Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Low Pay

Catherine Connolly

Question:

51. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment further to Parliamentary Question No. 41 of 16 June 2021, the status of the examination by the Low Pay Commission of a universal basic income; if he has received the final report to date; if not, when he expects to receive same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43792/21]

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle. My question relates to a universal basic income and I am simply asking what the status is of the report on that that is being carried out by the Low Pay Commission?

As I advised the Deputy in June, there is a commitment in the programme for Government to request the Low Pay Commission to examine universal basic income, UBI, informed by a review of pilots that have happened around the world that would also advise us on how we would carry out UBI pilot here in Ireland during the lifetime of the Government.

The Low Pay Commission is currently examining this issue and has commissioned the ESRI to conduct technical background research on the issues that would arise from the introduction of UBI and how that pilot might be designed for Ireland. The research has been commissioned under the terms of the Low Pay Commission/ESRI Research Partnership Agreement. This partnership delivers high quality research on issues impacting on the national minimum wage and low pay in Ireland.

This background research will inform the Low Pay Commission’s findings on universal basic income and their recommendations for the design of a universal basic income pilot in the lifetime of the Government.

I expect to receive the report of the Low Pay Commission before the end of the year and I will examine its findings and recommendations and publish the report thereafter.

I thank the Minister and that is certainly positive and is in keeping with his previous answer. Can we rely on the fact that the report will be on his desk before the end of the year? What contact has the Minister had with the Department of Deputy Catherine Martin? To save time I will not read out the full title of her Department. It was a recommendation of the task force on arts and culture recovery that it would be a pilot project on universal income.

Rather than duplication, can the Minister clarify what contact he or his Department has had on this?

There has been contact at official and ministerial level and I am happy to clarify this point. As the House will understand, the whole idea and point of a universal basic income is that it is universal. This would be a weekly or monthly payment paid to every adult in the State, whether they are a Bono or a busker, a Deputy or someone experiencing homelessness. What was proposed in the report on the arts was something very different and was a basic income for artists and would not at all be universal. It would be the opposite to universal in being sectoral. We are treating these as separate projects. The Minister, Deputy Martin, is going to lead on a project relating to artists which will be a little bit like a stipend for artists that they will receive whereas we are going to lead on the genuine universal basic income project which would not be sectoral. It would not be men but not women, or people in Louth but not in Cork, or artists but not doctors. The whole point of a universal basic income is that it is universal and any pilot would have to take a random selection of the population to be valid.

In the interssts of brevity, I will leave it at that. Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle.

Question No. 52 replied to with Written Answers.

Trade Promotion

David Stanton

Question:

53. Deputy David Stanton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the funding provided under the online retail scheme to date by county; if further funding rounds are being considered as part of the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43381/21]

I am interested in the online retail scheme and I have asked for the breakdown of the scheme by county. I am curious to know whether there was more take-up in some parts of the country than in others and if further rounds are being considered as part of the scheme?

I thank the Ceann Comhairle and Deputy Stanton for raising this question. We would see encouraging people to go online as a very important response to the current sutuation in retail. As the largest private sector employer, retail is a key element in providing for the needs of society and other sectors of the economy and it is vital that it continues to develop capability and remain competitive both on the high street and online to avail of all of those other customers that it can reach.

Trading online is a very important route for retail businesses to grow and improve and will be an important element in their recovery over the longer term. I welcome the significant progress made by the retail sector in Ireland to move to online commerce over the past 18 months.

To enable retailers to increase their customer base and build a more resilient business, my Department initially launched a pilot online retail scheme, in 2018. Some 40 retailers across Ireland were provided with €894,636 in funding over two calls of the pilot scheme with grants of between €10,000 and €25,000 on a 50% matched fund basis.

In 2020, my Department launched the Covid-19 online retail scheme in response to the Covid-19 crisis and the urgent need for retail companies to increase their online capability. The Covid-19 online retail scheme is helping companies in the indigenous retail sector that have already started an online journey to enhance and strengthen their existing online presence. This will help them to respond to both domestic and international consumer demand competitively.

To date the Covid-19 online retail scheme has provided funding of €18.2 million to 503 retailers under three calls, bringing the total approved to over €19 million. I have provided the Deputy with the full amount of the online retail scheme funding approvals per county as part of the background to the answer to this question but the Deputy will see for the record that Cork will be second on the table at just over €2 million. I am sure that the Deputy will not be surprised at the success of retail in Cork. Dublin now leads the field at over €5 million.

We are committed to supporting the needs of the retail sector through the retail forum, which I chair and which will meet again tomorrow, in developing their online capability and enhancing their competitiveness. The online retail schemes to date are being reviewed and it is my intention to open a further round of applications for funding later this year and to build on that success in the years ahead as well.

Deputy Stanton will also be aware of the trading online voucher scheme, administered by the Local Enterprise Office network on behalf of my Department. This scheme was transferred into our Department at the start of this year and has allocated funding of €2.3 million to meet 2021 demand. This included a capital carryover of €10.2 million to meet outstanding liabilities from 2020. For the record, more than 13,000 applicants drew down that scheme last year. This year it will be a little less with 4,000 or 5,000 applicants, because of the big push last year. We have been discussing that scheme for years in here and in other places in trying to get businesses to take it up and during Covid-19 there was probably time to address it but also-----

I thank the Minister of State and call Deputy Stanton.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. He mentioned in his response that a review is going to take place. Who is carrying out that review? Does the Minister of State feel that the scheme has been a success and if so how has such a success been measured? Is it the Minister's intention to to expand this scheme further to support businesses in this way in a further round? Has any analysis been carried out as to whether, now that shops are open, this may have an adverse effect on the high street and that businesses might actually move online more and more to the detriment of the footfall on the high street, which will obviously also impact on restaurants and other establishments?

The Deputy has raised an important point in that this is something we are trying to get the balance right on. We believe that the success and the future growth of the retail sector is to develop a sustainable online retail business as well as to continue with the high street presence. As a Government, under the programme for Government, our intention is to support both elements of that. The online trading vouchers are to enable those who already have a digital presence to expand that and to increase their sales and rather than to just sell to people in Cork or their local county, they can sell from Cork to Belfast, the UK, to France and so on. A big part of the work of this scheme which is administered by Enterprise Ireland is to try also to encourage that internationalisation of their business. There is great potential there.

We carry out a review after each round and make changes to the scheme to address that. The overall area of these schemes and the online trading voucher is being reviewed again to see how we can best enable here. Part of this is encouragement to invest in the digital online presence and to help with the skills and the marketing, to build on that and not just to have the presence. We see a great deal of potential here.

To put it in figures, at this moment in time more than 70% of online sales in this country are still purchases from abroad. We believe that that is the opportunity to develop the retail sector, to make it more sustainable to complement the on-the-street presence.

I again thank the Minister of State for his response. Has he any indication as to what kind of business was done as a result of the online retail scheme? What increase occurred? Was there any value on that? Again, if there is a review, who will carry it out and what metrics will be used when it is being carried out?

I do not have those figures on me but I will certainly get them for Deputy Stanton. What we generally see is that any business that invests in the digitalisation agenda increases its sales as well as driving its innovation or its business. To allay concerns about online versus high street, the town centre first principal and approach is highly recommended in the programme for Government, and the framework to enable that work, which involves our Department, under the guidance of the Tánaiste, along with the Departments responsible for housing and rural affairs, will be ready for publication in the very near future. Deputy Stanton will have seen in the Housing for All document published just recently a drive towards town centre first. That will support housing, people living in our towns and villages and the development of retail and other businesses there. We really are committed on a regional basis, as well as addressing the difficulty in our cities now, to driving that town centre approach, which means people will be asked to spend money locally in the economy. That framework will assist, but I believe the combination of the two are required if we are to have a sustainable retail sector that can challenge, grow and create jobs. We know that prior to Covid there were nearly 300,000 jobs in the sector. We want to build on that. That can only happen with a physical presence as well as an online presence.

Enterprise Policy

Jackie Cahill

Question:

54. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will report on the mid-west regional enterprise plan. [43807/21]

I ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to report on the mid-west regional enterprise plan.

I thank Deputy Cahill for raising this question. If it is okay, I might answer it because the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, and I chair the regional enterprise strategies, on behalf of the Tánaiste.

Regional enterprise development and sustainable local job creation is a key policy priority of the Government. Our Department is overseeing the development of nine new regional enterprise plans which will bring us out to 2024. The Minister of State, Deputy Troy, and I chair eight of them and the Tánaiste chairs the Dublin ones. These are "bottom-up" plans, developed by regional stakeholders, which will identify growth opportunities, recognise vulnerabilities and enable job creation across the regions, including in the mid-west region, through collaborative regional actions. As the Deputy will be aware, in his case that covers Tipperary, Limerick and Clare.

The new mid-west regional enterprise plan to 2024 will build on the core activities of the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and the LEOs with the wider range of State bodies involved in supporting enterprise development in the region. A big part of that is the relationship with our education system. In the Deputy's case, LIT is very much involved, as is the ETB in Tipperary. As I say at all those regional meetings, a big driver of making this happen and the success of the regional plans are the local authorities. That ringtone is a message from Joe McGrath to make sure I do not forget to mention local authorities. I refer to the involvement of the local authorities in making these regional plans happen.

In driving the delivery of the new plan in the mid-west we have engaged directly with the mid-west regional steering committee, made up of regional stakeholders and chaired by Professor Eamonn Murphy. At this stage I think I have met Professor Murphy on four or five occasions. As the Deputy will be aware, he is the managing director of the Irish Centre for Business Excellence. As a region Tipperary is very lucky to have him as a chair. He is really driven to make sure we have economic success across Tipperary, Clare and Limerick. The last time I met the steering committee was physically, last week, on 7 September. I am conscious that Deputy Cahill sent his apologies that he could not make the meetings we had in Limerick, and I thank him for that, but he was well represented by his colleague on the council, who put forward a very strong case for investment in Tipperary.

The regional stakeholders in the mid-west region are working to finalise focused strategic objectives for their region and actions to deliver on these objectives and intend to sign off on the new plan in the weeks ahead.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. The objectives of this regional enterprise plan are to be lauded. I want to focus on Tipperary town, which is a black spot in my county for employment. I have to be critical of the IDA. Zoned land is extremely scarce in that town and we have a number of employers in the town who are seriously under pressure for space to expand. The IDA has sold off some of its portfolio but still had a small portion of land in the town. When the county council endeavoured to negotiate on the behalf of the industries in the town that needed this land as they were extremely short of space in their present premises, the IDA's response was to put the land up for sale and public auction. The land has no services or infrastructure to it, and the end result is that we have employers in the town thinking of relocating.

I took time when I was in Tipperary last week to drive up and down nearly every street and every part of Tipperary town and I could see exactly what the Deputy is saying. It is an area that, in my view, has been suffering decline for a long number of years, not just in the past three or four years but possibly for even 20 or 30 years, and not because of Covid or Brexit or anything else. It is fair to say the bypass will make a big difference and is important. The message I got from all the groups I met in Tipperary was to make sure that that bypass happens and that the road upgrade happens to go along with that. That is a priority and I agree it would open up the town. Issues around IDA and Enterprise Ireland were mentioned to me as well and I was shown the options for the land. I am happy to engage with the Deputy directly on that. With the regional plan, I stressed to all the groups there that they need to focus in on that and that any key actions we want on a regional basis need to come through the regional action plan because that helps us as three Ministers involved in the drawdown of the funding from the different parts of Departments.

As the Deputy will be aware, his local authority is very much involved in driving the new actions in Tipperary under the Tipperary task force that was set up by the previous Government - just as it finished up - under my old Department. That is also bringing forward a very useful strategy for the town. I got a briefing on that when I was there last week. There is great potential in it. It will mean all the businesses working together. The Deputy is right that a big part of that has to be make available space where existing businesses are-----

The Minister of State should leave Deputy Cahill time to come back in.

Sorry, Chair. I will make one last point. The main request I got from the briefing was for land for light industrial use. I think that is what the Deputy is looking for, and that is something on which I am committed to working with them.

I very much appreciate the Minister of State's reply, but we have one business in that town that is expanding rapidly. I was in that man's yard a couple of weeks ago, and the cramped conditions the staff are working in are unbelievable. A number of years ago there was another budding employer in Tipperary town and again he met obstacles and found it impossible to get the infrastructure he needed and he relocated to a different town. We cannot allow this to happen in Tipperary town this time. This employer has 50 employed at the moment with plans to expand further. The asking price and the conditions the IDA has put on the piece of land that would be suitable for him make it economically unviable for him to relocate there. As I said, the county council has been heavily involved along with the enterprise board and we have failed to get a satisfactory solution. This is critical for the commercial life of the town. To lose an employer of that size in Tipperary town would be disastrous. I appreciate that the Minister of State has full knowledge of this and I am very heartened by his answer this evening.

Again, I would be very happy to engage with Deputy Cahill on that because we are very clear and I know from talking to the local authorities that Joe McGrath, Anthony Fitzgerald and the other team involved in the hub there are very anxious that solutions are found in conjunction with all our Departments and agencies. Under the direction of the regional plans we are asking the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and local authorities to work together. There is a very strong relationship there, so I am of the view that a solution can be found. I am happy to engage with the Deputy off the floor of the House on that and to try to progress a solution because it really is important to me and it could not be any clearer that Tipperary town is a black spot when it comes to employment. That is something we want to address and fix. If there are people there who want to create jobs and expand, they are the easiest wins for us all.

Employment Rights

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Question:

56. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when the heads of the right to flexible working Bill will be published; the legal protections currently in place to support workers who are asked to return to the workplace but who would prefer to remain working remotely; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43749/21]

I know the Tánaiste has referred to this in a previous answer but I ask him when the right to flexible working Bill will be published; the legal protections that are currently in place to support workers who are asked to return to the workplace but who would prefer to remain working remotely; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The right to request remote working is part of a broader Government vision to make remote working a permanent feature of Ireland's workforce in a way that can be to the benefit of everyone - economically, socially and environmentally. The commitment to introduce legislation to underpin an employee's right to request remote work was made in the national remote work strategy published last January.

The Covid pandemic has certainly brought remote working centre stage and work on this important legislation is well advanced.

The Bill will set out a clear framework to facilitate remote and blended work options insofar as possible. It will also ensure that when an employer declines a request, there are stated reasons for doing so. Remote working will not work for everyone, so we will need to take a balanced approach with the legislation. However, the overriding principle should be to facilitate workers' choices, provided that services are delivered and the work is done.

On 20 August, I published the views of members of the public and stakeholder groups on the legislation. The summary report of the 175 submissions is available on my Department's website. Informed by the public consultation and a review of international best practice, the drafting of the general scheme of the Bill has commenced and I will seek Cabinet approval for the drafting of the heads of the Bill in the next few weeks. The Bill will be progressed through the Oireachtas as quickly as possible thereafter. The intention is to introduce a mechanism for employees to request remote working that is fair but does not place an undue burden on employers. In the meantime, we will also continue to provide up-to-date advice, guidance and information on all aspects of remote working for workers and employers.

On 28 June, I launched my Department’s Making Remote Work campaign, which aims to raise awareness of the advice and information available from the Government to help workers and employers facilitate more remote and blended working. This includes guidance for employers and workers and a remote working checklist, which are available on my Department’s website.

Within the legislation, is it envisaged there will be a right for workers to switch off? If a person is working remotely, there can be a sense of soft pressure for him or her to remain constantly on, with emails and communications from the employer.

I can appreciate this may very well suit the lifestyle of somebody in settled domestic circumstances, with a spare room, an office or whatever, but for a younger worker who may not have that facility, can we within the legislation ensure there will be a responsibility on employers to care for younger workers in particular, who may have only their own bedroom to work from? Will employers be required to provide a certain standard of work station within the space? As the Tánaiste will appreciate, it can be difficult for younger workers to make such demands when they are just starting off in the workplace.

The legislation is still in development, so we do not even have the heads at this stage. There are many aspects that might end up in it and I am certainly open to suggestions. As for the right to switch off or disconnect, we dealt with that through a code of practice, which was published a few months ago. It is not a statutory code of practice but it is admissible in evidence where somebody takes a complaint in respect of the Organisation of Working Time Act, for example. After consideration, we just did not think it was the kind of measure we could include in primary legislation. Workplaces vary so much. Some are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., while others follow the clock. We just did not think that could be legislated for in primary legislation, so we have done it through the code of practice giving people the right to disconnect. While that is not statutory, if people have had their working times protections breached, they can use it and it is admissible in proceedings.

In the case of younger workers, or any workers who might be in crowded accommodation such as a one-bedroom apartment or a studio, it is not envisaged that the employer would be required to provide a workspace in their private home. The idea is that if somebody wants to work remotely, he or she will provide that, although obviously it will have to be a certain standard. These are issues we will have to think through, I imagine.

I appreciate that the legislation is still being drafted and the Tánaiste is still welcoming submissions but I would impress on him the importance of the younger, more vulnerable worker. As I said, there may be soft pressure on younger workers to work from home. If people are 20, 21 or 22 years of age and starting off in the workforce, they would not necessarily have that type of space, if they still live in the family home, to allow them to be as productive as they might like to be, and they might not have the self-confidence to make the case for the company or employer to provide basic provisions to allow for effective working from home. Within the legislation, therefore, the Tánaiste might consider the reality of that younger person, or that person starting off in the workforce, who does not yet have the capability to move out of the family home but needs some basic provision of support from the employer in order that he or she can be effective. It is a reasonable suggestion and it would be relevant to the legislation.

The Deputy raises an important issue and it is something to which I will have to give some thought with my officials. There are different scenarios. Somebody who applies for a job in an office and gets it might then request the option of working from home one or two days a week. In that case, the employee is making the request and there is more of an obligation on him or her to provide the space from which he or she is going to work. Increasingly, however, jobs are being advertised as remote. About 50,000 jobs across Europe are now being advertised as remote and the employees can work from almost anywhere. In that scenario, there is probably more of an obligation on the employer. If it is not providing a workplace and is saying the employee has to work from his or her own home, I think the obligation on the employer is a bit different.

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue because it has not really entered our deliberations thus far. I am grateful to him for bringing it up.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Louise O'Reilly

Question:

55. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he or his Department has considered any mechanisms that could accommodate workers who need to stay at home with a self-isolating schoolchild due to Covid-19 or due to being a close contact of a person with Covid-19; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43732/21]

In recent days, we have received many phone calls from parents of children who have had to self-isolate. It is important to stress that in such incidents, the parents are not necessarily close contacts themselves but are the parents of children who are close contacts. Accordingly, they cannot qualify for enhanced illness benefit and are not eligible for the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP. Some will have employers that are reasonable, thank God, and they will work with them and so on, but some are in difficult circumstances, particularly those on low and middle incomes or in insecure employment. This has been discussed for about a year and we have been raising the need to provide leave for parents and to support them financially where their children have to stay home from school because they are self-isolating.

From the outset of Covid-19, many employers have taken the initiative, in line with subsequent requests from the Government, to be as flexible as possible in allowing staff to take time off to look after their children who are not attending school or crèche. Employers have a general duty of care towards their workers and that care is often expressed in the form of negotiation, compromise and flexibility. Some options to be considered for workers with caring responsibilities that preclude them from working their normal hours in the normal way pre-Covid may include: offering paid compassionate leave; allowing employees to work from home; altering shifts in order that employees can co-ordinate caring between themselves and partners or another person; allowing employees to rearrange holidays; allowing employees to rearrange parental leave; allowing employees to take paid time off that can be worked back at a later time; or allowing employees to take unpaid leave until they can return to work fully or part time.

Now, with more than 90% of the adult population fully vaccinated, being a close contact of someone who has tested positive does not mean that a person has to self-isolate. Now they only have to do so if they have symptoms. Employees in such circumstances should follow the up-to-date public health advice and consult their employer. As the Deputy will be aware, the public health response to Covid-19 is constantly monitored, including in regard to approaches to testing, contact tracing, outbreak management, surveillance and sequencing. It is also under review in the context of planning for an overall transition in our approach to the management of Covid-19 and treating it as an endemic illness. The review will inform the development of a future public health response strategy and approach for the coming months, including the question of whether children should have to stay home from school in these circumstances.

As for social welfare payments, an enhanced illness benefit payment for Covid-19 was introduced as a short-term public health measure last year. It is payable for two weeks where a person is self-isolating as a probable source of infection and for up to ten weeks where a person has been diagnosed with Covid-19. Certification by a registered medical professional is required to support any claim for the special Covid-19 illness payment.

That is all true and I am sure it is fine and so on, but the Tánaiste will recognise that he did not address all the issues I identified. Many employers are great and will work with employees; we are not discussing those employers or the need for legal obligations to ensure they will continue to be reasonable. If they are going to be reasonable, that is fine. We are talking about employers that are not going to be reasonable. They are the minority - there is no question about that - but there is a minority that will not be reasonable.

The Tánaiste mentioned close contacts and the changes that have taken place in that regard.

There is no proposal to vaccinate children, in particular primary school children, at this point in time. We will still be dealing with a situation where they have to self isolate. Their close contacts - their parents - do not qualify for the enhanced illness benefit. They will still be in a position where they will have to stay home and probably take time off. We talk about working from home, but if you have a primary school child of seven years of age or five years of age and an infant as well, there is not a hope of any work being done, realistically. Over the course of the last year, we have been raising this issue as essential to supporting parents and to ensure they are able to work with the reopening of schools. There is still no action on it. The obvious route is the expansion of force majeure leave. Has the Tánaiste considered that?

As is always the case in these scenarios, you have to look at it from the point of view of the parent and of the employer. Particularly where the parent is a lone parent, their having to take time off work could be very injurious. There would be lost income and they do not have somebody else co-parenting with them to help out. Therefore, all the income in the household is lost, not just one of the two incomes. From the point of view the employer, if somebody takes time off to look after a child who is sick or self isolating, the employer has to pay a replacement, in many cases. The employer has to pay that person as well. That could be a real difficulty for the employer or the business. I imagine that this problem arose before Covid-19. For as long as I can remember, parents had to take time off work to look after sick kids. There is a new aspect to that now, which is that kids are told to self isolate. It is difficult to work out.

The frequency of those instances has increased.

It probably has. We have to give some consideration to that.

If I am entitled to speak again, I would just ask the Tánaiste to genuinely consider that. Yes, this was an issue before Covid-19, but this is increasing in frequency and it is not going to go away. It will continue to be an issue, even if the guidelines are changed on self isolation.

Question No. 57 replied to with Written Answers.

Redundancy Payments

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Question:

58. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if time spent on the pandemic unemployment payment will count towards redundancy entitlements; if he plans to bring forward legislation on this matter; if the suspension of redundancy rights will be lifted at the end of September 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43750/21]

I would like to ask the Tánaiste if time spent on the pandemic unemployment payment will count towards redundancy entitlements, if he plans to bring forward legislation on this matter, if the suspension of redundancy rights will be lifted at the end of September 2021 and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I thank the Deputy. Reckonable service is service that is taken into account when calculating a redundancy lump sum payment. The current situation is that the law provides that a period of lay-off within the final three years of service before redundancy is not allowable as reckonable service and is not included as service for the purposes of the calculation of the redundancy lump sum payment. Therefore, as matters stand, an employee who is in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, and who was laid off from their employment, that period of lay-off is not allowable for reckonable service. I appreciate that this is an issue for certain employees who have been on lay-off for an extended period of time, as a result of the public health restrictions. This is legally complex for several reasons, but I can assure the House that my Department, alongside the Department of Social Protection, has been examining the matter for a number of months to come up with a fair solution. One the main considerations is to ensure that any proposal does not impose any further financial burden on employers beyond their current obligations under the Act. Indeed, it is unlikely that we would be able to impose such an obligation on them retrospectively. I intend to make announcement in relation to this matter and a solution that we have developed in the coming weeks, because we need to provide fairness to workers facing redundancy due to the pandemic.

As the House is aware, the section 12(A) emergency measure was introduced because the Government was concerned that the financial impact of redundancy claims on employers would have a serious impact on their business and on the economy as a whole. This, in turn, could have resulted in significant insolvency situations and further job losses. It is also considered important for employers to have a continued link to their job and a pathway to return to.

In June, I wrote to every registered business in Ireland to thank them for their efforts to date in keeping people safe during the pandemic and to update them on the suspension of section 12(A). Companies that are genuinely unable to pay will be able to avail of a deferred payment arrangement, as confirmed in the economic recovery plan. The current end date for section 12(A) is 30 September 2021. The Government is not giving any consideration to extending this.

I welcome the Tánaiste’s response. It is clear that this is something that is on his agenda. He is engaging with the Minister for Social Protection on it. He is due to make a statement on the matter in a number weeks' time. That is welcome. I note that ICTU has encouraged the Government to reform employment law in order to deal with this issue. The Tánaiste can appreciate that if you were in receipt of the PUP, you were, by Government mandate, taken out of the workplace. We, in the Labour Party, appreciate that this is a very unusual situation. It is a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. Government has been forced to respond and not every response will be perfect. I accept the Tánaiste’s bona fides, and the fact that he is dealing and engaging with the other Department on that. Can the Tánaiste give a more detailed timescale than that? Does he envisage that primary legislation may be necessary?

I hope to be in a position to bring a proposal to Government either next Tuesday or the Tuesday after. Obviously, I will have to do so before 30 September, so that people who are triggering their redundancy claims will know where they stand on that. We have had some consultations with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, Irish Business and Employers Confederation, IBEC, and others, as part of this. Potential solutions are being worked on by my Department and the Department of Social Protection, because this potentially brings the Social Insurance Fund into play. There is also work with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. It is anticipated that we will require primary legislation.

The legislative programme, which I think was published today, or will be published tomorrow, proposes that our Department will put through six pieces of legislation. One of these relates to redundancy. The purpose is to give effect to our preferred solution. As the Deputy acknowledges, this is not a situation we envisaged when we created the pandemic unemployment payment. We thought people would only be on it for a few weeks. We now have people on it for more than a year. If this period does not count as a reckonable service, they could lose maybe half of their lump sum. That would be very unfair. We are trying to find a solution that is fair.

I appreciate the Tánaiste’s remarks and that the Government is coming from the right place on this. We look forward to seeing the proposals from Government and, hopefully, to being in a position to support the Tánaiste's efforts in this regard.

Questions Nos. 59 and 60 replied to with Written Answers.

Work Permits

Bernard Durkan

Question:

61. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the extent to which he and his Department can facilitate the urgent staff requirements in the construction, catering, food processing and tourism sectors; if a means can be found to accelerate the procedures thus eliminating long delays in the processing of applications for work permits; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43621/21]

This question seeks to focus on the difficulties experienced by many enterprises in replacing staff who need to be replaced following the lifting of the regulations. Might it be possible to speed up the processing of work permits and visas relating to their particular situation, because many of them have to go outside the jurisdiction?

I thank the Deputy for raising this question. This is a common theme that we have dealt with over the last couple of months. We have engaged with many sectors that are having difficulty filling job vacancies. As the Deputy mentioned, food processing is one of those. I have engaged with these sectors and they clearly show me where they are missing out on opportunities to expand and grow. They cannot reach their customers. It is an issue in many sectors.

To be clear, the policy responsibility for each of the individual sectors that the Deputy mentioned, such as construction, food processing, catering and tourism are a matter of each Department. They will feed into this conversation in our Department around the rules around employer permits, and so on.

This is, therefore, something I am aware of. We are trying to engage and find solutions to that. Two of these relate to the employment permits system, which is designed to facilitate the entry of appropriately skilled non-EEA nationals to fill skills and-or labour shortages in circumstances where there are no suitably qualified Irish or EEA nationals available to undertake the work and that shortage is a genuine one. The system is managed through the operation of the critical skills and the ineligible occupations lists, which are subject to twice yearly evidence-based reviews.

A review of the occupation list is currently under way, with submissions received from the sectors Deputy Durkan mentioned, namely, the construction, hospitality and agrifood sectors. All submissions are under active consideration and it is envisaged that the review will be finalised in the early autumn. Normally, the work of that review would be completed and published by November. The commitment I have given to the various sectors is that we will try to have that work completed for October. We are under pressure to do that, but we will try to do it and have it out for early October.

In addition, applications for employment permits have seen a significant increase over the course of the year. As of the end of August, 14,600 applications had been received, representing a 35% increase over the same period in 2020, which was expected because there is much more movement of people this year.

The processing times have been impacted negatively and the waiting time at the moment-----

I thank the Minister of State for his detailed reply. Arising from the information, I appreciate that he understands the situation. Is it possible to speed up all the areas where particular obstacles have arisen? I know some of these things take time. Having regard to the losses suffered by employers and employees during the pandemic restrictions, it would be beneficial in the run-up to the Christmas season to get that established as quickly as possible in order that the businesses that are now trying to place people in employment would be facilitated in every way possible.

The current waiting time is about 11 weeks for trusted partners, people with regular engagement permits, and 17 weeks for those who are not, which is extremely long. Waiting times were considerably less than that up to a couple of months ago. It is still better than most countries we compete with. Along with the Tánaiste, I met the Secretary General and officials from the section to discuss having additional staff resources to process those applications. Those staff are now working extremely hard and taking on overtime and doing everything they can to try to get these permits dealt with. We will reduce the waiting time quite quickly.

July is the usual rotation time for many doctors in the system. The cyberattack on the HSE greatly complicated the process of application for permits for health staff. As the Deputy will understand, owing to the Covid pandemic, we needed to focus on permits for health staff. That took up considerable resources but we are also dealing with this.

There have been 26 submissions to the review of those who qualify for a permit or do not. The sector the Deputy mentioned has made submissions. We are working through them and we are engaging across each Department to see how we can adjust those lists. I ask for the Deputy's assistance in this regard. It is a complicated situation for us. Many companies have approached me seeking to bring labour in.

The Minister of State will get a chance to get back in.

I am trying to have a useful discussion.

I am doing my best here.

When I let people go over time-----

However, the Deputy was not complaining.

I will accept this reply as the final reply.

The Deputy may give the Minister of State his extra time.

There are two minutes left, one minute for the Deputy and one minute for the Minister of State.

I think he wants the answer I am going to give him.

There are two minutes left.

I think the Minister of State is forgetting the procedure. We are all getting tired.

I am happy with the general thrust of the Minister of State's reply.

I understand the procedures but I had understood there is an allocation to discuss the overall topic and I am trying to get the full answer in. The difficulty we have is that many employers are now contacting us looking for permits. They are asking us to go beyond the European labour market to find resources. That is a difficult piece to address when more than 100,000 people are in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment and more than 100,000 people are deemed to be long-term unemployed as well.

We are trying to engage with employers and sectors to find other solutions to source labour locally through education and training, through apprenticeships, through new training involving SOLAS, further education and training and so on. We are trying everything we can but even with that there is a difficulty and we will need to issue permits to try to fill these spaces. These sectors have clearly shown to me that they are missing out on opportunities to grow their businesses, which cannot continue.

I thank the Minister of State.

Question No. 62 replied to with Written Answers.

Industrial Development

Alan Dillon

Question:

63. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the status of the IDA commitment to establish a further facility (details supplied) in County Mayo. [43841/21]

The Tánaiste may recall a commitment in IDA Ireland's capital investment strategy to establish an additional advance building solution in regional locations, including one in County Mayo. I seek an update on the progress in making these plans a reality and where in Mayo this will be located.

I thank the Deputy for his question. The locations in which IDA Ireland will provide property solutions over the lifetime of its new strategy, Driving Recovery and Sustainable Growth 2021-2024, were chosen based on extensive analysis, engagement, review and consultation, as well as macroeconomic considerations, existing clusters and available resources.

IDA Ireland will deliver 19 advanced building solutions to regional locations. As the Deputy is aware, IDA Ireland is committed to building an advanced building solution in Castlebar as part of the implementation of its new strategy. I am advised it has commenced the process of evaluating suitable site options in Castlebar.

The national capital investment plans outlined in the new IDA Ireland strategy, subject to planning permission and public procurement process, are expected to commence and be delivered within the term of the new strategy at all identified locations.

Over the past five years, IDA Ireland’s regional property programme enabled the winning of capital-intensive projects of significant scale in regional locations.

In May 2020, Meissner Filtration Products announced that its new manufacturing facility in County Mayo is now operational following the announcement in February 2019 that it would expand its manufacturing operations in Castlebar, creating 150 jobs over five years. Meissner established the facility in an IDA Ireland-constructed advanced manufacturing building, which was completed in late 2018.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. The use of these advanced building solutions by IDA Ireland is critical in levelling the playing field for regional locations such as Mayo. The construction of high-spec commercial infrastructure greatly increases our attractiveness for inward investment. I am conscious that some companies have delayed on-site visits due to public health restrictions over the past 18 months. We must ensure progress in making plans for these facilities to maximise the desired inward investment. I am glad the Minister of State referred to the enormous success of the existing IDA Ireland facility in Castlebar, now occupied by Meissner.

Mayo has a lot going for it. Our road infrastructure is currently being primed. More than €500 million has been invested in the N5 and the Ballaghaderreen to Scramoge road. These IDA Ireland facilities create and excitement and confidence. We are eager to get moving on the next one for our county.

I agree wholeheartedly with the Deputy regarding regional development and the importance of investment in the regions to ensure we attract foreign direct investment, FDI. That is why IDA Ireland's new strategy, Driving Recovery and Sustainable Growth 2021-2024, aims to ensure that FDI can make a significant contribution to the recovery and future growth of the economy. Regional development is at the very heart of the agency's strategy. There is a commitment to more balanced compact regional development, which can help to advance national development. Under the regional development pillar, IDA Ireland aims to win investment to propel recovery and support development in each region. For the first time we have set a target of 50%, which is 400, of the investments in regional locations by the end of 2024. Of that 400, there is a target of 76 for the western region. There is a target to build advanced building solutions in Mayo and Galway as part of the new strategy between 2021 and 2024.

We need a timeline for this exciting new project for County Mayo. I hope that IDA Ireland will engage with the new chief executive of Mayo County Council on the development of industrial lands. The county council has acquired 149 acres. This would be very important in how we strategically develop inward investment and also for the strategic development zones at Ireland West Airport Knock and at the IDA Ireland lands in Ballina.

I re-emphasise the importance of IDA Ireland putting the advanced building solutions into motion, as well as considering future projects for the county to maximise inward investment. Job creation will always be the driver for balanced regional development. I hope this project can move as swiftly as possible.

I agree wholeheartedly. In 2021, IDA Ireland allocated an additional €10 million for its regional property programme. That is an acknowledgment of the importance of investment in the regions to ensure they can attract foreign direct investment. Recently I met Denis Curran, the director of regional development with IDA Ireland specifically to discuss Mayo. He is committed to working with the chief executive of Mayo County Council to ensure that Mayo gets its fair share.

I know the Deputy has been to the fore in highlighting this issue, as has his constituency colleague, Deputy Calleary. It is a commitment in the plan for 2021 to 2024 and it will be delivered.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.