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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 27 Jan 2021

Vol. 1003 No. 5

Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 (Covid Restrictions Support Scheme) (Percentage Adjustment) Order 2021: Motion

I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the following Regulations in draft:

Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 (Covid Restrictions Support Scheme) (Percentage Adjustment) Order 2021,

a copy of which was laid in draft form before Dáil Éireann on 13th January, 2021.

The resolution seeks the approval of the House for a draft order which provides for additional support under the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, to businesses that are forced to restrict access to their premises over the Christmas period.

I want to start by setting out the context for our debate, which is the unprecedented support being provided by the Government to assist businesses in Ireland through this pandemic. The support has been economy-wide, and there has also been significant additional support for sectors that have been particularly and harshly affected by the pandemic. For example, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment has put in place a range of measures to support businesses through loan and loan guarantees, grant schemes and business training and advisory schemes.

Specific sectoral supports include the €55 million tourism business support scheme put in place by the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, the €5 million provided for the tourism product development fund, and the coach tourism business continuity scheme, which is a €10 million fund to provide coach tourism businesses with a direct financial contribution to help support them with future operational and continuity plans.

For arts and entertainment sectors, some €25 million was provided last June, including €20 million for the Arts Council, as well as additional supports for regional museums. A further €29 million was provided in the July stimulus plan, which included funding for the Arts Council, Screen Ireland, our national cultural institutions, a fund for our music industry and supports for live performance.

Significant additional funding was announced in budget 2021, with €130 million allocated to the Arts Council for this year and €50 million for supports for live performance. A total of €5.5 billion has now also been spent on the pandemic unemployment payment, with nearly half a million people receiving a payment this week.

Under my own Department and the Revenue Commissioners, the temporary wage subsidy scheme and the employment wage subsidy scheme have provided significant levels of support across our entire economy and society. Almost €3 billion was paid to 66,600 employers in respect of 664,500 employees under the temporary wage subsidy scheme. As of last Thursday, the Revenue Commissioners had made payments of €1.6 billion to over 43,000 employers in respect of half a million employees under the employment wage subsidy scheme.

The Revenue Commissioners have also assisted Irish businesses through debt warehousing schemes, with 70,000 companies putting tax liabilities of almost €2 billion into these schemes. The unprecedented effort that the Revenue Commissioners have put into the operation of these schemes should be supported.

Today, we are discussing the Covid restrictions support scheme, which has been an extremely successful intervention by the Government, aimed at providing support to businesses whose customers are prevented from accessing their premises because of public health restrictions. Again, I want to acknowledge the work done by Revenue. As of this morning, 56,700 claims for payments under this scheme of €239 million in respect of 20,000 premises had been made and €237.6 million of this has now been processed for payment.

On considering the approach to easing public health restrictions in early December, the Government decided that additional seasonal support in the form of a double payment would be provided through the Covid scheme to qualifying businesses that would remain closed over the Christmas period under the restrictions. This was in recognition of the additional financial impact on these businesses of being closed during a very important trading period.

The relevant provision is contained in section 11 of the Finance Act 2020, which was passed by the Oireachtas and signed by the President just before Christmas. It provides that the Minister for Finance may vary the scheme by order in a number of ways, including by varying the levels of payment - 10% and 5% of average 2019 turnover - for a specified period of time.

The legislation sets out a number of steps to be taken before an order varying the scheme can be made, including an assessment of up-to-date data regarding the economy and consultation with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The assessment considered the scale of the Government's intervention in the economy to support vulnerable individuals and businesses and to ensure that the economy will be in a position to recover when the pandemic is under control. It concluded that there was scope to continue the supports provided by the Government.

The live register data show that the Covid-19 crisis continues to have a significant effect on the number of jobs in our country. The assessment concluded that the sectors which are affected by the changes to the restrictions announced since the start of December are disproportionately affected because of their reliance on this part of the year to support leaner times in other parts of the year. Businesses rely on strong retail sales in December and it is proportionately the most important month for them. Therefore, missing out on the expected stronger sales in December can be expected to have a significant effect on their annual turnover, with multiple implications for ongoing operation and survival.

The double payment for the three-week period is intended to mitigate the effects of the December restrictions on businesses. A draft order to implement this was laid before the Dáil on 13 January. The final part of this process is that that order shall not be made unless a resolution approving of the draft order has been passed by the Dáil. This is what we are discussing today.

The Covid restrictions support scheme is a targeted scheme aimed at businesses which are forced to restrict access to their premises on foot of health regulations. It is a part of the broad spectrum of Government supports being provided to assist businesses to cope with the devastating effects of this disease, which I referred to a moment ago. The design and operation of the scheme is predicated on restrictions preventing or restricting access to business premises and it only applies to such businesses. In designing the scheme, it was necessary to provide anchor points, including the concept of business premises, to which access is restricted. This is because the public health regulations may make provisions in relation to restrictions in specific locations, such as a county or a region, or can operate nationally as is now the case. Therefore, support could be provided to businesses which operate in a restricted location with reference to the physical location of their premises.

The scheme applies to businesses carrying on trading activities from business premises located in a region subject to restrictions, which require the businesses to prohibit or considerably restrict customers from accessing their business premises and which as a result are operating at less than 25% of turnover in 2019.

The vast majority of businesses in the State are affected by Covid but this scheme is intended as a very targeted scheme rather than the general measure, which is the employment wage subsidy scheme. This scheme was specifically designed to provide additional support to businesses that have had to close temporarily or significantly restrict access to their premises as a direct result of public health regulations. That said, the Government has provided significant and unprecedented levels of support to the economy and this level of support will continue for as long as is necessary to deal with the effects of this disease. However, equally, it cannot continue indefinitely.

I do not propose to significantly amend the scheme. The scheme is based on the business premises being located in a region to which public health restrictions apply and access to these premises being restricted. It simply would not be possible to amend these parameters to allow businesses excluded by these criteria to become eligible.

The Government and I will continue to assess the effects of the pandemic on businesses and the economy and I will continue to work with my colleagues in government to ensure that appropriate supports are in place to mitigate these effects.

In this regard, the Tánaiste has asked his officials to look further at what additional supports should be provided to businesses that are not eligible for this scheme. Additional funds for areas such as tourism are already in place. With this scheme, we have a clear scheme in place where funds can be quickly and easily claimed by eligible businesses. Clear guidance is to be found on the Revenue website. This guidance is continually being updated, reflecting the types of questions that businesses are raising in relation to the scheme.

This is a successful and important scheme. It achieved what we set out to deliver. It provides significant additional support to businesses located in regions or, as is now the case, in our entire country, which are subject to restrictions regarding access to their premises. It does this quickly and simply and provides support which is broad and not sector-specific. It is an advance credit for trading expenses and is operated by Revenue because of its tax base, as well as Revenue's efficiency in getting funds to businesses.

The legislation allows certain limited flexibility within the parameters of the scheme relating to changes to the percentages of turnover, which are the subject of the draft order tabled for consideration today. A draft order providing for an increase in the levels of payment to 20% of average 2019 turnover, up to €20,000, and to 10% of turnover above that amount for the three weeks beginning 21 December, 28 December and 4 January has been laid before the Dáil. The resolution approves the order and I commend it to the House.

I move amendment No. 1:

To insert the following after “Dáil Éireann on 13th January, 2021”:


notes that:

— businesses have been significantly impacted by restrictions introduced by the Government under public health regulations to combat the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic;

— the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme has been a vital and effective financial support for many businesses that have been significantly impacted by Covid-19 restrictions; and

— many businesses that have been significantly impacted by restrictions introduced by the Government under public health restrictions to combat the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic are not eligible to make a claim under the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme on the grounds that they do not ordinarily carry on a business activity on a fixed business premises and/or cannot demonstrate to the Revenue Commissioners that, as a direct consequence of Covid-19 restrictions, customers are prohibited or significantly restricted from accessing their business premises;

recognises that:

— as a result of these eligibility criteria, many businesses that do not qualify to make a claim under the Covid Restriction Support Scheme are struggling to meet non-payroll expenses;

— liquidity support to these vulnerable businesses is essential to assist them in meeting their non-payroll expenses and to help ensure they are in a position to survive this crisis period and support the post-crisis recovery; and

— the weekly cost of the Covid Restriction Support Scheme has been significantly less than that first projected by the Government when the Scheme was introduced; and

calls on the Government to amend the eligibility criteria by providing that:

— a person carrying on a business activity may be eligible to make a claim under the Covid Restriction Support Scheme provided that they can demonstrate that the turnover of the business activity in the claim period will be no more than 25 per cent of the relevant turnover amount;

— a person is not disqualified from making a claim under the Covid Restriction Support Scheme where their business activity is not ordinarily carried on from a business premises which is permanently fixed in place; and

— to be eligible to make a claim under the Covid Restriction Support Scheme, a person shall not be required to demonstrate to the Revenue Commissioners that, as a direct consequence of Covid-19 restrictions, customers are prohibited or significantly restricted from accessing their business premises.”

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Cheann Comhairle agus as a bheith ábalta freisin labhairt ar an rún seo os comhair an tsuí. Is é an chéad rud ná ba mhaith liom mo leasú féin ar an rún seo a mholadh sa Teach.

The motion is to approve the regulations made by the Minister to vary the level of payments made under the Covid restrictions support scheme during the Christmas period. The percentage adjustment order was made in accordance with section 11 of the Finance Act, which allows the Minister to vary the payment under the scheme for a specified period. There are a number of steps to be taken under the legislation before such an order can be made, including consultation with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and for a draft to be laid before the House. That draft was laid before the House on 13 January and the motion before us this afternoon is another step in that process for Dáil Éireann to approve these regulations. The order provides for a double payment for businesses for the three weeks over the Christmas period, starting on 21 December. The level of payment for each of these three weeks is increased from 10% to 20% of average 2019 turnover up to €20,000, and from 5% to 10% of turnover above that amount. However, the €5,000 weekly cap for payments remains in place. For example, where a pub owner was eligible for €1,300 per week under CRSS from 13 October, he or she was able to claim €2,600 per week for the three weeks beginning 21 December.

Sinn Féin will support any measure that is reasonable and provides additional support and much-needed relief for businesses that have been forced to close due to public health restrictions. Employers and employees are all struggling to keep their heads above water. We have spoken to many of them. The double payments that this order provides for were made in recognition of the fact that the financial impact for remaining closed over many businesses' most busy trading period in the year were, in our view, an appropriate and necessary measure to compensate for the losses brought about by the public health measures introduced by the Government.

Nationwide level 5 restrictions came into force on 24 December. While the Covid restrictions support scheme has provided relief for nearly 20,000 businesses, thousands more have fallen through the cracks. Those thousands are unable to avail of support due to restrictive eligibility criteria which exclude them. The Covid restrictions support scheme came into operation on 13 October. It did so with strict criteria in place for businesses which qualified for support. For a business to be eligible, it must carry out its business activity on a fixed premises. As the guidelines make clear, mobile premises or premises which are not permanently fixed in place do not meet the definition of business premises. Businesses that fail to meet this definition include thousands in the tourism, hospitality and events sectors and they are denied support despite their turnover falling through the floor. For a business to be eligible, it must be able to demonstrate that customers of the business are prohibited or restricted significantly from accessing those businesses' premises as a result of the Covid guidelines. The Government's guidelines state:

It is not sufficient that the trade of a business has been impacted because of a reduction in customer demand as a consequence of Covid-19, or that the business supplies goods or services to another business that qualifies for the support because, under the Covid restrictions, that other business is required to temporarily close, or significantly reduce, its [business] activity.

This means that suppliers to public-facing businesses do not qualify for this scheme despite the fact that their business and turnover is directly impacted by the Covid restrictions. As a result, these rigid and narrow criteria lock out tens of thousands of hard-pressed businesses, including suppliers, event managers, companies, taxi drivers, the outdoor activity industry, businesses without a fixed premises and many others. They are shut out and not able to avail of this scheme.

The failure to take account of the impact that Covid restrictions are having on supply chains in our economy is reckless and surprising. The Central Bank warned of the economic shock of Covid-19 throughout domestic supply chains as far back as April last year. The logic is not difficult to follow. Firms that supply goods and services to public-facing businesses are immediately hit by public health restrictions. The Central Bank found that suppliers' sales to businesses directly affected by social distancing policies that restricted the ability of customers to purchase from firms amounted to €13.5 billion annually. The Covid restrictions support scheme pays no attention to these suppliers and their importance to our economy.

The problems with the scheme are not new. They have been pointed out to the Minister previously and have been ignored by the Minister and Tánaiste previously. These issues were raised with the Minister by my colleague, Deputy O'Reilly, when the legislation came before the Dáil in November, while I raised them on Committee Stage of the Finance Bill. I, like all colleagues, have been in contact with businesses which, despite seeing their turnover fall by 90% or more, cannot access this scheme. They are locked out from it despite having non-payroll expenses and fixed costs to pay. On 19 January, 17 businesses wrote to me stating that it came as a shock to them, when applying for the CRSS, to be told by Revenue that even though up to 90% of their customers could not trade, they did not qualify for the scheme. This was despite their turnover being down by between 80% and 90%. They concluded by saying that to be told that they do not qualify for support under the CRSS is soul-destroying and that they are appealing for additional support.

There are thousands of such businesses and they employ tens of thousands of workers in our economy. The incomes and livelihoods of countless families depend on their survival. One business I spoke to at the weekend said that if does not see a light at the end of the tunnel regarding access to CRSS then there is no point in it continuing, because it cannot continue to fill the holes. To lock these businesses out of the scheme with no alternative in place is economically senseless. It is a glaring problem that we have raised with the Government since the scheme was first introduced. Many of these businesses are now borrowing to meet their non-payroll expenses and fixed costs. Without additional support, this growing debt burden risks a wave of insolvencies and job losses that will scar our economy and communities for years to come.

Our amendment to the motion notes that the Covid restrictions support scheme has been a vital and effective financial support to many businesses that have been significantly affected by Covid-19 restrictions. It also recognises that countless businesses, suppliers and those without fixed premises are excluded from the scheme.

They are struggling to meet fixed costs and non-payroll expenses. These businesses are crucial to our post-Covid recovery and staving off the scourge of unemployment. Our amendment calls on the Government to remove the eligibility criteria that lock these businesses out of the scheme. We completely dispute and refute the claim by the Minister that this cannot be done. Of course, it can be done and it should have been done if the political will was there. What needs to be done is to ensure that these businesses qualify for this much-needed relief. The arguments against doing so, which were put forward by the Government in November 2020, were weak. They are equally as weak, if not more so, today, given the economic environment and the continued restrictions that we are likely to face.

When the scheme was introduced, the Government projected that it would cost €80 million per week. In fact, it has cost much less than that. It has cost €220 million since it came into operation, which equates, on average, to less than €15 million per week. This is less than one quarter of the projected cost. Of course, the short-term costs are blown away by the long-term savings through business survival and reduced unemployment. The Minister and the Tánaiste have dithered on the issue of expanding the scheme and dealing with those who have been locked out of it for far too long. It is symptomatic of a broader sluggishness in the Government's response - a sluggishness that has denied mortgage holders and SMEs much-needed payment breaks from their lenders. Business, workers and our economy can no longer tolerate this sluggishness that is often mistaken for prudence. The consequences are too grave. Immediate action must be taken. I, therefore, call on the Government and all parties and representatives in this Dáil to support the amendment and to ensure that hard-pressed businesses are no longer excluded and locked out from this much-needed support.

I thank the Minister for bringing this important resolution to the House. The CRSS has been an important lifeline for thousands of good, viable businesses across the country since it was introduced just a couple of months ago. The Minister will not mind me taking the time to pay tribute to the hard-working officials in the Revenue Commissioners, and in his Department in ensuring, at least in my experience, a practically glitch-free implementation of this very important scheme, and other crucial supports that he outlined earlier, including the TWSS, EWSS and other supports. The officials responsible for drafting such schemes are a great credit to our civil and public service, and represent the best traditions of that service.

On the resolution itself, it is good that a double week payment has been applied. That can also be applied to businesses which found themselves having to shut their doors on 31 December 2020. If I am correct, it is being applied to the likes of gyms and other businesses in the leisure sector. This is a very traumatic time for business owners and managers across the country, and indeed their staff. I hope that these important measures and supports will help to sustain businesses through a very difficult period and ensure they remain viable to the point where they can flourish when the conditions allow and our economy starts to grow again. The scheme will help, and has helped, on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis to provide supports to pay overheads that exist whether a business is in operation or not.

I note from Revenue information available on its very accessible website that, as of 21 January 2021, the total value of claims came in at €221.5 million, covering 19,500 premises. Almost one quarter of all premises involved provide personal services such as hairdressers and beauticians, and so on. The highest payout, if I can call it that, involves the pub trade. I guess that is not surprising. The average time it takes to turn an application around - from application to payment - is three days. That is impressive in anyone's language and needs to be acknowledged. In my home county of Louth, the total number of premises covered is 820, with the total value of claims amounting to just under €8 million.

Like other Deputies, I have raised issues with the Minister on the floor, particularly on Committee Stage of the Finance Bill 2020 in respect of the kinds of businesses that the CRSS does not cover. For example, businesses providing food and supplies to the hospitality sector might meet all criteria to qualify for the scheme in respect of a sufficient drop in turnover, but they are excluded because their premises are still open, albeit operating a skeleton service to support, for example, takeaway businesses. In addition, there are businesses with, for example, casual trading licences, or an on-course bookmaker's licence with a paid-for pitch, which will not qualify because they do not operate from what might be termed a "permanent" bricks and mortar premises. This is an anomaly in the scheme. I understand what the scheme is designed to do, but, nevertheless, it is an anomaly that I hope the Minister will consider addressing in some other way. He has indicated that the Tánaiste will be looking at other supports that might be more adaptable and targeted for specific kind of sectors. The Sinn Féin amendment deals with that to an extent. I raised the issue by way of amendment on Committee Stage of the Finance Bill 2020, just a few weeks ago, albeit the amendments were ruled out of order.

We know that the restrictions currently in place will remain so at least until 5 March 2021. For pubs and restaurants, the likelihood is that restrictions impacting on their businesses will remain for much longer. I have no doubt that the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform have run some figures and done scenario planning in that regard and in respect of the extension of this scheme for a further few months. I welcome the Minister's commitment to extend, in effect, wage subsidy supports beyond the 31 March cut-off point. Does he plan to do the same with schemes such as this, and the CRSS in particular? Can he provide estimated costings if the scheme is to be extended beyond the cut-off date that was originally intended?

I wish to share time with Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan.

I thank the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, for being here to listen to my plea. I very much support today's resolution and the CRSS, but I have to use my time to point out an anomaly with it. Before I do that, I would like to say the Government is extremely well-placed to adjust and increase supports, given, on the one hand, the better-than-expected performance in respect of corporation tax and Exchequer revenue generally. Second, as alluded to by other speakers, when initially profiled, the cost of some €80 million per week was foreseen, while we all acknowledge that those in receipt of the CRSS are most welcoming of it and it will certainly assist them in this never-ending misery in terms of their prospects for surviving. As was also mentioned earlier, the cost of the scheme at the moment is less that one quarter of what was budgeted. In addition, in budget 2021 we voted for a contingency budget, which is included. The scope is certainly there and I appeal to the Minister to act on it.

There are approximately 17 nationwide wholesalers relevant to supporting the on-trade. There are approximately five in my area in the north-west, and they are spread throughout the country. They employ up to 800 people and all are family-run. Historically, they were known as wholesale bottlers. Some 90% of their customers are closed and 90% of their orders are gone. In practice, these wholesalers act as a credit line to the on-trade. For example, in one instance, at the beginning of the pandemic, let us say, 15 March 2020, a wholesaler with an annual turnover of €11 million was owed approximately €1.8 million, and had to enter into payment plans for this. That is a huge issue. Of course, the other supports are available to them, but they are nowhere near enough. They cannot compete and they do not supply the multiples directly.

They only supply the on-trade businesses, including gastropubs, hotels and so on, which are not open.

There are 17 family businesses in this situation, involving 800 people to whom we can afford to extend the scheme. There are only 17 of them, as I said, and we should extend cover to them. In my own area, for example, MCM Brands in Ballyshannon, County Donegal has 18 employees. That is 18 pay packets every week and 18 families affected in a town that has suffered greatly, through many generations, from neglect by consecutive Governments. Kelly & Co wholesalers, Gill's and G. McFadden & Sons, all in County Donegal, are in the same boat. Drino Drinks in County Leitrim is another example. These people are expected to stand still on the wage subsidy and, in effect, put their businesses at a complete disadvantage, without hope of recommencing supply to the trade after the fact. Indeed, many on-trade pubs, having made their Christmas orders and with their stores full, had to close at Christmas, understandably, with the pandemic numbers the way they are, and the wholesalers are expected to take the stock back. They do so, of course, because that is what they do.

I urge the Minister to extend this scheme. We have the money to do it, both by way of the extra taxation revenue and because the scheme is undersubscribed, as other Deputies noted, to the extent that only some €20 million or less is being used on it per week. As a colleague and a Government backbencher, I ask the Minister to extend the scheme for the small number of businesses involved. There are 17 of them nationally and 800 families affected. I ask that we give them the support from the CRSS that they deserve.

I would like to follow up on Deputy MacSharry's comments. The majority of Deputies in the House today will welcome the announcement regarding the Covid restrictions support scheme, but a number of anomalies have been brought to our attention that need to be highlighted. Like Deputy Nash, I commend the work the Minister and his Department have done on this issue, as well as the work of Revenue. As Deputy Nash said, the turnaround times have been very good and the process has been very efficient, and that is to be welcomed. At the same time, there are a number of issues and anomalies that need to be flagged.

I want to focus on one of those issues. I have been contacted by many constituents, specifically caravan and camping park owners, regarding their unfair exclusion from the CRSS. It is my understanding that in early December, Revenue updated the scheme guidelines to exclude camping and caravan sites on the basis that they involve an outdoor activity and that such activities are not ordinarily carried out from a business premises, as defined for CRSS purposes. I submitted a parliamentary question to the Minister's Department on this issue recently. The response stated: "Where a business does not ordinarily operate from a fixed business premises, such as a camping or caravan site or a boat charter business, that business will not meet the eligibility criteria for CRSS." I would like to make the counterargument on behalf of my constituents that many of these businesses do, in fact, operate from a fixed business premises. They have fixed physical structures, including reception areas, shops, laundry facilities, kitchen facilities, toilets and shower blocks etc. The business owners pay commercial rates, water rates and utility bills on those buildings. Camping and caravan sites are registered with Fáilte Ireland and are approved accommodation providers under the Tourist Traffic Acts. Revenue previously recognised caravan and camping sites as an accommodation provider under the stay and spend scheme.

The reply to my parliamentary question also stated that one of the eligibility criteria for CRSS is that a business would be carrying on its trading activities during the period of restrictions but for the public health regulations requiring the business to prohibit or significantly restrict customers from accessing its business premises. Many camping and caravan sites remained open longer last year to try to recoup lost trade from earlier restrictions and reduced occupancy. However, they were forced to close in October due to level 3 and level 5 restrictions. As a result, their Hallowe'en mid-term business was lost. Camping and caravan sites have been included by the Government along with hotels, bed and breakfast accommodation, guest houses and similar accommodation providers during all the levels of restrictions and have not had the benefit of lighter restrictions and earlier opening dates that some outdoor activities, like golf, were allowed.

I urge the Minister to take these points into consideration. Camping and caravan business is very seasonal and it has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 crisis, like all other tourism accommodation provision. Business owners are at their wit's end and do not know when they will receive an income again. I ask that the CRSS criteria be amended to include caravan and camping parks because they are currently struggling to stay afloat.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. I add my voice to that of my colleague, an Teachta Doherty, in support of the Sinn Féin amendment, which seeks the expansion of the CRSS. Since budget day, when the CRSS was announced, Sinn Féin has highlighted the limitations within the scheme and has consistently argued that it should include all businesses that have seen their turnover fall by 75% or more. Under the current scheme, only businesses with fixed premises and reduced footfall as a result of restrictions can qualify for the scheme. Not a day goes by in which a business owner does not call or email my office asking about the scheme and why his or her business is excluded from it. Most of them think it is a mistake by Revenue that they are excluded and they are shocked to find out that it is the Government that is locking them out of this much-needed financial support. It is a testimony to the effectiveness of the scheme that there are so many people on the outside of it who want to get into it.

Last October, at the enterprise committee, I outlined the problems with the CRSS and called on the Tánaiste to expand the scheme to cater for those businesses that are still excluded. In November, an Teachta Doherty highlighted the limitations of the CRSS directly to the Minister for Finance. Following on from the debate at the enterprise committee, I wrote to the Tánaiste restating my concerns with the scheme and outlining further the businesses and sectors excluded from the scheme that need to be brought into its remit. On numerous occasions, an Teachta Doherty and I have raised these matters on the floor of the Dáil or through parliamentary questions. We have pushed for the inclusion of companies such as suppliers, event management companies, businesses without fixed premises and many others that have fallen through the cracks within the scheme. The fact that the scheme has not been expanded shows that it is Government policy to exclude certain suppliers, event management companies, businesses without fixed premises and many others from this scheme. The CRSS is averaging a spend of less than €15 million per week, compared with the expected cost of €80 million. This further reinforces that it is Government policy to exclude those businesses, which, in turn, puts them and, more importantly, the jobs they provide, at risk. That is just not acceptable.

Despite our efforts, there has been little wider reform of the scheme to protect suffering businesses. The Government's dithering on the matter is putting more and more businesses and more and more jobs at risk by the day. I read with interest the Tánaiste's comments, as reported in the Business Post at the weekend, about expanding the scheme. I am glad that it is under consideration. However, is this the speed we can expect from the Government in this regard? We are four months behind everybody else. If the Tánaiste was as quick to protect businesses as he was to contradict the advice from NPHET, this matter could and should have been, resolved months ago. The Tánaiste, the Minister for Finance and the Government need to stop talking about reforming the scheme and just go ahead and do it. The need for reform is obvious. It has been pointed out to them on more than one occasion. In fact, the limitations have been pointed out consistently. The Government expected that there would be a greater drawdown. I ask the Minister to note that the fact there has not been is the result of an issue with the scheme.

The CRSS is vital to qualifying businesses and we will, therefore, support this motion. However, we also support the Sinn Féin amendment because too few businesses are qualifying for the scheme. The current support scheme is limited to public-facing businesses, leaving many sectors badly impacted by the restrictions without the same safety net. Businesses that are not public facing, such as suppliers or businesses without a shopfront premises, are not immune from the effects of the pandemic or the knock-on effect from public-facing businesses closing their doors. We need to ensure that our supports are comprehensive in their scope. We cannot turn a blind eye to certain sectors and simply hope that they will survive 2021.

There needs to be a greater acknowledgement of how interconnected different forms of enterprises are. Thinking of this nature seems to be absent in the qualifying conditions for the CRSS. During Priority Questions on 17 December, I asked the Tánaiste to introduce an enterprise and trade support scheme equivalent to other Covid-19 restrictions support schemes for businesses that are not subject to rates and that do not conduct trading activities from a fixed premises. In his closing remarks, he accepted there will be companies that fall between schemes and that he would need to design a scheme to do something for them. I also saw the article in the Business Post. The companies were called "orphan companies". It is really disappointing that this is not being addressed today. Essentially, there are people who will have to make decisions and do so very quickly. As many companies as possible need to survive if we are to have a full and job-rich recovery.

Direct-marketing companies, tour operators, restaurants and pubs, in addition to ancillary businesses, are all critical to tourism. We are aware that some sectors have been more affected than others, not because the companies in them have been badly run or because they are not good in their own right. Some of them will not survive. Companies require support. It is short-sighted not to provide that support in a timely way. It is really important that this anomaly, which is very big, be dealt with, be it through the CRSS or a new scheme. I do not believe anybody minds what way it is dealt with; the really important point is that it be dealt with.

Consider the rules on taxes up to end of 2020. In this regard, I refer to interest rates and where people had to postpone or warehouse their taxes. There was a lower rate of interest and there were no penalties, or reduced penalties. Obviously, it was to target sectors, but the arrangement does not seem to have continued into 2021. It may well be intended. The Minister might address this because such arrangements, the waiving of rates, the PUP and other payments have been incredibly important. I acknowledge that a lot has been done but we cannot leave large groups behind, as is the case in the sector in question.

When responding, could the Minister indicate the timeframe that is being considered for the design of other schemes? I am sure there is engagement between him and the Tánaiste on addressing the needs of the group in question, which is not covered by the scheme. Just as it is important to state it is being considered, it is important that people be given the timeframe in which it is being considered so there will be some certainty and so people can make decisions. Some will have to make the decision not to continue. I hope the number will be limited but people need to know the timeframe.

I welcome the opportunity to examine the Government's unprecedented supports for Irish businesses, jobs and enterprise in response to the devastating pandemic and an extension to the CRSS. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the Government has rightly done everything possible to support businesses, jobs and workers. The CRSS allows business affected by Covid to claim support from the Revenue Commissioners of up to €5,000 per week. I understand that almost 20,000 businesses have availed of the scheme to date. Could the Minister provide details for Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown? He might forward them in time.

The recent surge in Covid cases and the extension of level 5 restrictions will be of concern to many businesses. They are worried about the future. They are not worried about today or tomorrow but about the medium-term outlook for themselves and their employees. A vaccine is being rolled out and the programme relating to it has been well debated in this House. We will eventually return to a degree of normality. It would be helpful if the Government used the next six weeks to review the economic circumstances and prepare a national restart plan. A high-level advisory board should be considered to conduct a regional and sectoral review of the economy to pinpoint where the supports are required. Consultation with stakeholders is essential. A two-tier economic recovery must be avoided. From talking to businesses in my constituency, Dún Laoghaire, I am aware that some are doing well. They are mainly international exporters but many businesses in the hospitality and tourism sector and SMEs are struggling despite the unprecedented Government supports. We are aware that Irish SMEs provide the bulk of jobs in our economy. They are worried about the future and need to be reassured that supports will continue beyond 31 March until the pandemic ends and that there will be a plan to restart our economy. These businesses will need a considerable cash-flow injection to restart. For some the future is very bleak, unfortunately, and some, even with the supports, may not survive. These entrepreneurs need support to restructure their businesses or, in some cases, to wind up. Examinership and liquidation should be reviewed to allow fast-track, low-cost wind-ups and restructuring to allow entrepreneurs a fresh start. Local enterprise offices have made considerable efforts to advise businesses but businesspeople tell me that the system needs to be simplified, be it through a one-stop shop, a telephone line or a central website of some sort.

More needs to be done for the orphan companies that fall between the existing schemes. I refer to those affected in the tourism, transport, car rental and entertainment sectors. The Minister will be aware that I previously raised the issue of Tom Duffy's Circus, an Irish institution in itself, and the generations involved in the arts, culture and heritage. Such businesses are being left behind and need support. I ask the Minister to redouble his efforts to support these companies and others.

The country is tired and weary as it looks to get past Covid. There is no doubt that the crisis has utterly transformed much of everyday life in Ireland. I am conscious and deeply appreciative that a range of supports have been put in place to support businesses throughout the lockdown and that, in the main, they are proving very effective. The reality, however, is that many businesses simply will not reopen and simply will not be able to function in a post-Covid era because, to smash a famous line of poetry, all has changed, utterly changed.

I will focus briefly on a sector I hold very dear, the regional press, because it is where I pursued my career of choice for most of my life. Sadly, Covid has fast-tracked the demise of the sector by a generation. Young people now, my own children included, simply will never purchase a local newspaper. The old income model involving 80% advertisement and 20% newspaper sales is broken, and some of the titles that were founded in reaction to an imperialist presence in our country more than 100 years ago now face a perilous and uncertain future. At the heart of these newspapers are the staff. Many are friends of mine and many are sons and daughters of parents who devoted their lives to the industry. There is ink in their veins, yet these are the same people who enthusiastically embraced the online revolution and have done everything asked of them by their employers to safeguard a vital community resource. I appreciate it is not the Minister's remit. The Future of Media Commission has been formed but, sadly, its formation gave little recognition to the regional press. An urgent suite of supports is needed for the sector because we must rally behind the staff, many of whom have been laid off temporarily in recent days and now rightly wonder whether there is a future at all for a business and profession to which they are wholeheartedly dedicated.

Our local newspapers are just a snapshot of a wider issue, namely the sweeping changes that have ripped through rural Ireland as a result of Covid-19. The unrelenting conversion to online shopping and the suspension, through restrictions, of click-and-collect services have been the death knell for so many of our small traders and retailers. These are the very lifeblood of our small towns and villages.

We have a suite of Covid supports but the focus now needs to be on the supports that will be critical to getting businesses back open and that will help them through what will be a period of great uncertainty. We have learned many lessons over the past year and many of them have been hard lessons. We have learned what was needed to sustain these businesses through a prolonged period of closure. Now we need to know that the focus will start to switch to reviving, sustaining and revitalising them, whether it is the local newspaper, the village shop or the bar on the corner.

We passed a sad milestone yesterday, with 3,000 deaths as a result of Covid. As Government and as legislators, we now need to work on the support packages to ensure we will not be tracking the number of businesses who fail to reopen or cannot reopen later this year.

Ba mhaith liom tacú le rún mo chomhghleacaí, an Teachta Ó Dochartaigh, maidir leis an scéim seo a leathnú amach. Tá a fhios againn ar fad, agus athbhreithniú ar an scéim á dhéanamh againn inniu, go bhfuil sé tábhachtach breathnú ar an méid a d'oibrigh an scéim ach caithfimid breathnú chomh maith ar an méid nár oibrigh sé. Ar ndóigh, tá roinnt gnólachtaí ann faoi láthair nach bhfuil i dteideal na scéime seo agus tá sé sin fíordheacair ar na gnólachtaí sin. Tá súil agam go mbreathnóidh an tAire air seo agus go ndéanfar rud éigin faoi mar níl sé sách maith go bhfuil roinnt gnólachtaí amuigh ansin nach bhfuil i dteideal na scéime seo.

I support the amendment by my colleague, Deputy Doherty, in respect of expanding this scheme to include those businesses which have not been included in it. I also want to raise my concerns about the scheme. The scheme obviously aims to support businesses during the higher levels of lockdown. For those businesses in receipt of it, the CRSS is undoubtedly an essential source of revenue which is keeping them afloat during these difficult times. However, many businesses are unable to receive payment under the scheme and, as a result, their future viability is on the line. We raised this anomaly with the Minister previously during the course of the Finance Bill and I wrote to him on 5 January to highlight this but, unfortunately, nothing has changed.

I was relieved to read over the weekend that the Tánaiste and the Government are deliberating over whether to expand the CRSS. It is high time to stop deliberating and act on this because these businesses are really under pressure. We saw that when the scheme was launched in October, it was expected to cost €80 million per week. However, my colleague, Deputy Doherty, has highlighted that it costs, on average, less than €15 million per week. In other words, the scheme has cost approximately 18% of what was first estimated. Surely, therefore, that means there should be a re-examination of those businesses that have been excluded to this point and which are struggling to keep afloat. These are the businesses which do not have premises. The guidelines on the operation of the Covid restrictions support scheme clearly state that "a business premises is [the] building, or similar fixed physical structure, in which a business activity is ordinarily carried on." Therefore, boats, for example, are excluded on the basis that they are mobile. However, boats that work as tourist attractions may appear mobile but, in reality, they are based in a specific place where they provide that attraction and do not move from there.

One company based in north Connemara raised this issue with me. I was informed that business was down by 80%. The company is based in a rural area and employs ten people. The latter makes it a key employer for the area. The company is frustrated because while tourist attractions often encourage tourists to visit and stay in specific areas, it feels it has been completely forgotten and is not getting sufficient support to enable it to survive. As the Minister can imagine, there is major concern regarding businesses of this nature and of the rural areas in which they are based, which simply need the jobs they create. This anomaly needs to be addressed and I ask him to fix it as a matter of urgency.

When the legislation relating to the CRSS was passed by the Houses, I argued as forcefully as I could that it was unfair on people who did not have a premises, whose premises might be, for example, their taxi or van or whose livelihoods involved overheads in terms of loans or rents on premises that are not public-facing, such as musicians, people who work in the arts and many others who operate small businesses. Those businesses and their employees have been devastated, most of them, particularly regarding taxi drivers, musicians and many others, far more than the 25% threshold which allows businesses with a public-facing premises to get the CRSS. One only has to go out onto the streets to see the situation for taxi drivers at the moment. Their ability to earn an income is down 70% or 80%. They have car repayments, insurance costs and other ongoing overheads, yet they are excluded. There is no justice to this. It is completely unfair. They need help.

The vast majority of taxi drivers have also been excluded from the €1,000 restart grant because people have to sign off the PUP in order get that grant. A person cannot sign off the PUP at the moment with any hope of earning even a fraction of what he or she would normally earn for the obvious reason that people are not on the street because of Covid restrictions, and rightly so. Why are taxi drivers being excluded? They still have to carry the costs to which I refer. The position is similar for people in music and the arts, and it is completely unfair. It is precisely some of those who have been worst hit who are not included. In the case of musicians and artists, they have been shut down completely since the beginning of the pandemic, yet many of them are excluded from these schemes. It is not fair.

I support Deputy Doherty's amendment. These points were put to the Minister forcefully when the legislation was pushed through and I do not know why he is ignoring them. Also in the context of taxi drivers, the electric vehicle grant is very limited in terms of who it is available to. A car has to reach its ten-year expiry date in order for the owner to access this grant, which means that the vast majority of taxi drivers will also be excluded from that grant. At every level, taxi drivers are being denied supports because their cars are their premises and their means of business, even though they have been more adversely affected than many of those who are availing of scheme and who are rightly getting paid. I do not see why the Minister would not extend it to taxi drivers or to musicians, people in event-related areas, the arts and so on. I appeal to him to do so.

Some of the support given out to bigger businesses and the willingness of the Government to give this support contrasts sharply with the way it treats PAYE workers, who will now receive tax bills even though the wage subsidy scheme limited the amount by which employers could top up workers' pay to the net amount. The limit the Minister imposed in respect of the wage subsidy scheme means that people have taken a pay cut and that they are going to be taxed subsequently on it. That is completely unfair.

Finally, I will say a word on the wealth that dare not speak its name. Oxfam published a report earlier this week which shows that Ireland's billionaires have increased their wealth by €3.3 billion during the pandemic. Rather than exclude people who really need support from schemes, could we not impose a little bit of tax on the billionaires who have done well out of Covid in order to assist some of the workers and sectors which have been absolutely hammered by the public health restrictions?

Our next contributor is Deputy O'Dowd. He is sharing with Deputy James O'Connor.

I welcome the debate and the Covid restriction support scheme. In my constituency, 820 businesses have benefited thus far, to the tune of €7.9 million, while nationally, notwithstanding the points made during the debate, more than 19,500 businesses are receiving supports worth €221 million. I come from a Border county, which is suffering greatly as a result of Covid and of the issue I wish to raise, namely, that the scheme does not extend to all businesses in the area.

Carlingford Lough Ferry operates out of Carlingford and crosses the bay every day. The ferry commenced operation in 2017 with a €10 million private investment, €2.5 million of which was invested in fixtures at Greenore, which included the construction of a reinforced slipway, fenders, car parking facilities and an office. It is impossible for the business to operate without utilising its fixed premises at Greenore. Since 2017, the business has carried more than 147,000 vehicles and more than 497,000 people across Carlingford Lough. It is at an early stage of growth and has a bright future but it needs urgent help.

As a cross-Border service, it is finding it increasingly difficult to access supports. It is deemed ineligible for the Brexit loan scheme even though the company has been significantly impacted by Brexit, and obviously, Covid has devastated tourism in the Carlingford area. The company is fighting hard and taking all the actions it can to survive the impact of both Covid and Brexit. I ask the Minister to seriously reconsider the issue. The company believes that one of the problems relates to the additional €55 million the Government has allocated for tourism to deal with this issue, which will be administered by Fáilte Ireland. Its understanding - I hope it is not a fact - is that the same criteria will apply to companies such as the Carlingford Lough Ferry and that, therefore, it will not be successful in its application for funding.

I welcome the fact the Minister is listening to this debate and I welcome the Tánaiste's comments about change but it is essential that this business be supported. It is genuine and it has spent the money. It employs people, and while it is now obviously a significantly reduced business, it is the type of business we will need in the Border area once Covid is gone and restrictions are lifted, and to fight the impact of Brexit. Companies like Carlingford Lough Ferry need to get the CRSS. It is entitled to it and it has made the investment. It is not a hide-and-seek company; it is there and it is a considerable boon to the local economy.

On tourism, I have been approached by a tourism counsellor, that is, somebody who operates a tourism business but whose role is not customer facing. Notwithstanding that such persons may get the pandemic unemployment payment, their businesses cannot survive without additional supports. I urge the Minister to examine that issue also.

The Covid support scheme was a welcome addition to the range of Covid-19 supports in place, which will give enterprises the best opportunity to maintain their businesses during this very difficult trading period. I welcome the additional double payments made over the Christmas and new year period in recognition of the additional financial impact on those businesses for which Christmas would normally have been a particularly busy trading period. The demand for the scheme shows the importance of the role of the Government during this time. As we head into an extended timeline of level 5 restrictions, it is critical that the Government continue to play a leading role in providing supports for businesses.

While such a scheme is very costly, businesses need to have the certainty that they will continue to be supported, however long this pandemic may last. The employment wage subsidy scheme is critical to ensuring that employer-employee relationships are maintained and that when businesses can reopen, they can do so quickly. The CRSS will help businesses to get through level 5 and ensure that employees have jobs to go back to, that businesses are maintained and that livelihoods can thrive once again.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of towns and villages. If these businesses were to shut down permanently, it would have a very adverse impact on our towns and rural settings and the very fabric of rural society throughout the country. I ask the Minister to re-examine the case of premises whose trade has been impacted by a reduction in customer demand because of Covid-19, such as travel agencies. While the indirect nature of the reduction in business activity is recognised, the level of restrictions on movements, and now the restrictions on international travel, make a strong case for this area to be re-examined.

Many people will have woken up this morning after having been faced with the news of continued lockdown until 5 March. It is not the position in which, prior to Christmas, many of us thought we would be. While these times may be very difficult, this is not a time to lose hope. We can and should get through this. Although some of these schemes may seem like figures on a page, the businesses they will help to support are not. I urge the Minister to continue to support businesses, which are the backbone of this economy. Many family-run businesses, unfortunately, will not survive this pandemic and that is a sad reality the Minister's Department will have to deal with when deciding how to allocate financial supports. Above all else, however, we must be highly cognisant that if we allow too many businesses in rural communities, such as those in the constituency of Cork East where I am from, and on our main streets to die because of this pandemic, it will do irreversible damage to our economy and society, and to the well-being of people in rural Ireland.

I wish to emphasise that point. I have been working with many local businesses and it has been an enormous privilege to work alongside members of our local business community since I became a public representative. Particularly during the pandemic, it is easy to see they are continuing to go through much difficulty, not least those companies that were undergoing financial restructuring, unfortunately, just prior to the emergence of the pandemic. They have found it quite difficult to access supports such as the CRSS. I ask that a continued and renewed focus from the Department be put into that.

I wish the Minister well. The State has responded with urgency to some of the matters we have faced. For example, we responded with the largest budget in the country's history. The Opposition cannot be entirely critical, therefore, of the actions of the Government and of the Minister. I ask him to continue to engage with local and small businesses and to bear in mind that we cannot afford to shut down main streets across the country. It will be extremely difficult for those businesses ever to come back and they will face significant financial uncertainty and difficulty. It is important that we support them in every way we can.

I support the Sinn Féin amendment tabled by my colleague, Deputy Doherty. It is a vital amendment and it addresses the people who have not been able to avail of this scheme. The continuation and adjustment of the Covid support scheme is vital work that we must complete and I echo the comments of my colleagues regarding the necessity of sustaining and amending it.

Businesses have operated, or not operated unfortunately, for close to a year in the Covid-19 environment. Regrettably, I have no doubt that many smaller businesses will be unable to sustain these prolonged periods of closure with near-zero income. While others may have the economies of scale required to survive the pandemic, many SMEs and sole traders will not. The support scheme is the safety net that has allowed many thousands of businesses to limp over the past ten months. Thousands of businesses have registered for the scheme since November. While many saw a return to trading, albeit brief, in the pre-Christmas period, this will not be enough to keep them afloat. Payments data show that while the Christmas season led to spending reaching its highest point for the year, there has been a rapid reversal since restrictions were reintroduced and it is now close to levels seen in the spring of last year.

The unfortunate but not unexpected news last night regarding the extension of current restrictions to 5 March will be met with despair by many business owners. This continuation is necessary, given the high numbers presenting at our hospitals, and as such we must continue all efforts to get the virus under control. Business owners and their employees appreciate this, but nonetheless last night's announcement was a punch in the gut to many of those who are struggling to keep their businesses afloat. We know of the schemes, loans and supports that are available and I urge businesses to access them as appropriate.

A walk to my office in Limerick lays bare the impact of the pandemic on local trade and commerce. In Limerick, every morning is like a Sunday morning; businesses are shut and foot traffic is down to a trickle. It is a depressing sight and it leads me to wonder how the city centre can recover without additional support for the affected businesses. An overall review of the CRSS is needed to ensure that all those who need it can avail of it and that those who need it most will not continue to slip between the cracks.

While adjustments and alterations to the scheme are necessary and appropriate, what we really need is an overarching plan of recovery, an entire Government consultation with the Opposition to operate in unison and fewer roll-outs and subsequent rollbacks by Departments.

Unfortunately, like so many others, business communities have suffered due to the hesitation and doubt that has epitomised this Government's response to the pandemic to date. We have had mixed messages regarding pubs opening, wet pubs versus dry pubs, the lack of support offered to our tourism sector and travel agents, the disastrous failure in implementing restrictions on foreign travel into the State during the pandemic and the delay in responding to the crisis in our nursing homes. People have made huge sacrifices. They are exhausted and need to see a fresh line, even if that is just the slightest glimmer of light in the distance. All of the errors to which I refer contributed to the frustrations and concerns of the public. All these missteps have led to the economy being closed again.

We are discussing amendments and adjustments to the CRSS. I fear that while the Government was procrastinating, the horse bolted. The Sinn Féin amendment is important. I urge all parties to support it. What we really need is an idea of what the eventual reopening of our economy will look like. I look forward to hearing the Government's plan on this issue. As already stated, Sinn Féin will be pressing this amendment and calling a vote at the end of the session.

We will move to the Regional Group. Deputy Grealish is sharing time with Deputy Shanahan.

The CRSS, which was announced by the Government in November, is designed as a targeted support for businesses that lost most of their trade as a result of the level 5 restrictions in order to ensure that they could remain viable and ready to reopen their doors when the restrictions are lifted. At the time, the Government estimated that the scheme would cost in the region of €18 million per week. Records that have been released show the scheme is costing considerably less than originally envisaged. One of the main reasons for this is the overly-restrictive conditions relating to qualification.

I ask that the scheme be reviewed with a view to supporting a much broader range of businesses that are directly affected by the level 5 restrictions and that have had their turnover collapse in the past year. Since last March, I have highlighted the decimation of the tourism and hospitality sectors. We also need to look, however, at those businesses supporting this sector, particularly the suppliers that were directly affected by the prolonged closures of their largest, and in some cases only, customers.

Since the scheme was announced, I have been contacted by many different types of businesses that are excluded from it. Mr. Gary Craven, for instance, is an independent trader based in Galway who has been supplying fish to hotels and restaurants exclusively for the past 30 years. His business has completely collapsed since last March. He does not qualify for CRSS simply because he delivers to his customers. He is still in the fixed business class this scheme was intended to cover but unlike the customers he supplies, he receives no Government support.

A large number of licensed trade distributors are based throughout the country. Their main trade is pubs, restaurants and hotels - the so-called on-trade business. These companies cannot compete in the off-licence trade due to the role of multiples and the delay in implementing the minimum unit pricing of alcohol element of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018. Up to 90% of the customers of licensed trade distributors are not trading at the moment, which means they have lost up to 80% or 90% of their turnover. Their licence does not allow them to sell to the public so despite not being told close their business, they are struggling to survive and their future is uncertain. In addition to not qualifying for the CRSS they do not qualify for any restart grants.

The condition under the scheme whereby restrictions must prohibit or reduce access by customers to a business premises is overly restrictive. It precludes a significant proportion of businesses that are suffering a massive loss of income and are now struggling to survive. At the time the CRSS was announced, the Minister said that specific sectoral schemes were to be rolled out to support many businesses that might not qualify for it. Unfortunately, many sectors are still not in receipt of any essential supports. We cannot support some sectors and leave others struggling to survive and facing closure.

In light of the lower than expected take-up of the CRSS and the difficulties being faced by many companies as a result of the level 5 restrictions, I recently sent the Minister a letter from J & C Kenny distributors, which was signed by Mr. Jackie Kenny and 15 other distributors from across the country who are affected by being excluded from the scheme. I ask that the terms of the scheme be expanded to include businesses such as J & C Kenny and the other distributors which signed the letter to which I refer and also Gary Craven and the many other small business owners who have been affected.

The CRSS was designed to bring some certainty to businesses in these uncertain times. For those businesses that have applied and qualified for the CRSS, it has obviously proved a valuable lifeline. It must be stated, however, that tying eligibility to apply to the scheme to the operation of a business premises has excluded many SMEs and service sector businesses. Many have great difficulty in accessing other forms of Government support outside of wage supports, which are obviously not fully applicable if a business is closed. Significant service businesses have been developed through great entrepreneurship and reflect the dynamic innovation we will be looking for post Covid. I can think of catering companies, event managers, sound engineers and many other private firms and self-employed for whom the CRSS payment is a closed avenue in the context of grant support.

I ask the Minister to consider the many private small and medium business owners who have leasing and finance arrangements in place and those with rent and capital loan repayments for which they are receiving no support. For these people, the decision is to either delve into hard-earned savings or take on additional debt. This is the only way they are technically surviving in hope of a restoration of business demand.

I mentioned certainty. That is one thing Government can probably not fully guarantee. It must signal, however, some extension of existing moneys and additional supports to cover the various business sectors I mentioned and many more of these businesses left without support. There is a real challenge now for many owners in deciding whether to try to struggle on or call it a day. Without adequate support measures being put in place, many of these business owners and their furloughed staff will end up on the live register and become a hard and extended liability on the public purse. It is a well-known fact that it is easier to support an existing job than to spend money trying to create a new one. I urge the Minister, the Government and the Revenue Commissioners to consider further their initiatives to support private sector workers.

At some point, we hope to exit this Covid nightmare and we will need the resilient businesses we have supported to be ready again create economic growth and wealth. The Government and the Revenue Commissioners need to listen to a far greater degree to the pleas of business owners and sole traders who have carried more than their fair share of tax burdens over many years. The implications of ignoring them will be a further social and economic cost this State does not have to create.

Deputy Cahill will share time with Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan in our next slot. Deputy Cahill will speak first.

First, I want to acknowledge the stimulus we had in November and the huge amount of money that has been put in by this Government to try to protect people who have been severely financially hit by Covid-19. The health of our citizens is obviously the paramount thing we must protect but financial well-being also has an impact on the mental health of individuals and is a huge cause for concern.

In the past couple of weeks, I received numerous calls from constituents who are unhappy with the way the banks have treated them since this latest lockdown came into play. Many people are struggling to repay loans, mortgages and lease agreements. They need a break and should not have their credit ratings impacted as a result of this. People were under huge financial pressure last summer. We have an awful lot of people out there whose businesses have been closed for almost 12 months. It will be 12 months come the third week of March. Whatever reserves they had last year have been exhausted. Whatever pressure we put on the banks last year needs to be increased. They must adopt an even more compassionate and understanding approach. A proper moratorium must be put in place for individuals and businesses which will not cost that individual money. Banks should be offering breaks from repayments at the moment and extensions at the end when business returns to normal. There should also be extensions to people's loans or leases, with no extra charges or payment increases.

When businesses resumed trading at the back end of the year, banks came back looking for increased repayments from them and individuals. That cannot be allowed to happen and banks have to put a proper moratorium in place. This is the most essential work we need to do in the coming weeks. People are under significant mental pressure and strain because of their financial situation. Banks and leasing companies have to meet people and show them that they will share some of the financial hardship that Covid-19 is imposing on them.

A number of building sites are closed. Individual builders and building companies have started work on sites and have spent money on leasing machinery and so on for the sites. They have to stop work and in a lot of cases they have to transport that machinery back to their home bases, which involves a significant increase in costs. Again, the banks need to understand how these businesses are operating and give them a break without any affect on their credit ratings.

I also want to talk about tourism operators. Tourism coach operators have been among those worst-affected as a result of Covid-19. Some €10 million was allocated in the middle of last summer to be distributed through the bus tourism operators. None of those bus operators have got any of that money yet. I tabled parliamentary questions on this in recent weeks and it is disgraceful that this money has not been distributed to these hard-hit businesses.

Another group I want to talk about is track bookmakers who are not eligible for the CRSS. They have been told that because they do not have a permanent place of work, they do not qualify for the scheme. This is a small group of individuals who bought pitches at various racetracks around the country. It is their place of work and business and they have not been able to access that place of business since the third week of March. I brought this issue up previously and I urge the Minister to re-examine this and allow track bookmakers access to this scheme.

I acknowledge the fact that the CRSS and other Government supports have been a saviour for many businesses the length and breadth of the country. I am here to speak on behalf of the outdoor activity and adventure tourism businesses that have been left out of the CRSS. They have not only been left out of the scheme but because they do not have a fixed premises they have also been left out of the restart grant scheme. We need to review that because these businesses were the wonder of summer 2020. People from across Ireland flocked to the coast and other parts of Ireland and they enjoyed kayaking, boat trips and whale watching. These were the scenes that filled our social media feeds and TV screens. They were beamed internationally and enjoyed by audiences across the globe. These businesses are the future of Irish tourism and we need to ensure that they are there in the future.

Sea kayaking and night kayaking in west Cork is one of the most phenomenal activities someone can take up. Boat trips in Kinsale Harbour or out to Bull Rock on the Beara Peninsula were the scenes of our summer in 2020 and one of the few positives that people had to enjoy. We should have no doubt that Ireland can place itself as the future of adventure tourism across the globe. We have the activities, scenery and coastline but we need businesses to be there post pandemic and the only way we can ensure that happens is by supporting them now because they are closed and they cannot open, facilitate people or bring them out onto the water. I urge the Minister to review the legislation and bring these businesses within the scope of the CRSS.

I want to take this opportunity to speak up on behalf of businesses such as those involved in entertainment that do not have a fixed premises and professionals and business owners who may not necessarily operate from a premises but still have insurance costs, public liability costs and tax liabilities to pay. We need to step in there as well and support these businesses.

I am sure that at this stage every Deputy has been contacted by employers that say their staff think they have undercut them somehow by putting them on the EWSS. This is down to the lack of clarity and information being provided. Some employees have been issued their tax liability for 2020 and they are not happy with how this has been handled. It is something I wrote to the Minister about back in October to bring it to his attention that there was confusion and a bit of conflict between employers and employees around this. I acknowledge that employees can pay this back through tax credits over a period of four years but it has come as a surprise to many to see that they owe money to Revenue. Can the Minister clear this up and communicate with employers and employees on what is happening in this regard?

I am glad to get the opportunity to mention a few of the sectors that have been left behind with regard to the CRSS payment. Mineral water distributors are not closed down but more than 90% of their customers are not buying from them. In fact the distributors have to take back bottles at their own cost and dump the stuff.

Taxi drivers in Killarney feel they have been let down. Some of them can get the PUP and more of them who tried to operate cannot do so because they have no customers. I went into College Street the other night and there was one taxi there. I know that some of these taxi drivers will have to give back their taxis in the near future because they just cannot make the payments. I am sad to see that those grand men and women who gave such sterling service in Killarney and outside of it will lose their way of life and will have to surrender.

Coach operators were an important part of the tourism sector in Kerry. It is sad to see yards full of buses, with up to 90 buses in some yards in Killarney, that have not moved in the past 12 months or more. It is tough on these people, who gave such sterling service with their drivers and the type of buses they provided, that they have been left behind as well.

I mention those who provide fish and vegetables to hotels. Even though they are not shut down, 90% of their business is gone and they have been left behind in this scheme as well.

Coming from the tourism capital of the western world, namely County Kerry, the great success that the people in Kerry have had in the past in working so hard in the tourism sector has led to them being impacted more than perhaps anywhere else because of the reliance we had on the excellent service we were providing in the tourism sector. I welcome many of the support schemes that are in place and I appreciate the efforts of the Government and different Departments.

However, I must highlight also the inadequacies in the schemes, for instance, the number of people who contact me in my office on a daily basis with regard to the CRSS. These people were impacted because they did not have premises and they were debarred from availing of assistance. This has created an awful problem for many businesses that should be entitled to assistance but find themselves falling between two stools when it comes to applying for assistance and funding. People in the music industry have seen their sector decimated. In many cases, those people are struggling. I have encountered situations where a person was working part time at music and part time at another job, and that other work is also gone. Such persons are doubly impacted. Of course, like everyone in the country, they are hurting. Indeed, as we were talking about taxis, I had a Zoom meeting the other evening with a number of taxi people from Killarney town and other parts of the county where we discussed their issues, problems and difficulties. I am very fearful for the future of the excellent taxi service people that we have, and both they and, in tourism, the coach operators and small tour operators whom I have dealt a lot with over the past number of weeks and months, are fearful for their futures, when, please God, things get back to normal, that they will be able to go back into business.

There is great thanks going to the efforts being made but I do not want to see situations where people are falling behind. That is why, with the new announcement by the Taoiseach yesterday evening, it is important that the Government redoubles its efforts and deals with the Department of Social Protection and all the other Departments in ensuring that we pick up and help the people and the different sectors and groups that are being left behind.

I strongly support the inclusion in the CRSS of businesses that do not operate from fixed premises, such as event management businesses, companies that are part of the supply chain such as taxis and, in fact, all companies that are not public-facing.

I too read the Tánaiste's article in the Business Post where he stated that he would look at further supports for businesses. We are ten months into this pandemic. If a scheme that the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, estimated would cost €80 million per week is costing €15 million per week it is not reasonable to say, as the Tánaiste did, that the Government is looking at new supports. These businesses need supports now.

An example of the many companies that have contacted me is Drino Drinks Ltd, a Leitrim drinks wholesaler and family business for more than 60 years. Fourteen members of staff cannot access this fund. They have a premises but they are wholesalers. Their customers are closed since March last. The majority of their work is delivery. They cannot access the EWSS or CRSS. Another company, a wedding band company, cannot access these supports yet it has ongoing costs, such as vehicle insurance. They will have to sell their musical instruments to keep going. The Minister has done good work but there is a gaping hole in the supports available to these businesses and he can help to fill it.

In the overall scheme of things, I welcome that the Minister is recognising the strain on businesses and making a Christmas bonus-type payment to CRSS recipients. However, as always, I believe he is doing the bare minimum. He is continuing to choose to ignore the knock-on effect of the restrictions on others, because it would cost him money.

The RTÉ Home School Hub could explain supply chain management to the Minister. Does he remember business organisation classes in school? Products and services do not just appear. They have to be manufactured, distributed and supplied and yet his blinkered attitude is to ignore those that do not strictly meet the narrow criteria. For example, Deputy Connolly asked me to mention the boats doing tours of Killary Harbour that are excluded from the scheme because they do not operate from a fixed premises.

Like other Members, a number of small family-run wholesale distributors have been in touch with me recently because they are shocked to be excluded from the CRSS. They were told, "that the CRSS was never meant to be a general support measure for the entire economy as the country could not afford to do this ... but the purpose of the CRSS is to provide additional support to the businesses who have had to close temporarily or significantly restrict access to their premises as a direct result of public health Regulations."

For example, MCM employs 18 people. They are not eligible, despite 90% of their customers being unable to trade. Joe Kelly & Sons Limited, based in the Finn Valley in Donegal, is a family-run business in a similar situation. These are not the big boys; they are not supplying the multiples to any scale. While their market remains closed, they are effectively closed too. The Minister will put them to the wall without providing support at this time of crisis.

This affects other sectors as well. Business is not as small and contained as the Minister's reply to MCM makes out. As Minister for Finance, perhaps it is time to get out those books to which I referred, look at this and protect those businesses.

It is somewhat strange that this morning in the Dáil, the Taoiseach said that the economic impact of this was not brought about by the Government's reaction but rather by Covid itself, yet here we are talking about a scheme where one actively must demonstrate that the Government's regulations preclude the public from visiting one's physical premises to get the money. The Government's response will be with us for a long time and will hamper livelihoods and lives in this country for a generation because a shrinking economy, which has been intentionally shrunk by the Government, affects our health service and it affects longevity and life expectancy in every state.

Like many, notwithstanding the Government closing premises and businesses, and that the latest tilting of the hat towards the zero-Covid approach will continue into the summer and affect businesses, in particular, tourism businesses across Clare, which had a disastrous year last year and will not remain open unless the Government is in a position to say that this scheme and supports will remain in place for tourism businesses throughout this year, I question whether it is in accordance with EU law to open our tourism sector domestically and not allow Irish people to go elsewhere or foreigners to come into the country. It will be very tricky. Even if the Government does that, there will be a huge deficit in many tourism businesses. They need certainty and they need it now as they are facing into preparations for the season. I hope the Government will be in a position to confirm that it will leave supports in place right across the tourism season as it will close it, and move away from the necessity for physical premises so that people who provide adventure tourism, for example, in water with horses, are able to keep their animals alive because that is where we are at at this stage.

I heard all the Deputies speak with great concern about businesses that have been affected by the public health restrictions that are due to and necessary because of this terrible disease, the strain and anxiety that those who are running these businesses are experiencing at present and, of course, the huge effects that the loss of a job is having on those whom they represent. I have been in the same meetings. I have met the same businesses. I have met so many people over the past year who have been affected in exactly the way described by all the Deputies who spoke but that is the very reason that this Government and the previous Government acted with speed and at scale to create certainty to support our economy at a time it is under such massive strain. To hear Opposition Members speak about a meagre response and about schemes being successful because they are designed to exclude businesses shows that they either do not appreciate the scale of what this Government is doing or they do not care in their hurry to make political points at a time when worry is so high and employers and those who work with them are so concerned about their future.

One figure that the House has not heard mentioned in this debate so far is the cost of all of this to the taxpayer.

One heard Sinn Féin allege the money is there to be spent. Over the past year and this year, we will see our national debt and the amount of money our country is borrowing increase by €35 billion. A share of that €35 billion will go into our public health measures. However, it will also go to support the very businesses and people raised by Government and Opposition Deputies this afternoon. If one looks at that scale of support, the business and income supports alone across last year totalled €12.57 billion. That has been put into supporting income and employers at exactly the time that support is needed. It has made a significant difference.

Money that has been made available, due to having a well-run economy as well as the support of the European Union and the European Central Bank, has supported businesses at a time of massive strain. I listened carefully to the points made by Opposition Deputies on the cost of the Covid-19 restrictions support scheme. It is true that during the early weeks of the operation of the scheme, its weekly cost was lower than had been anticipated in the budget arithmetic. However, I did not hear any reference to the fact that we now also must pay for having so many hundreds of thousands of people in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment. We have additional funding, which we are making available, for the cost of the employment wage subsidy scheme, a hugely important intervention to support hundreds of thousands of workers exactly when they need it.

Additional money is being borrowed by the Government, as was announced on budget day, along with that coming through from our taxes, to support other schemes that are needed more now that will support income and employers exactly at the time they need this support. When we look at the figures for the Covid-19 restrictions support scheme, which has cost over €200 million and was money that has been well used to support employers, we must also acknowledge that we need to use €1 billion extra to pay for the pandemic unemployment payment and employment wage subsidy scheme for this year alone. We are able to do that because of where we were at before Covid hit. We want to do it because of the need to support those who need help at a time of dealing with Covid.

My colleagues, the Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, and the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, with whom I will work, have put in place funds to support tourism, such as the coach tourism business continuity scheme. I appreciate there are businesses outside the remit of the Covid-19 restrictions support scheme but there are also businesses availing of other available supports from the Government. For those businesses not in a position to do that, I will work with my colleagues in government to respond to that.

We will do all that in the context of €12 billion being spent to support our economy at a time when our public health system is under such strain. These are extremely large schemes which are working and are making a difference to income, to employers and to jobs at a time when our country continues to confront the significant challenge of Covid-19.

Amendment put.

In accordance with an order of the House today, the division is postponed until the next voting bloc is scheduled to take place.