rural and urban, in our fibre and communications networks, housing, our water network infrastructure, town planning, urban design and placemaking. These factors attract investment and create jobs. Investment is also needed in our education system, from early years, primary and secondary, through to third level, in order that we enable and encourage the next generation of innovators and people in research and development.

I was delighted to see SSE Renewables select Arklow, County Wicklow, as a base for its 500 MW off-shore wind development. There will be more of these developments on our east and west coasts. I envisage more opportunities for Arklow and Wicklow to become a centre of excellence for renewables, where jobs will be created in training, designing, testing, commissioning and maintenance of offshore wind and onshore solar renewable energy developments.

All of these objectives will create jobs. They will decarbonise our economy. They will ensure energy resilience and affordability and protect our natural environment. Europe is aiming for higher cuts in emissions. We are all part of that journey and, like our northern European counterparts, we need to see the opportunities that exist. We have a good programme for Government with key commitments and it is vitally important that we move as quickly as possible to create these jobs, a greener economy and a sustainable future for businesses in Ireland.

I want to address two issues. The bus fleet of private operators has been in garages and off the road in recent months. They had been preparing to go back to providing the much-needed bus service for schools over the last weeks and have done so successfully. Some of those buses had been off the road since March and had not been taxed because the private operators did not know when the buses would be back on the road. To get them back on the road, they had to pay the road tax for the buses for the period going back to March. I think the regulation in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport states that they should have notified it first. We should zone in on that. Small initiatives like that will help some of the private operators. Something should be done for all the bus operators. I am sure that every Deputy in the House has operators in their own areas that need to be looked at. There should be an innovative way to help them so that they are not saddled with substantial road tax for a bus fleet that was in their garages and off the road over the last six or seven months. That is something small that should be looked at and dealt with.

There is a raft of sectors which are challenged with Covid and how we go forward. There was much discussion earlier in the debate about forestry. The Government needs to grapple with this and get the legislation through, to make sure that these felling licences, thinning licences and roadway applications are all streamlined and go through the Department as quickly as possible, with the least difficulty.

There also has to be a review of the entire planning process to make sure that planning is not held up by fictitious objections and that there is serious review of the planning laws. They have been added to many times over the years and it is time for a review. Another issue that has come to the fore concerns community centres that have been operating, paying insurance and complying with the law despite having no income for the past six months. There should be a very sincere, targeted way of getting funding to all the community centres run by voluntary organisations and we should make sure that these valuable centres will be used again in the future, post-Covid, whenever that may be. We need to make sure these community centres are kept viable and are open for business.

We have to look at innovative ways of dealing with the various sectors. There are great challenges and myriad issues. The Government has to look at them carefully in order to streamline them. We have to accept that with Covid over the last six months, as always, the public is about 20 steps ahead of the political system and the Government. Many people have relocated and many are working from home in rural communities. This is a dream that was being talked about by rural Deputies for many years. It is now happening and we have to embrace that and make sure that everything is put in place for it to continue. Working from home has enhanced the vibrancy of rural communities over the last while. We have seen that they are safe and the issues in respect of large urban centres and Covid.

We have to look at this issue. Many years ago, we were talking about decentralisation. Now is the time for a major programme of decentralisation. We need to make sure we embrace it. We talk about carbon and all the rest of it. This is an issue that ticks every box we have been debating in the last while. It ensures that rural communities can thrive and enhances them, keeping young people in their own communities. Many people are commuting to Dublin from all over the place, some for two and three hours. That is not sustainable for the individuals involved, their families and their lifestyle. There should be coherent thinking about how we face the future. We should embrace a massive decentralisation programme and rejuvenate and sustain rural communities. They are vibrant and able to do it. We have seen what they have done over the last six months. We should now challenge the State and ensure it embraces what people have done over the last months.

I contribute to tonight's debate in the context of Covid. Until such a time as a vaccine is found, we will be living in Covid world. We are seeing an increase in the rate of infection, which we will have to tackle. It is not going to be easy over the next six months or more until a vaccine is found. A number of steps should be taken in the context of the budget. One must be to maintain sectors that are coming under extreme stress from external shocks. In general, the multinational sector has come through this pandemic reasonably well. The hospitality sector, including publicans and hotels, has come through extremely difficult times. The arts sector is going through a very rough time. Then we have the whole area of aviation, airports such as Shannon Airport in my region and travel agents.

The recovery fund is a strong measure which should be of significance and scale. If required, funding for it should be increased. While we have to view the fund in terms of the overall financial well-being of the economy, we need to spend in the current climate to ensure we retain jobs. On the aviation side, there has to be support from the State for strategic routes. Aer Lingus is not flying to Heathrow from Shannon Airport. I want to see that service restored as quickly as possible, which will need State support. I want to see the transatlantic routes operating again. That will take a bit more time but it is most important as there are many jobs involved.

In the arts sector, a large number of people are very exposed. It is hugely important that the arts and the SME sectors come through the pandemic intact. The worry is that the longer the pandemic goes on, the more exposed they are and the more difficult it will be to resurrect these sectors. We have to put supports in place and look at the budget on a sectoral basis. We must consider how to support events and live acts. The hospitality sector, hotels, publicans and restaurants must be looked at. I made reference to the aviation sector also. It is a feature of this crisis that, in the main, our income tax revenues have held up, which is something. This is because the multinational sector and other professional sectors have held up. Our system is by definition progressive but many of the sectors where people are paid less and are not paying income tax will need significant support, particularly the entire hospitality and retail sectors.

Shannon Airport is vital to people in Limerick and must be supported. Aer Lingus, as the national carrier, is vital as it operates the Heathrow and transatlantic routes. We need State supports in that area. I want the Government to provide support for strategic routes, including to Heathrow and the Aer Lingus transatlantic routes to JFK and Boston airports.

We can come through this pandemic. Do we have a recovery fund? We do not know what will happen in the next six to eight months. We have to ensure we have funds in place to deal with issues as they arise, as we have done to date.

I listened to the contributions of the Minister of State's colleagues. I agree with them that some of the supports that are now in place, depending on the sector, are helping to bring about a positive difference to people's lives and the economy. While many sectors are operating, albeit on a knife-edge, others remain horribly exposed to the effects of Covid-19. Earlier I spoke of the great challenges faced by the taxi and chauffeur sector and on other occasions I have addressed the challenges faced by the tourism sector. I know it is not the Minister of State's responsibility but I want to pass on the message that we need to see the VAT rate cut from 13.5% to 9% in this sector. While this is important nationwide, it is crucial in the Border areas where we have to compete with a much lower VAT rate in Northern Ireland.

The cultural, events, arts and entertainment sector is in dire trouble. In that context, I would like to read a few lines from an email I received from somebody I know who works in the sector. It states:

I wanted to send you a note today as the date for the PUP scale-back is imminent. With no date on the horizon as to when we can operate at full capacity again or at a sustainable capacity, I feel it is wrong to implement the PUP cutbacks at this point on anyone within sectors that cannot return to work safely or sustainably. With Covid-19 recovery plan stages taking so many setbacks and increasing numbers, I feel the PUP cutback timeline needs to be readjusted to logically align with how the recovery is actually panning out.

Those are wise words and we need to act on them.

The events and entertainment industry supports 35,000 jobs. Its turnover has collapsed. These jobs include invisible professionals such as sound and lighting engineers, site crews, riggers, event planners, logistics experts, poets, bar and catering staff, singers, actors, camera operators, drummers, designers, dancers and many others. These workers cannot bear the brunt of the crisis because they cannot get back to work. Tomorrow, their pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, will be cut and their safety net will disappear.

I welcome the measures such as the start-up grant, the rates initiative, the Covid payment and the VAT reduction. There is a lot of talk around the loan system and the credit guarantee, but many businesses are very afraid to move at the moment because they do not know what the future is.

Most food products, and indeed most products, are shifted with pallets. One sector has come out today to indicate that Ireland will soon be without pallets and this is because the previous Government and this Government have not tackled a problem in the forestry sector. People will wake up when they see they have no timber pallets on which to put food products. This is coming down the road very fast and then there will be a big hullabaloo. I believe that certain people within the Department have not dealt with it and, to be quite frank, no Minister has cracked the whip to get it sorted out. That is the problem.

There is also a situation with the bus companies. Firstly, drivers have left them and the operators are struggling to get drivers. The bus operators must pay insurance and perhaps rent a building where the vehicles can be kept or fixed. There are overhead costs. I am aware that there are start-up grants and this, that and the other but at the end of the day operators running fleets of buses will go bust shortly if they do not get back on the road or if some initiative is not put in place.

Footfall in the larger cities has fallen by quite a lot. I spoke with a hairdresser in Galway city who employs a good few people. While the first three weeks were great there was a fall off straightaway. If we do not keep some of these businesses on life support we will lose them down the road.

There is one thing that should be done and I ask the Minister of State to ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine about it. Consider the people who kept food on the table, the farming communities, those who got up every morning and the hauliers who kept bringing the milk, beef and all food produce around the country. Farmers who exported cattle that were fit for slaughter have been left out of the beef finisher scheme. These are the forgotten people in all of this.

Knock airport is vital to the west of Ireland. We need to make sure we target and give enough funding for the life support to keep businesses going. If we do not do so, whether people like it or not, there will be a lot of redundancies. On top of that would be more taxes for working class people because the Government would need more money. We will not keep on borrowing for the next four or five years, let no-one go codding themselves. We need to put the incentives there for the people who are employing people, and also for entrepreneurs to get them out and moving and employing people. That is how we will generate an economy.

I believe that a huge opportunity is being lost with this plan. The Government could have the chance to make the State really responsive to the needs of our society and our people. Indeed, it could be doing things like making sure that workers will be protected, as with the earlier motion on the Debenhams workers. The Government could also work to make sure taxi drivers are cared for and looked after, along with the 35,000 workers in the entertainment and hospitality industries who have been affected and who are being totally left behind. That sector in particular generates €3.5 billion income for the State each year in the taxes it delivers. Those are the people who should be targeted as part of this response and as part of the plan to make sure the economy gets back on track again.

There is no doubt that the plan appears to have significant provisions in it, but when one looks closely at it perhaps they are not as significant as we thought. The restart grant and restart plus grant of €156 million and €145 million amount to a grant of €4,800 per application, based on the 62,699 applications paid so far. This is hardly significant, and especially when it was announced as the €25,000 grant. It is not because it works out at €4,800. Out of the 62,699 applications perhaps 300 or 400 received the €25,000.

There is the reduction in VAT from 23% to 21%, which the Government has said will boost employment and encourage spending, but will it really? The previous reduction in VAT at the low rate was mainly pocketed by businesses and was not passed on to customers. That has been seen across the board. The VAT reduction is an across-the-board reduction so a business that is doing well, as some are, will not need the reduction but will benefit from it anyway. That is not the most efficient targeting of the payment.

Other measures put money into businesses in the form of loans but there is probably more that can be done to move money, in the form of grants, into businesses. This applies especially to small and micro enterprises as this money will remain in the local area and benefit everyone around that business.

Taxpayers who spend more than €625 on accommodation, food and non-alcoholic drinks between October and April can get up to €125 back through a tax credit. How much of this money would have been spent anyway? This is a question about which there does not seem to be much discussion. For example, I may go away for the weekend, as I have usually done over that period, and I can now claim a tax credit for it. This is really just paying me back for something I would have done anyway. There is an unfairness to that payment also. Consider the low-paid workers who have been impacted most through the lockdown and who may decide to go away for the weekend. They will not qualify for the refund because they are not paying tax anyway. They will not benefit from this tax rebate. Perhaps we are saying that those people should not be able to go away anyway because they are on low pay.

It is interesting that the tax take has not been impacted by the initial period of the lockdown and the downturn in the economy because, in reality, most of the workers affected did not earn enough to pay tax. The State's taxes have held up simply because it is the low-paid workers who have lost their jobs. That in itself says a lot about the type of economy and society we have built over the last 20 years or so.

There are, however, some good things in the plan. The employment wage support scheme, which replaces the temporary wage subsidy scheme, seems to be a targeted payment, which makes sense. There has been some discussion about the reduction in payments but it is actually targeted at employees and making sure the benefit gets to them. That seems to be a good way of doing it. That will make sense. Hopefully this plan will stimulate the economy, support our workers and help in the recovery of our society from Covid, which will be needed as this crisis will go on for some time yet.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the chance to say a few words back on the issues raised, and also to identify some of the things I am working on with our own Department.

The commentary in general has been around the supports for business, which is important, but we also must bring the conversation on in the months ahead to new concepts and new ideas for the future of business. We are meeting with businesses and different sectors every day of the week to ask them to explore the options for new types of business, how to develop their sectors, how to support a growth strategy and moving away to reskilling. We can support all of that. As well as trying to protect what is there we must realise that some businesses will have to reinvent. We in Ireland have been very successful in that regard over the years. We need to be in that space in the months ahead.

I listened to many of the contributors to the debate tonight but I did not hear a lot of new initiatives coming forward. Deputy Conway-Walsh criticised and said that we are not comparing ourselves with other countries, but the Deputy did not give me an example.

I ran out of time.

The Deputy had plenty of time but did not want to do it. In our Department we do analyse what is happening in other countries and we do compare it. Our offering is quite competitive compared with every other country. It is fine if the Deputy finds something in another country that she thinks is good and that we should copy here. The Deputy should mention it, bring it to us and we would look at it. We do that.

We do try to adapt a lot of our schemes. The offering here, including the initial supports announced up until May followed by the July stimulus plan, has been quite good in terms of supporting business. That said, we recognise that those initial offers of the wage subsidies, the restart grants and the rates rebates were scattered across all sectors and going forward with the budget and into the economic recovery plan will require a sector-by-sector, tailored approach. We can now analyse and see what sectors need more support, like the travel agents referred to earlier, or the buses. Different sectors will need different interventions and that is where the conversation needs to go over the months ahead. That is what we are doing in our Department - we are meeting every sector to see how we can tweak or change the schemes to suit them and that will inform the drawdown from the recovery fund in the months ahead.

The approach being taken by the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is right. We have a recovery fund which we can use at different stages over the 12 months ahead because we are not fully sure what sectors will need adjustment or more supports. We have to monitor that but we also have to be in a position, as the Government and as a country, to adapt and respond. I hope that Members here, as individuals or groups, will come forward in a responsible way with various ideas and suggestions. Let us know because this is about trying to spend the recovery fund wisely in a way that sustains jobs while also recognising that we must look to future jobs, new jobs as well as reskilling. Quite a lot of resources will be put into reskilling, upskilling and apprenticeship schemes, about which we have been talking for many years. It is well recognised that there is great potential there but we must tailor the schemes appropriately.

Deputies must acknowledge that what has been done so far was to get us through the initial six or seven months. The plan published yesterday is not about announcing moneys or supports in general, apart from for the health service. It is about giving people a window onto what will happen under each stage and why we have to go from levels one to five, if needs be. It is about the management of the virus. Separate to that is the supports to enable businesses to open up and the wage subsidy scheme has played a major part in that regard. Quite a lot has been done with taxpayers' money but more will need to be done in certain sectors and the Government recognises that.

Deputy Harkin raised the issue of the pandemic unemployment payment rates and I understand what she was saying. Indeed, the point she made would have come through at a lot of our meetings as well. The Minister with responsibility for social protection, Deputy Humphreys, will respond to that and is well aware of the situation. Again, we are trying to encourage people back to work because in some sectors people are telling us that they cannot get staff. We have to get that balance right and we will try to do so. That said, we must also recognise that some sectors cannot get back to work and the Deputy is absolutely right about that.

Deputy Pringle asked about the restart grant which amounts to quite a lot of money for quite a lot of businesses. I do not have the breakdown but I will get it for the Deputy. It is not the case that the majority of businesses only got €4,000. If one analyses the rates paid by companies over the last couple of years, the average paid was between €7,000 and €8,000 so that is probably where the grant is at. Many businesses will get €25,000 and some will get €20,000. I have met quite a lot of business people in my county that have gotten €15,000, €16,000 or €17,000 which is quite a significant amount. It is not the case that businesses have only received €4,000. The Deputy is only taking an average figure. I am just telling him what the facts are and I am happy to get the details for him. We will get the figures for the Deputy. All of that can be seen because we are able to see the rates payable for the last two years. It is quite visible and nobody is hiding that. The grant is up to €25,000 for companies that would have paid rates last year up to that amount. It is quite significant and business people will say that it is quite a lot. That said, we need to do more and are prepared to do so.

Certain sectors are not able to get fully back to business and we must decide how best to deal with them. Do we put them on life support and try to make sure they are still there in six or seven months when we need them? As was said in the context of travel agents, if we do not do that, we will lose that business to other countries. There are certain areas that need specific support and that is what we will have to do. People will have to contribute to that debate over the next few months and put forward suggestions for certain areas. We must all accept that there is not an endless pot of money but we must spend what we have as wisely as possible.

Issues were raised about the credit guarantee scheme, the banks and so on. Deputy Mattie McGrath claimed earlier that we are bailing out the banks again but the credit guarantee scheme has nothing whatsoever to with the banks. It is about reaching banks' customers with a financial product they can afford. The credit guarantee scheme involves the use of taxpayers' money to guarantee loans, up to 80%, to enterprises and companies. That is a support for business and is not a support for the banks. Trying to muddy the waters with that claim is a little bit silly, to be honest. We have already seen this week that the credit guarantee scheme is having an impact on the cost of money to businesses and that is what it is about. It is about reducing the costs to business. Many financial institutions, including the credit unions and others, have applied to be in that scheme and they will bring forward more products, which is what it is about. Deputies should not judge the scheme on the basis of what happened six or 12 months ago because it is a new scheme. The governing legislation only went through the Houses in July and the scheme has only been operational for the last few weeks. It is in the months ahead that we should judge the scheme and I am quite confident that it will have an impact and will be of support to business. Everyone is coming in here and saying that businesses do not want to borrow but we have to be honest with businesses. If we are to get through this it will require a combination of grants, wage supports, upskilling funding and so on but there will also be a necessity along the way to borrow money. In the last seven or eight years since the recession there has been a reluctance to borrow and I can accept that. I worked with a lot of companies in my time and I know that this will need a combination of liquidity, grants and borrowing. There is no point in kidding people that the State will be able to provide every penny because it will not. The State does have to step in to reduce the cost of borrowing and to make credit easier to access for businesses so that those that have good cashflow and good plans for the years ahead can borrow money. It would be wrong for Deputies to constantly tell businesses that it is all going to be grants because that is just not possible, regardless of who is in government. We have to be honest with people. The aim is not to indebt them or put a noose around their neck that they cannot afford. Rather, the aim is to get that blend right. That is why we have vouchers issued through the LEOs to help businesses assess their situation and make a case. They will be able to use the voucher to get financial advice on trading their way out of this situation. We should not be giving people false hope, however, because that is unfair.

Contact tracing was mentioned by quite a few speakers. It is very important and part of yesterday's announcement was about beefing up the team of people involved in contact tracing and testing. It is important we do that. People were set aside to do that but they had been taken from other Departments and offices. We are now specifically signing people up to take over that work. It is important we do that in order to deal with the next five or six months because that is a support in terms of keeping the economy open as well as protecting public health. The approach is two-pronged.

There is no point in denying that Covid-19 has had a major impact on everybody. It has affected all of our towns, villages and counties. When it comes to business and those who try to create and sustain jobs we must put a wind behind them as best we can and in a timely manner, with additional supports. We are engaging with the retail sector quite a lot. I am chair of the retail forum and we recognise that a lot of the sector, apart from groceries, is under immense pressure. There are around 300,000 retail jobs in this country so we want to get people back into that space. Footfall is returning in certain areas but is moving away in others. In the cities and large urban areas, footfall is down and will take quite some time to recover. It is back to about 60% in some cases but it will take a long time to get back to pre-Covid levels. That said, other areas can benefit from that. We must make sure we manage the opportunities and see how we can equip our towns and villages to take advantage of potentially new customers. We need to get that balance right. We recognised, even before Covid-19, that there was a move to online trading in retail and other sectors. We are trying to row in there with supports to encourage more businesses to adapt their own offering. That is why we have the online retail grant through Enterprise Ireland. That scheme is open again but will close at the end of September. I would ask businesses with ten or more employees to look at the scheme and submit an application. It is quite an attractive scheme. The grant in most cases is over €35,000. Most people will also be familiar with the online trading voucher scheme. We have put a lot of extra money into that through the LEOs, with extra staff who are encouraging businesses to go online to compete for the market share that they may have lost in the last couple of years. Online retail sales have really taken off during Covid and we want to make sure that Irish companies can benefit from that too.

Time has run out but we will talk about some of the other issues again.