Ceisteanna - Questions

Census of Population

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

23. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the decision to delay the census. [31753/20]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

24. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of his Department on census 2021. [33230/20]

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

25. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Taoiseach the number of small to medium enterprises that have ceased trading as a result of the pandemic lockdown to date; and the estimated number that will have closed by the end of 2020. [34717/20]

Alan Kelly

Question:

26. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the decision to delay the census until 2022. [35141/20]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 23, 24 and 26 together.

On the advice of the Central Statistics Office, CSO, the Government decided on 15 September to postpone the 2021 census until 3 April 2022. The census of population is a unique count of everyone present in Ireland on census night and provides essential information for planning and decision-making. It is vital that the census enables everyone in Ireland to participate in order that the information gathered reflects all our needs and can be used to make decisions that benefit us all.

The decision to postpone the census scheduled for 18 April 2021 until 3 April 2022 was not taken lightly and was based on a number of factors. First and foremost for consideration was the need to ensure the safety of the general public and CSO field staff, coupled with the need to deliver a census that achieves the highest possible response rate across all facets of society. Furthermore, the census of population is a major logistical operation and Covid-19 restrictions have prevented or delayed many key planning activities from taking place over recent months. On consideration of these challenges, the Government decided to postpone the 2021 census until April the following year in order to enable the CSO to undertake a comprehensive, inclusive and safe census in 2022 that will provide valuable and accurate data for our country in the years ahead.

Between censuses, the CSO produces annual population estimates rolled forward from the previous census. In this instance, the CSO will roll the 2016 estimates forward for an additional year until they can be recalibrated with the new detailed census data, preliminary results of which will be available in mid-2022, with definitive results coming on a phased basis from April to December 2023. It is expected that the delay of one year will result in a similar delay in the next report of the Constituency Commission.

Under Regulation No. 763/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council, implementing Regulation No. 2017/712, Ireland is required to transmit census data to EUROSTAT with a reference date in 2021. The transmission must be made by March 2024. The CSO will work closely with EUROSTAT to mitigate the impact of the changed census date and will consider the introduction of additional methodologies and data sources in order to satisfy EUROSTAT's requirements.

Work on planning for census 2022 is under way. This involves revisiting project timelines and investigating the introduction of new approaches, including online interviewing and training, to reduce further potential disruptions.

We understand the public health concerns of the CSO's director general and agree that it makes sense to postpone the census. However, under the EU framework regulation, Ireland is required to submit census data to EUROSTAT with a reference date next year. What accommodation has been made with EUROSTAT to allow Ireland to push the taking of the census into 2022?

On a related matter, there is a shortfall in the HSE's contact-tracing capacity. A census is a huge undertaking requiring a large number of people to be deployed as field officers. Is the HSE working with the CSO to avail of that resource and train the personnel to take up that role in the contact-tracing area? It strikes me as an obvious opportunity that arises from the current situation.

I was late to the Chamber and missed the Minister of State's reply. I take it that he is saying that the CSO, for public health reasons, feels it cannot go ahead with the census. That is perfectly understandable in the current circumstances. However, the Government could use the interregnum to prepare for a census to take place a year later and ensure we use the information provided by it. The census offers an enormous wealth of information that is underutilised much of the time. It provides us with enormous detail about the changes that are happening in our society and the changing needs of our society. If we use that information properly, we can plan for the future.

Unfortunately, there is often no joined-up thinking in terms of the information that is provided. The census tells us about birth rates, for example, and it should tell us about the infrastructure we need for childcare, education and housing. It should allow us to plan for those things, if we are using that information properly and linking it to our policy objectives and plans. However, that does not happen. Looking back to the 2016 census, one of the things it told us was that there were a lot more people living in households, which should have told us that we had a housing problem we needed to deal with and plan for, if we did not know that already. It told us that we needed to plan for things like childcare provision and infrastructure, of which we are desperately short. We have not used the information the census provides us with to plan properly for the needs of our society, particularly in areas like the provision of housing, decent school infrastructure and childcare infrastructure.

I did not hear any reference to the question that I put in which is, obviously, grouped with these questions. I take it my question is being taken after these.

We are only dealing with this group of questions. When this slot is over, I am afraid that is it.

As far as I understand it, we are discussing Questions Nos. 23 to 26, inclusive. My question is Question No. 25.

We will deal with it now.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

The point of my question is that there are so many victims of the current Covid restrictions in this country that it is hard to separate them but, obviously, small businesses have been massacred because of Covid and because of the restrictions over the past six months. We have seen a large amount of pubs close which have left the isolated even further isolated around the country. We are seeing hundreds of crèches, childcare services, shops, cafés and restaurants all closing for good. Individuals invested vast amounts of money and their own time and sweat into sustaining these businesses up until now and those businesses are being closed completely and all the jobs that exist in those businesses are being lost as well. One of the questions that we in Aontú have been putting to the Government over the past while is that we need to be able to quantify the cost of the restrictions to know adequately whether or not the restrictions are disproportionate. Indeed, Ireland has the sixth strictest restrictions on the planet at present even though we are third from the bottom with regards the level of Covid that exists in the country in European terms.

Fifty-one per cent of retail has migrated online. That is an astounding figure. The majority of retail that exists in these twenty-six counties is currently happening online. Many of those who have gone online will never go back to physical retail in the future. Amazon is booming while many small Irish businesses are going bust.

We in Aontú have put forward a Bill that looks for a 25% decrease in the wages of TDs and Senators during this period. The sentence, "We are all in this together", is being thrown around like confetti and it is plainly not true. The wages of TDs are going upwards and everybody else's wages are going downwards.

What I am asking the Chief Whip to answer is, given that they are making serious decisions on so many people's lives, if he will quantify the number of businesses that are closed for good as a result of these restrictions.

I thought we were taking Deputy Tóibín's question separately. I did not know it was grouped. I will try and answer it now.

There are four grouped.

That is fine. I will answer them all.

There was a little extra latitude because Deputy Kelly was not here.

To answer Deputy Mac Lochlainn's question around the impact of the census postponement on the EU regulation, under the Framework Regulation of the Council and the Parliament Ireland is required to transmit census data to EUROSTAT with a reference date in 2021 and this transition must be made by March 2024. The CSO is working closely with EUROSTAT to mitigate the impact of the changed census date and will consider the introduction of additional methodologies and data sources in order to satisfy all EUROSTAT's requirement.

On the Deputy's question around engagement between the CSO and the HSE, I understand there has been extensive engagement in relation to contact tracing and around the utilisation of field officers, as the Deputy has referenced and which is a constructive suggestion. I will ask my officials to send the Deputy a detailed note on that. On the public health response, we need to have all pillars of the State trying to support contact tracing, particularly when there is an escalation of the epidemiological position on how we can respond to it.

In response to Deputy Boyd Barrett, I agree that we should use next year. We should always use every occasion to look at all our data sources to inform public policy objectives and the CSO has not in any way stopped doing that. It is continuing its work and its regular reporting to Government and its public reports and its data sources are a key objective in public policy and in responding to the changing needs of society as the Deputy referenced. Perhaps next year there will be additional time to do that when the census is not happening. I will bring the Deputy's feedback to the CSO in that regard.

In response to Deputy Tóibín, the CSO annual business demography figures indicate that there were 270,300 enterprises in the private business economy in 2018. Of these, some 269,700 were small and medium-sized enterprises, 248,300 of which had less than ten persons engaged and 21,400 of which employed between ten and 249 people.

Between April and August this year, the CSO collected and published six waves of its Business Impact of COVID-19 Survey to provide insights into the impact of the pandemic on businesses. The result of wave six of the survey indicated that an estimated 2.5% of enterprises had ceased trading temporarily while 1.2% had ceased trading permanently at the end of August.

The survey also asked businesses how confident they were in being able to continue trading. It found that 3.4% of enterprises were only confident of having the resources to continue trading for another month and 1.6% were not confident of having the resources to continue trading.

Annual statistics on business demography are compiled with a considerable time lag as they depend on processed tax-return data which enterprises may submit to the Revenue Commissioners up to 11 months after the reference year to submit. To provide early information about the situation in 2020, the CSO is currently developing a business signs-of-life analysis which will link Covid-19 related support payments and other administrative data to the business demography statistics to identify how many businesses are continuing to trade. The first report by the CSO on business signs of life will focus on the effect on business of employee-related supports, such as the pandemic unemployment payment and the wage support schemes. The CSO aims to publish this report in December and to follow it up with reports on the numbers of businesses which are continuing to trade. The CSO is also preparing to collect a larger-scale business impact of Covid-19 survey in January 2021 which will provide structural information on the impacts of the crisis on businesses throughout 2020.

There have been significant supports in the context of budget 2021, for example, the reduced VAT rate for the hospitality and tourism sector from 13.5% to 9%, the commercial rates waiver for Q4 of 2020, the 9,000 upskilling and reskilling opportunities and the extraordinary expenditure response around Covid-19 and the horizontal supports that are there in terms of the wage subsidy schemes. That support will be ongoing to support our SMEs. We are happy to provide further data to the Deputy from the CSO related to his question.

Sitting suspended at 5.27 p.m. and resumed at 5.39 p.m.