Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Cheann Comhairle agus leis an Aire. I want to bring to the attention of the Minister and the House the concerns of many taxi drivers who have over the past 12 months, like many sectors of society, dealt with the fall-out of the pandemic. I acknowledge that throughout that process at different times, the Government has sought to intervene and to alleviate the hardship that many taxi drivers are experiencing. There is no doubt that the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, is the single biggest contribution in ensuring that taxi drivers in their own personal finances have been able to stay afloat. What we have not done but which we have done in other industries, is support them in their business costs.
I should acknowledge that following a meeting with the Taoiseach, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, announced a package of over €6.5 million aimed at the taxi industry. That focused mainly on statutory costs amounting to about €290 per driver and dealt with regulatory issues such as licences and so on. What it did not deal with was the other non-statutory costs which drivers have, with insurance being the primary one. The restart grant which I am aware has benefited many businesses, is unfortunately still only available if one comes off one's pandemic unemployment payment. Many drivers are reluctant to do that because they are not certain about the level of business. The Delta variant has knocked that confidence even further as has the pushing out of the resumption of indoor dining.
The Government has made progress on the statutory costs but on non-statutory costs such as insurance and other such issues, we still have not come to the table. Much of this is because we are we are relying on the Department of Social Protection to administer a support scheme for taxi drivers. The principal concern to drivers is the issue of the age of the vehicle. I am fully committed to the decarbonisation of the fleet, not just of the taxi fleet but of the entire vehicle fleet in Ireland and I understand that there are significant grants for electric vehicles. At this time, the idea of making a once-in-a-decade investment in one's business in order to renew one's vehicle because it is at the end of its life is very difficult to justify. While there have been extensions in the previous year, my principal question to the Minister is will he extend the age limit on vehicle life for the nine-year rule to the end of 2022?
My second follow-up question is the very strongly given commitment by the Minister to ensure that those on the PUP could continue to have that entitlement and work up to a limit of €960 until February of next year.
I understand that the Department of Social Protection is interpreting that differently and that those people on the €203 payment will have to return to work in September at a cut-off point. I will expand on that in my later contribution. The Minister might concentrate on the vehicle life in his initial response.