I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Sean Fleming, to the House and congratulate him on his well-deserved appointment.
Financial Provisions (Covid-19) Bill 2020: Second Stage
I thank the Acting Chairman. We brought this Bill into the Dáil on Tuesday, with the former of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Chambers, dealing with it. Yesterday was the second day we spent debating it, with thanks to the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan. Interestingly, I was one of the Government backbench speakers on this legislation on Tuesday night and here I am responding as the Minister of State 48 hours later. For those who say that a week is a long time in politics, a day can be an even longer time on some occasions.
This legislation is an extremely urgent matter, as we outlined in the briefing provided to the Seanad, and we are seeking to expedite the enactment of this Bill. This is the first piece of legislation the Department of Finance has come forward with since the Government has been formed. The main source of urgency is attached to the supports to mitigate unemployment risk in the emergency instrument, known as the SURE instrument, which cannot be accessed by all member states until all member states have signed the guarantee agreement. That is the reason the schedule is tight, and I thank Members for their co-operation on that.
This is a short Bill with a long and detailed list of technical Schedules attached for the information of the Oireachtas to allow Members see what Ireland and all other EU countries are signing up to.
We had a good engagement in the House on Tuesday and yesterday on matters relating to the stringent payment timelines available to meet demands under the two guarantees, and the consequences of missing those deadlines. There was a good deal of discussion around the types of firms that might avail of funding under the European Investment Bank, EIB, pan-European guarantee fund. The SURE, support to mitigate unemployment risks in an emergency, and EIB pan-European guarantee fund initiatives are in keeping with the commitment to a jobs-led recovery, which is laid out in the programme for Government. This will help those families and households where jobs have been lost to return to work and will ensure those businesses that have weathered the Covid-19 storm can now grow and rebuild.
First, I will deal with the EU initiative to support citizens in maintaining jobs, known as the SURE initiative. The SURE instrument is primarily intended to support member states' efforts to support workers and jobs, and to support some health-related measures. In the case of Ireland, the introduction of the temporary Covid-19 wage subsidy scheme has been hugely important in supporting families and ensuring businesses can continue trading. These are the types of essential initiatives which can now be supported at a European level. Under the proposal, SURE will provide financial assistance to member states. The Commission will borrow up to €100 billion on financial markets to finance loans to member states at very similar interest rates, allowing member states to benefit from the EU's strong credit rating and low borrowing costs. The loans are targeted to assist member states to address sudden increases in public expenditure which were caused by the pandemic and undertaken to preserve employment, such as short-time work schemes and similar measures put in place for the self-employed, as well as certain health expenditure.
SURE comes with safeguards to ensure fair and equitable access to funding for all member states, with no more than €60 billion available to any three member states under this proposal. That ensures all member states can get a fair opportunity to draw down funds under this arrangement. Other important prudential conditions on the instrument include the requirement that no more than 10% of all loans will fall due for payment in any one year. The loans will be underpinned by a system of voluntary guarantees from member states. For a lending volume of €100 billion under the SURE instrument, €25 billion in guaranteed commitments is required from all member states collectively. One benefit of this guarantee mechanism is that it ensures member states do not have to pay any money up front. The instrument does not become available until all member states sign up to the guarantee, and those commitments will remain in place for the full term of the loans they are underwriting. Each member state contributes to the guarantee in proportion to its relative share of the total gross national income of the European Union. For Ireland, this is equivalent to €483 million or 1.9% of the EU gross national income.
SURE was adopted by the finance ministers of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council, ECOFIN, and published in the EU Journal on 19 May 2020. While the instrument is a regulation which is directly applicable in Ireland, signing the voluntary guarantee agreement will require enabling legislation. The requirement stems from Article 11 of the Constitution of Ireland, which provides that all revenues of the State "shall be appropriated for the purposes and in the manner and subject to the charges and liabilities determined and imposed by law". As no member state can access SURE funding until all member states have signed the voluntary guarantee, the timeline for introducing this legislation is now urgent.
I will now talk about the EU initiative to support businesses. The European Investment Bank and the European Commission have already presented a support action plan which amounts to €40 billion to address the economic challenges resulting from the Covid-19 crisis. However, given the gravity of the challenges facing the EU economy, it has become apparent that far more is now required. To extend significantly and rapidly the EU's support for struggling small and medium-sized enterprises, mid-caps, corporates and public entities, the European Investment Bank has decided to establish a pan-European guarantee fund. The €25 billion guarantee fund is designed to support those enterprises by leveraging up to €200 billion in additional funding. The EIB guarantee fund is for workers and businesses and is designed to finance higher-risk operations that are viable in the long term but are vulnerable due to the economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis. Assistance will primarily be provided to private sector operations, with a focus on small and medium-sized enterprises, though mid-caps and large corporations will also be eligible.
The fund will be implemented by the EIB in partnership with national promotional banks, in our case the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, SBCI. In managing the fund, the EIB group plans to deploy a broad mix of products, including counter-guarantees for national promotional banks, venture debt, venture capital and private equity to fund working capital for the corporate sector.
Public entities providing essential services, particularly those in the health, research and education sectors, that cannot be financed under existing EIB group products will also be eligible for support under the guarantee fund. Geographic eligibility will extend to those EU member states that have agreed to participate in the fund by way of a contribution guarantee.
All 27 EU member states are invited to participate in the guarantee fund. The contribution from each member state will be in the form of a state guarantee of €25 billion in proportion to its shareholding in the EIB. As Ireland's shareholding in the EIB is 0.66%, our liability to the guarantee fund is capped at €164.7 million. Ireland's shareholding in the EIB was recently adjusted from 0.67% to 0.66%, which led to a corresponding reduction in our liability from €167.5 million, based on a shareholding of 0.67%, to €164.7 million. This adjustment occurred as a result of two events that had a material impact on our shareholding in percentage terms, namely, the UK's departure from the EU and the subsequent withdrawal of its shareholding, followed by two member states increasing their shareholding. While our commitment to the guarantee fund is €164.7 million in actual terms, provision in the proposed legislation is for an amount not to exceed €167.5 million. This offers a degree of flexibility should further shareholding variations occur.
The State guarantee is required to cover a degree of losses incurred in the implementation of the commercial operations of the guarantee fund. The fund will be formally established once member states representing at least 60% of EIB capital make appropriate commitments. Following Government approval on 29 May, Ireland gave a commitment in principle that it will, subject to the passage of legislation in the form of this Bill by the Oireachtas, participate in the guarantee fund. Legislative provision is required for payments to be made out of the Central Fund to cover any calls on the guarantee provided by the State. Where losses are incurred by the guarantee fund in the implementation of its operations, a call will be made on all of the member states' guarantees at the same time, given the pooled nature of the fund. Any delay in payment beyond five days would incur interest penalties. However, the European Investment Bank will provide a liquidity facility to allow member states time to make the necessary payment arrangements to cover the call on their guarantees.
Repayments or advances under the liquidity facility will take place on standardised dates once a quarter. The maturity of each advance will be for a maximum of six months. It is envisaged that the guarantee fund will be temporary in nature, with the initial investment period in place until 31 December 2021. A prolongation of the six months could take place if the majority of contributing member states do not object. Any further prolongation would be subject to the agreement of all contributors.
The legislation to provide for Ireland's participation in the European instrument for a temporary support to mitigate unemployment risks in an emergency, otherwise known as SURE, and the €25 billion EIB pan-European guarantee fund established by the EIB, and to provide for related payments from the Central Fund to cover both guarantees, is set out in sections 2 to 9, inclusive, of the Bill we are discussing.
On 7 April, the Government approved the drafting of an amendment to remove an ambiguity about the ability of the SBCI to offer guarantees without breaching the insurance Acts or regulations. This was not considered necessary up to this point because the SBCI was only involved in a small number of risk-sharing schemes up to now. It was already clear that risk-sharing schemes were going to become a larger part of the SBCI's offering in the coming years. The current crisis has accelerated this process. Following detailed consideration, it was decided that the most appropriate way to deal with this ambiguity was to amend the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland Act 2014. Taking this step will aid the development and deployment of new risk-sharing loan schemes, including schemes that may be backed by the EIB guarantee fund, to which this Bill is facilitating access for Ireland.
For this reason, the amendment will be included in section 10 of the Financial Provisions (Covid-19 Bill) 2020, which is under discussion today.
On a further clarification matter, section 11 of the proposed legislation includes a provision to allow for an award of the arbitral tribunal to be enforceable before the Irish courts in accordance with the Third Protocol, dated 5 March, 1959, to the General Agreement on Privileges and Immunities of the Council of Europe, dated 2 September 1949. That was long before most of us were born. This provision is for the avoidance of doubt on the matter.
In recent years, legal opinions have been necessary in order for the Housing Finance Agency, HFA, to borrow from the Council of Europe Development Bank. This provision will be important in allowing for and simplifying the potential future borrowing by the HFA and other State parties from the Council of Europe Development Bank. The original agreement on that dates from 1949, as I have said. Events have changed since then with the establishment of these types of agencies, and this now needs to be clarified. This is what the section is about.
I will now outline the specific sections of the Bill. Section 1 defines certain commonly used terms in the Bill. Section 2 outlines the circumstances for the application of section 8. The European Investment Bank, EIB, guarantee fund can be formally established when member states representing at least 60% of EIB capital have made appropriate commitments. Section 8 shall not apply unless and until that occasion occurs.
Section 3 allows the State to enter into the SURE guarantee and associated commitments and empowers the Minister for Finance to carry out the obligations associated with that guarantee. Section 4 of the Bill permits the payment of a sum not exceeding €483,401,250 in aggregate out of the Central Fund under the State's obligations under the SURE guarantee. Section 5 ensures all moneys received by or on behalf of the State by way of repayment of sums paid in accordance with the SURE fund will be placed in the Central Fund to ensure the Exchequer has access to these funds.
Section 6 provides for reporting arrangements on the operation of Ireland's part of the SURE guarantee. In the event of a demand being made under the guarantee, a report will be laid before the House within one month of payment of that demand and annually thereafter. This report will consist of information on any sum paid by the State or repaid to the State under the guarantee. Each subsequent demand will be reported upon within one month in the same manner and is then included in the annual report. The reporting arrangements cease when the SURE instrument expires and when all outstanding commitments by or to Ireland have been exhausted.
Section 7 confers on the Minister the power to enter into a contribution agreement and fund guarantee agreement with the EIB for the purpose of committing to the pan-European guarantee fund. The guarantee shall be based on Ireland's shareholding in the EIB, not exceeding €167.5 million, thereby capping the State's liability at this figure. If any amendment is proposed to be made to the contribution agreement or the fund guarantee, a draft of the proposed agreement providing for the amendment and containing the text of the amendment shall be laid by the Minister before Dáil Éireann, and the amendment shall not be made unless a resolution approving the amendment has been passed by this House.
Section 8 permits payments related to the contribution agreement and fund guarantee to be made out of Central Fund for an amount not exceeding, in aggregate, the sum of €67.5 million. Section 9 allows for any payments received by or on behalf of the State by way of repayment of sums paid in accordance with the contribution agreement and fund guarantee to be received by the Exchequer and lodged to the Central Fund.
Section 10 amends the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland Act 2014 to remove an ambiguity about the issuance of guarantees by the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, SBCI. The amendment confirms that the Insurance Acts 1909 to 2018 and regulations relating to insurance made under the European Communities Act 1972 do not apply to guarantees made by the SBCI in the furtherance of its functions.
Section 11 includes a provision to allow for an award of the arbitral tribunal to be enforceable before the Irish courts in accordance with the Third Protocol, dated 6 March 1959, to the General Agreement on Privileges and Immunities of the Council of Europe, dated 2 September 1949. This will allow and simplify potential future borrowing by the Housing Finance Agency and other State bodies from the Council of Europe Development Bank. Section 12 provides for the Short Title, the Financial Provisions (Covid-19) Bill 2020, and commencement.
These measures, alongside the soon to be announced July stimulus package, will help us to kick-start the economy post lockdown and set us on the path to recovery.
However, Ireland's response must also take account of the wider EU and global context for recovery. As a small open economy with a global outlook, Ireland depends on the rules-based international order and robust global trading frameworks. A recovery at global and European levels will in turn support efforts at national levels to restore the Irish economy to growth. Our membership of the EU guarantees access to a Single Market of 450 million consumers and the EU's network of free trade agreements covering 72 countries. This is central to our prosperity and the success of our businesses. Ireland will work with its EU partners to restore the European economy to growth and to ensure the smooth functioning of the Single Market. As a member of the eurozone, we share a common currency with 18 other states with which we will continue to engage closely in the development of economic and monetary union. Engaging at the heart of the EU with our fellow member states will play an important part in the Government's pursuit of national recovery and efforts to return the economy to growth. Participation in SURE and the pan-European pandemic guarantee fund is essential to this recovery.
To summarise, the Bill allows us to participate in two important EU Covid-specific pandemic response instruments. It supports access for workers on short-term schemes and in struggling businesses and is a strong signal of our willingness to stand in solidarity with fellow EU member states. I look forward to engaging with Senators.
I congratulate my colleague, Deputy Fleming, on his appointment as Minister of State with responsibility for financial services, credit unions and insurance. His background in accountancy, chairmanship of the Committee of Public Accounts and experience as spokesman on public expenditure and reform before that mean he is ideally placed to deal with the issues ahead of us. One of the key objectives, as the Minister of State knows, concerns how we use the credit union movement to be part of the solution of our social crisis in respect of housing and everything. The former Minister of State, Senator D'Arcy, is here today. Insurance is the one industry that is crippling the viability of the SME sector. The Oireachtas must tackle this issue head-on. It will not cost the State anything to do this. We are looking at a financial package here. One of the things we could do is reform the entire insurance industry and make businesses more viable by doing so.
It is critical for Ireland that this Bill is passed today. Passing it will enable us to mitigate the ongoing impact of Covid-19 across our society. I welcome the fact that the Bill has broad support from all parties and groupings in the House. I welcome the decision by the European Commission in March to trigger a generous gate clause in respect of the Stability and Growth Pact and to adopt a temporary framework to enable member states to use the full flexibility foreseen in the state aid rules. I hope it will not be the last time that this approach will be taken. There was also the establishment by the ECB of a dynamic emergency purchase programme worth €1.35 trillion and the European Council's endorsement of a further package of measures amounting to €540 million in April. These packages include safety nets to minimise the short-term economic consequences of the crisis.
SURE is one of these measures but, as the Minister of State pointed out, it cannot be accessed by any member state until all member states have signed the guarantee. SURE is one of the main instruments that will protect jobs, workers and people's lives. Equally, Ireland's participation in the pan-European guarantee fund also requires us to pass this Bill today. This will have a direct impact on the SME sector and public sector bodies in accessing financial supports. I also welcome the balanced approach that has been taken this time to the contribution to the guarantee, which is in proportion to our share in the total national income of the Union. In Ireland's case this is 1.9%, equivalent to €483 million. As all member states are required to sign the agreement prior to any country gaining access to the fund, the indications are that all member states will have signed by the end of July. The Minister of State might be able to inform us exactly how many states have signed up to date and how many are left.
Section 10 addresses the issue that arose during the development of the future loan scheme in 2019, when one of the banks involved in offering a scheme to SMEs asked if the SBCI should be regulated as an insurer in order to offer guarantees.
As the SBCI is becoming more involved in these loan schemes and guarantees, the amendment to the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland Act 2014 in section 10 of the Bill is being made to correct this ambiguity and to confirm that the Insurance Acts and regulations do not apply to the giving of guarantees by the SBCI in the furtherance of its functions.
The Minister of State referred to section 11, which I have not had time to read, dealing with issues arising from legislation dating back to 1959 and 1949. It relates to the Housing Finance Agency, which is a critical pillar of the delivery of social housing. It is to be welcomed that the section will help the agency and, indeed, other State bodies to streamline their ability to access funding. That is all very good and positive, but the impact must be felt on the ground by businesses that are trying to sustain and create jobs.
I refer to the viability of businesses and trying to sustain them through this process. It is about businesses trying to maintain their cash flows and margins in order that they can keep their employees in jobs and able to provide for their families. The temporary wage subsidy scheme has been a significant success for individuals and businesses. It must be welcomed and it must be kept going. The conditions of the scheme relate to employment levels in February. Many businesses are seasonal and have their quietest period in January and February. As such, their employment levels were at their lowest at the relevant time. The tourism industry and many other sectors, such as the entertainment sector which includes musicians and so on, should now be at their peak and their highest employment figures. We need the temporary wage subsidy scheme to be expanded to cater for seasonal and part-time workers. Assurance should be given to entertainers, who suffered another hit last night with the announcement that all big public gatherings have again been deferred, that the subsidy scheme will be there to allow them to sustain themselves into the future. It has been an incredible source of stability for the business sector and allowed many businesses to remain open. I urge the Minister of State to keep it in place and to further develop and expand it. It should be tapered in the context of sectors that are opening up and may be reaching their peak. It is one of the most successful measures that has been taken. It may be a mechanism which we should consider continuing into the future as a means of subsidising low-level wages to get them closer to the living wage to which we all aspire.
Another issue in the context of trying to make businesses viable is the whole area of taxation and how the State can help in that regard. Consideration could be given to the deferral of payroll taxes and, indeed, VAT. The reduced employment PRSI liability introduced by the previous Government was of significant benefit to businesses. All these measures would impact on businesses' margins, which is what allows them to stay in business.
The tourism industry only has six weeks left. As soon as schools reopen, the tourist season will be finished. The pub industry was very disappointed with the decision made last night to defer phase 4. We need to start putting in place the infrastructure that is required to allow us to open up the country. Testing, testing, testing. I refer to the measures in place at many European airports. It seems that on arrival in Germany one can access a test to prove that one does not have Covid-19. We need to be investing and putting our energy into focusing on the procedures we can put in place to allow our economy to reopen. One such measure is to have testing at airports and ferry ports.
I reiterate my disappointment that the pub industry did not get the go-ahead to reopen on 20 July. Many pubs are in rural parts and play a wider role than just selling alcohol. They are a social outlet and play a role in the area of mental health. I was disappointed with the decision to defer reopening because there were ways around it. Liquor licences could have been used as a gauge of or parameter for what could be done.
I wish the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, the best of luck in his new role. It is a good role and one I occupied not long ago. I am a little surprised that my successor has already been replaced. In that regard, I congratulate the Minister of State's predecessor, the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, who has joined the Cabinet as Government Chief Whip.
This is a really good, strong and vibrant sector that has proven to be more resilient than many other sectors following Covid-19. I wish the Minister of State the best of luck in that regard.
I will discuss where we are with regard to the SURE and the EIB guarantee scheme, for which legislation is in place, and the quantum of funding provided by Europe. Some people seek to project Europe as a bunch of countries on the Continent but we are part of Europe. Ireland is a net contributor to the European Union and we are paying into this mechanism.
The European economy is broadly equivalent in value to the US economy. The most recent calculation, which was done in 2018 and included the UK, found that the EU economy had a value of $19 trillion. In 2019, the US economy had a value of approximately $20.5 trillion. As such, there is not a huge difference between the US and EU economies. To put the difference in the stimulus provided by the authorities in the US and the EU in context, the US Federal Reserve has the potential to put $6 trillion directly into the US economy in this calendar year. The body politic, whether at federal or state level, has already committed $3 trillion, which gives a total of $9 trillion. We are also told the US stimulus package will be increased, which could increase the stimulus provided by the Federal Reserve and US Administration to €10 trillion or €12 trillion. In contrast, the European Central Bank is talking about contributing €1.35 trillion, which is a fraction of what the equivalent authorities are doing on the other side of the ocean in an area of similar size measured by GDP.
The measures we are discussing are a beneficial start. I recognise that for some countries the SURE instrument is the first time we have had a Europe-wide instrument to allow member states to borrow on the markets backed by the European AAA rating. This is a small but welcome start. We will need much more. All the analysis of the potential impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the European Union and its individual member states, as well as the United States, shows that it has the capacity to be catastrophic. The purpose of this instrument is to deal with this. Having sat in the Minister of State's seat, it is my view that we need much more. I welcome the instrument as a start. I also welcome the election of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, as president of the Eurogroup, the Council of Finance Ministers. He will hold a highly influential position for the next two and half years and, with luck, he will be hold it for a period thereafter also. Some jurisdictions refused point-blank to consider that this would happen. It has happened, however, and, as I said, we need a great deal more now and in the future. The US has committed $9 trillion to its stimulus whereas the EU has committed a sum, in trillions, that is in the single digits. Moreover, the US stimulus will move into double digits very quickly.
This is not yet the Hamiltonian moment that some people have described but that remains to be seen. The success of the Minister in progressing the capital markets union in the eurozone will determine whether Europe has a true Hamiltonian moment.
I very much welcome that the SURE instrument could be made available to fund the temporary wage subsidy scheme. As I stated last week, I would like to see the "T" removed from the TWSS. It cannot be temporary or apply for weeks; it must be extended.
I know many people are pushing strongly for a reduction in VAT, as mentioned by Senator Casey, but a reduction in VAT does not matter if the business has no prospect of survival. However, direct cash into a business via the temporary wage scheme is, in my view, the determining factor in whether a business survives this period or not. How long it runs for, and what is the period in which we can continue to pay it, remains to be seen. None of us knows that and the pandemic, in particular a potential second wave, will determine it. For now, we need to remove the uncertainty and we need to remove the "T" – the temporary – and this must become a wage subsidy for employers. The subsidy should also go to the employer, who should get something back out of this as well.
When we look back, mid-March seems an eternity ago. The European response to a country in deep crisis was poor. The Italians were left to their own devices and there was not much solidarity early in the conversation, although it did move very quickly. Whether we are going to be successful will revolve around one thing, that is, getting people back into work. Nothing else will flow without having people back in work, contributing to corporate tax from businesses and income tax from individuals. That will be the test of whether we are successful or not. The amounts of money involved are large. The SURE programme is capped at €484 million and there are European investment funds of €167 million. These are very large amounts of money but they are what is required to be successful.
I have a serious concern that if this is prolonged longer than we anticipate, some countries may step back. There can be no stepping back from this, and that includes us. We are net contributors, so when people say that Europe should pay, that means we should pay more for other European countries which are net recipients of funding. That is something we should do because, unlike what happened at the start of the crisis for our Italian colleagues, European solidarity should be total. We will all come out of this together, not just Europe, the US or other jurisdictions. We will all come out of it together or we will fail. We have seen mass failure happen in times like the depression of the 1930s following the collapse in Wall Street in 1929. That is a danger we cannot ignore. This pandemic health crisis can become a depression. That risk was successfully staved off in 2008 in what became the great recession, not depression, but this could create a depression.
I warmly congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, on his appointment to his new role. I welcome the statements that have been made recognising the importance of solidarity and of stimulus. It seems that at least some learning has happened from some of the failures and shortfalls in the European response to other crises in that there is now a very wide international recognition that stimulus, and the recognition of our interdependence and solidarity, are core to recovery in our navigating of this crisis.
Others have spoken about the SURE scheme and, in the limited time available to me, I am going to focus on the pan-European guarantee. This document which we are discussing today, with all of its appendices, is not simply about money but is also about policy. It is a debate on money and policy. It is very important that we reflect and ensure we are engaging with both of those aspects. It is a debate around what European recovery should look like. The decisions we and other parliaments across Europe make will drastically shape the future of countries and communities across the EU.
We need to ensure, first, that there is real transparency and that these are measures that hold the public trust. We need to ensure they are measures that are holistic and really deliver social cohesion, and make us more resilient in the face of the next crisis, one we know is coming, such as climate change, or others we may not have anticipated yet.
In that regard, I will be making today a number of amendments and proposals on which I hope the Minister will be able to engage. I hope not only that the amendments will be accepted and supported but also that the points will be engaged with because they are core and will be part of the wider conversation on the kind of recovery we require and how we can be genuinely resilient.
In the very darkest days of the crisis, we relied on the public sector to protect us. We relied on public health services to keep us safe and care for our loved ones who were sick. We relied on public transport workers to go to work and on An Post workers and others to deliver. We relied very heavily on them. In a crisis, generous efforts are made by everybody across society but public services are crucial. This was visible right across Europe. Where public services had been run down by austerity measures over a long period, a toll was taken on the capacity of public services to respond in some places.
Our need for a robust, well-resourced public service will grow as we face this pandemic and future crises. In that sense, the decision on how we support the public sector as part of the European recovery is crucial. There is a disappointing policy decision associated with the pan-European guarantee fund in that the public companies within it, in the vital areas of health and research, are limited to just 5%. Therefore, 95% of the fund, as it is currently set up, is off bounds to public companies. This is a policy decision that we might address, and perhaps my set of amendments can do so constructively. I hope the Minister will be able to assure us that Ireland, in its own applications to the fund, will seek to take maximum advantage of the 5%, limited as it may be, in respect of investment in public services and public companies. That will require co-operation with the Minister for Health and the Minister responsible for higher education and research.
We also need to recognise that the policy decisions can be changed. There is an order of precedence in the documents we are examining today. The fund guarantee is the fund agreement and it does not set policy on the 5%. The policy on the 5% is set within the fund description. The fund description has provisions, under paragraph 12.2, that allow the contributors committee, of which Ireland will be a member, to change the beneficiary mix and the balance - for example, to include public companies that might not simply be in the health and research sector. What about services such as childcare, for example, which may well need to become public services? What about the work of public broadcasters and various other companies, such as An Post? There is scope to change the policy. Ireland will be sitting on a committee by which decisions and proposals might be made. I would love it if Ireland were to propose an expansion of the public service and public company component but, without being overly ambitious, my amendment simply seeks to ensure that, if others propose that, Ireland will support it. That is a modest proposal, and it could be accepted unless there is an objection from the Minister.
With regard to the other aspect of public service, the wider public policy, when the EIB reviews the pan-European guarantee fund it will be important for Ireland to be very vocal about the rest of the recovery fund. I am thinking specifically about the EU coronavirus recovery fund, which may be worth up to €500 billion. Will Ireland be an advocate to ensure that public services, public companies and the public sector — the public and national infrastructure — can gain access to funding under these funds, which are yet to be determined and whose rules are yet to be set? Ireland, as has been said, has a key role. It now holds the presidency of the Eurogroup and it has a genuine obligation to show leadership on policy. An area in which we should be showing leadership on policy concerns climate change, climate mitigation, the achievement of the sustainable development goals and the eradication of poverty. Potentially, these are all to be named objectives within the fund. Will we be proofing to ensure they are reflected in how the fund is distributed?
Transparency and public trust are fundamental. The EIB has been criticised by groups such as Counter Balance and other civil society groups for lagging behind regarding transparency. Counter Balance has presented its findings to the European Parliament.
It says that at a time when the EIB is put at the core of the EU's economic recovery, it is crucial that it raises its bar on transparency and sustainability and becomes accountable to citizens in Europe. That is why I will be proposing that there would be a report to the Oireachtas outlining the activities of the Irish representative on the contributing committee of the platform fund and that the report would reflect the decisions that are made on behalf of Ireland and the positions Ireland takes. This is an evolving landscape. The report would also reflect on those important objectives under part 2.12 of the platform rules, which allow us to think about how this fits with sustainable development goals. That part of the rules makes sustainable development goals a priority. Ireland can report on that and can give leadership in reflecting on how those goals are reported on. By giving leadership on transparency, Ireland can give a signal to the European public that this is a recovery for everyone and that this is a process which has learned from the failures of the response in 2008. Hopefully we will not see the loss of public trust and social cohesion we saw during that recession.
I congratulate the Minister of State again on his appointment. I look forward to engaging with him and I hope he might be able to accept these amendments when they are proposed. If they are not accepted, I will note that nearly all of these measures are within the Minister of State's power, regardless of whether they are in this legislation. Perhaps the Minister of State will address that.
I welcome the Minister of State and I congratulate him. He is straight into the job so it is a tough day for him. I also want to take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, who is chair of the Eurogroup. The Eurogroup plays such a significant part in what we are talking about today and I wish him well as he embarks on what will be a challenging and demanding job, coupled with his work as Minister for Finance.
The Covid-19 pandemic constitutes an unprecedented economic and social challenge for Europe and the wider world. The European Council called on the Eurogroup to develop proposals to tackle the social and economic consequences of the pandemic and to develop a comprehensive package, amounting to €540 billion as we know. This was agreed by the Eurogroup, as was said earlier, and endorsed by the European Council. I understand that this package includes three safety nets to minimise the short economic consequences of the Covid-19 crisis for workers, business and member states. Those three elements are as follows: SURE, which is the instrument to protect jobs and workers and which is critically important; the EIB pan-European guarantee fund; and the pandemic crisis support instrument of the European Stability Mechanism, ESM. Could the Minister of State address this issue of the ESM pandemic crisis support instrument because I cannot quite get that part of this legislation? He might tease out some of that or perhaps provide us with some more information at a later date, particularly on that aspect of the Bill. This Bill relates to SURE, as has been outlined by the Minister of State and by previous speakers, as well as to the EIB's pan-European guarantee fund. SURE is primarily intended to support the member states, with efforts to protect workers and jobs and to support some healthcare measures.
There has been a recurring theme here today about recovery, solidarity and social cohesion and they are important matters. It is about all member states stepping up to the plate. There are important key themes and issues that previous speakers have spoken about and it is important that we always remember those issues. I note that this is the first legislation the Department of Finance has brought forward since the formation of the Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party coalition Government. That is important and the legislation is clearly a priority for the Department.
I support the Government's wish to have this important legislation passed as soon as is practically possible and for it to receive the early signature of the President, as is the desire of the Government. I understand that SURE cannot be accessed by any member state until all member states have signed the guarantee agreement.
The Minister of State might confirm that. I also understand that the Commission needs all the member states' guarantees in place in order to access the bond markets on the possible terms. Again, the Minister of State might confirm that.
I have a few questions. Is it the case that most other member states will be ready to sign the SURE guarantees by the end of July? I understood that half of them would be now in place but there is some suggestion that the process in this regard might have slowed. We need to have assurances on that and the Minister of State might confirm the position. We know that Ireland cannot participate in the EIB pan-European guarantee fund unless the Financial Provisions (Covid-19) Bill is enacted. Clearly, that is important and I hope that we will get it done today. It is not ideal to have all Stages of legislation being taken by the House in one day but these are challenging and difficult times. I assure the Government that it has my absolute support on the Bill as it currently stands. The Bill is complex but clearly set out, and we have to proceed. SURE presents an opportunity for Ireland to show solidarity, a matter on which Senator D'Arcy elaborated. The key word is "solidarity" when it comes to Covid-19 and member states response to it. This is a challenge in the context of member states to showing solidarity. I hope that everyone will step up to the plate in that regard.
Irish business and public sector bodies cannot apply for financial support from this fund until Ireland has signed the contribution agreement with the EIB. That is clearly set out in the memorandum of understanding and the documents supplied to us.
It is my understanding that SURE is temporary in nature in that the duration and scope is limited to tackling the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. I understand that SURE would come with safeguards to ensure fair and equitable access to the funding from the member states. I also understand that the loans will be underpinned by a system of voluntary guarantees from the member states. Will the Minister of State elaborate on those matters if he has an opportunity to do so because I believe they are important? Each member state will be expected to contribute to the guarantee in proportion to its relative share in the total gross national income of the Union. That is important. To focus on Ireland briefly, it is my understanding that it has been suggested that the country will have an approximate liability of €483 million. Is that the Minister of State's understanding? We need to clarify that matter.
On the types of national schemes eligible under SURE, what schemes are available to Ireland? What other schemes are available? What is the potential to tap into those schemes? We need to hear more about that. The objective of SURE investment is to aid member states to keep people in jobs, as we said earlier, and certain occupational health-related measures. That is important. As of 2 July, the accumulative value of payments made to employees under the scheme was €1.878 billion. That is a phenomenal amount of money. Can the Minister of State provide assurances that our temporary Covid-19 wage subsidy scheme will be eligible for loan support in the context of these matters?
I have a number of other issues to raise with regard to the various sections. I recognise that the Minister of State is new to his brief and I do not want to bamboozle anyone. I know he is very able and confident and a former Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts but I have queries about sections 3, 4 and 6. I am conscious that I have only one minute remaining so I will just deal with section 4, which provides for a financial cap in respect of moneys that may be paid out of the Central Fund to enable the State comply with its obligations under the SURE guarantee. Can the Minister of State indicate the figure in that regard?
I call Senator Gavan. I understand the Senator wishes to share time with Senator McCallion. Will it be six minutes and two minutes each?
Six and two, yes.
I congratulate the Minister of State. I welcome the introduction of the Bill, which speaks to the broader European response to this crisis. The economic fallout of this health crisis is a European problem requiring a European response. The level of debt refinancing necessary to deal with this crisis requires a radical departure from the past. As the European Commissioner for the Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, stated, we need to face an extraordinary crisis with extraordinary tools.
An essential tool in the kit is in the hands of the European Central Bank, ECB, in the form of its bond purchasing programme. I am pleased to note that judging by its pandemic emergency purchase programme, the ECB appears to have learned some of the lessons of the past and acted to ensure affordable levels of debt financing for member states such as our own. It is now crucial that the fiscal response at the European level is adequate to the challenge we face. I will return to that point later. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, will play a crucial part in that response in his new role as president of the Eurogroup, and I congratulate him on his appointment to that role. I urge the Minister to ensure that the interests of Ireland are represented and delivered upon in this new role.
The Bill before us concerns access to capital to support workers and businesses that have been impacted by the economic fallout of Covid-19. In particular, it will enable the State to participate in two instruments designed at European level, temporary support to mitigate unemployment risks in an emergency, SURE, and the European Investment Bank, EIB, pan-European guarantee fund. On 9 April the Eurogroup agreed a €540 billion fund to tackle the social and economic impacts of Covid-19. This fund and the measures it provided for were endorsed by the European Council on 23 April. SURE was among these measures. This instrument will provide up to €100 billion, with funding raised on capital markets by the Commission. This will allow member states to benefit from low borrowing costs due to the strength of Europe's collective credit rating.
I wish to put on record that previous schemes financed by the Commission borrowing on capital markets came with damaging conditions attached. We know the Commission has form in this area. It has insisted on increases to the pension age or cuts to public spending. One of the strings attached the last time was the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism. We must ensure that we never return to the austerity policies of the past. I welcome Fine Gael's apparent conversion to Keynesian economics.
Section 3 of the Bill allows the State to enter the SURE guarantee, with the Minister granted any power required to perform the State's obligations under the scheme. Under the agreement provided for in Schedule 1, the State will contribute more than €483 million to avail of loans under SURE. These loans are targeted to assist member states in financing sudden increases in spending caused by the pandemic, in particular spending on short-time work schemes such as the temporary Covid-19 wage subsidy scheme. I ask the Minister of State to clarify the total value of the loans our contribution would entitle us to access and the exact criteria for use of funds accessed under the loans.
Under section 4, contributions in excess of €483 million will be paid out of the Central Fund under the terms of the SURE agreement. I would ask the Minister of State to address a number of issues in this regard in due course. I ask him to outline the expected schedule of payments, their value, when they will be made under the provisions of the agreement and the expected schedule of loans to be drawn down under the scheme.
The other instrument to which this legislation will provide access is the EIB pan-European guarantee fund, which formed a part of the fund agreed by the Eurogroup on 9 April. This fund will amount to €25 billion and will mobilise up to €200 billion, with a guarantee provided by each member state forming a condition for access to the fund. As section 7 sets out, our liability for this fund will be capped at €168 million. The fund will provide working capital to small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs, mid-caps and corporates that have been impacted by Covid-19. While this is welcome, several issues require clarification. Up to 23% of credit under the scheme will be earmarked for companies with more than 250 employees and up to 7% for venture and growth capital funds. While at least 65% of the financing is earmarked for SMEs, what clarification can be given that this credit will be accessible to small businesses that to date have been unable to access credit from banks that refuse to lend? Moreover, I would appreciate if the Minister of State could provide clarity as to how financing under the scheme and its associated agreements can be incorporated into our own loan schemes and business supports. Measures taken at the European level benefit from our own contributions and from a lower cost of financing. This in turn will benefit those businesses that are able to avail of financing under the EIB pan-European guarantee fund. It is therefore essential that the benefits of this scheme are open to Irish small and medium-sized businesses, not just big business.
Concerns have been raised as to the adequacy of the European response to this crisis. Senator D'Arcy has called for more to be done and I support that call. There are queries relating to the accuracy of the figures in the proposed package. The European Commission has headlined its proposed first recovery package as having a value to the tune of €540 billion, but upon closer inspection there is potential for the package to be significantly more limited in its value, as highlighted by the economist Emma Clancy.
For example, it includes €240 billion in potential loans - "potential" being the operative word - from the ESM bailout fund, which has so far been left untouched because it is politically toxic due to its association in the minds of the public with the hated troika. We will be supporting the Bill.
I take the opportunity, while debating this Bill, to highlight a serious situation for businesses whose operations straddle the Border. They are facing the prospect of being cut off from potential funding from the EU for their businesses because of the Border and because the British Government has decided to leave the EU. These are some of the most vulnerable businesses in the country. The withdrawal of the British Government from the EU means there will be a shortfall in EU funding for many businesses and other projects across the North. As a result of the withdrawal Act and the Irish protocol, the North will remain inside the EU in respect of certain matters which, of course, is good. However, to ensure that every effort is made for the EU to fund projects and business, the Irish Government will need to position itself as a conduit for ongoing funding from the EU into the North. In this instance, I am speaking specifically about businesses whose operations straddle the Border.
The Government needs to avoid the mistakes its predecessor made in rolling out the pandemic unemployment payment. Those mistakes resulted in cross-Border workers not being able to avail of the funding in this regard. These businesses include companies, sole traders and the self-employed, many of whom pay taxes in this State and in the North. The Government needs to engage proactively with the relevant agencies in Europe to ensure a stream of much-needed funding for these businesses along the Border which are dealing with the impact of the virus and the uncertainty caused by the British Government's decision to leave the EU. The Government needs to ensure that the regulations which come forward as a result of this legislation are compatible with the needs of cross-Border workers and businesses whose operations straddle the Border.
I congratulate the Minister of State on his appointment. The Labour group looks forward to engaging with him on very serious and important issues, particularly those relating to insurance and the credit unions, in due course. The Labour group in the Seanad will be supporting the Bill. In contrast with the previous major crisis the EU experienced, at least there is now a recognition - albeit belated - by Union's institutions of the need to respond on a scale that will have an impact.
We welcome the SURE initiative and the EIB pan-European guarantee fund, both of which will help those who have lost their jobs and support firms that believe they are viable but need liquidity support. In supporting the Bill, we need to query the Government's capacity and willingness to draw down funding under these loan guarantees. The additional borrowing will have an impact on our national debt. We are all too familiar with the obsession of some within the Government regarding the scale of that debt. The important metric should be the debt-financing payments and our capacity to meet these from tax revenues. However, that frequently gets lost in the debate. We want clarity on the Government's intention to draw down this funding. I urge the Government to maximise its access to the SURE fund. Failure to do so will condemn thousands of jobless people to an unnecessarily bleak future.
The second part of the Bill deals with the EIB pan-European guarantee fund. This is the second week running in which we have been discussing loans to businesses.
I am deeply concerned that there is an ideological reluctance to countenance grants or equity-based grants by way of support, in particular to small and medium enterprises in this country. We know that the impact of being highly geared or highly indebted acts as a chill effect on businesses with recruitment, expansion and the labour share of income for workers within firms. We want to support the Bill with regard to accessing the pan-European guarantee fund but we want it on the record that domestically we need to see a greater emphasis on equity-based grants to businesses in Ireland.
Another important point also raised by other Senators today is the lack of certainty in the Bill around conditionality in the granting of loans to businesses, especially on specifics such as social, environmental, employment or training objectives. We need clarity on that. There is now an opportunity in the provision of loans to businesses for the State to see something in return.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I congratulate my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, whom I have known for a very long time. I know his suitability for the job at hand. It is a difficult job in the current climate.
The funds set out in this proposed legislation are important for a couple of reasons. At last it seems that we are seeing some level of solidarity right across the European Union in addressing this issue. I and others have commented in this Parliament, not in this House, on the failure of our European Union colleagues to show solidarity during the banking collapse a decade ago. Ireland was made to carry the can and shoulder a lot of the responsibility, as citizens and taxpayers, for decisions that were taken elsewhere relating to moneys that were borrowed on the international markets from other countries. We had to pay all of that back without any support. On this occasion it seems there is a level of solidarity because the crisis is more recognisable in other countries, and I welcome that. I put it to the Minister of State, that where there is a loan element to small businesses it is important that the interest rate charged is commensurate with the interest rate paid by the State. We know that €100 billion can be borrowed at very low rates, probably below 0%, which is a rather new concept to a lot of people. We cannot see a situation where the moneys trickle through to the pillar banks for them to charge interest rates in the 4% or 5% space. Based on his very clear knowledge of small and medium enterprises I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, will ensure this does not happen, be it through these or other funds.
At this stage we need immediate support for the sectors that are most affected by Covid-19. I know of no sector more affected than tourism. Normally Ireland would experience some 11 million inbound tourists annually. I do not know what the number will be this year but I would say it will not top 500,000, based on what is happening, and probably even less. Some people suggest that the domestic tourism market will compensate. It will not. At best, some 2 million or 3 million people leave the State each year to take holidays. If all those people stay at home I estimate we will still have a net deficit of 8 million tourists. This will have a detrimental impact on businesses throughout the State and especially in rural areas where tourism is the lifeblood of so many communities.
Today I met a number of jarveys and people involved in the horse and pony trekking industry. These industries are on their knees. Normally the business they get from the American market would have them very busy at this time of the year. A group of them are on their way to Dublin today, not to protest but to be heard and to set out for the Government a clear picture of what they are experiencing. Sean Kilkenny and his family are friends of mine going back many years.
He is a young man who has built a great business around the visitors who come to Dromoland Castle. He has in the region of 40 horses. He provides pony trekking, horse trekking and carriage rides principally for the American market. It is a wonderful tourist attraction and a great business. He employs locals and it had been working very well. He was coming under significant pressure from the insurance sector. I understand that there is now no insurance company prepared to insure that business. His business was in real trouble from that perspective. Obviously the lack of tourists puts them under enormous pressure. We have to find a way to address the insurance business in the first instance, which falls under the Minister of State's stewardship. The former Minister of State, Senator D'Arcy, will have a very clear understanding of that. We have to provide support to people who find themselves in such positions. Mr. Kilkenny does not fall under the current scheme because he is not a ratepayer, but he pays rent. The €350 Covid payment is not much to support him and his family but it is certainly not enough to feed 40 horses. I say this by way of the understanding of a small business that needs to ride out this storm, if Senators will pardon the pun. We will get beyond Covid and find a solution to that problem, whether by way of a cure or something else that will happen. A vaccine may be developed. We cannot allow these little businesses to die in a ditch in the intervening period.
Let us look at this in a holistic way. It is good that there is an arrangement from a European perspective. It is good that the money is coming. Let us ensure that the money trickles down and gets to the people who really need it.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, to the Chamber. I congratulate him and wish him well in his role. I know with his background and experience that he is very well suited to a financial brief. I look forward to working with him. The coronavirus does not discriminate between countries or nations, just as it does not discriminate in terms of the individuals and families that have been impacted by this dreadful virus. Few have lived through such an unprecedented crisis as that caused by Covid-19. Such is the scale of the crisis and the sheer impact it is having on our country and other countries of Europe that a collective response is needed from the member states of the European Union.
The Bill before us today will empower our Government to participate on behalf of the people in the collective response to Covid-19. It achieves two objectives. First, it will enable the State to take part in the European instrument for temporary support to mitigate unemployment risks in an emergency, SURE. Second, it will empower the State to participate in the European Investment Bank's pan-European guarantee fund. Through this fund, financial supports will be available to Irish businesses and organisations to help tackle the enormous challenges that Covid-19 has brought. The current Government has continued the work of the previous Government in terms of introducing and maintaining supports to business and workers. Supports include the Covid-19 working capital scheme, the future growth loan scheme, the restart grant, an online retail scheme, the pandemic unemployment payment and the temporary wage subsidy scheme among others. They are all helping businesses, workers and households to weather this unparalleled crisis.
However, in the same way that Covid-19 transcends national borders, our armoury of supports should do the same. As regulation 672 of 2020 notes, this is an exceptional situation which is beyond the control of EU member states, has immobilised a substantial part of the workforce and has led to a sudden and severe increase in public expenditure in areas including unemployment and business supports, as well as health and social care. The European Council agrees that the SURE instrument will help all member states respond in a co-ordinated, rapid and effective manner and in a spirit of solidarity. The financial assistance that will be provided through the SURE instrument will not be available until all member states have signed the guarantee agreement. This underpins the solidarity of this support, which will provide up to €100 billion for all member states. Section 4 of the Bill states that Ireland's contribution to the SURE instrument will be over €483 million and in that context, coupled with the longevity of the commitments involved out to 2053, it is important that this Bill be enacted with the security such obligations demand.
Ordinarily, regulations have direct effect and do not need to be transposed. Given the nature of this financial obligation and the commitments being entered into, it is reassuring that the Oireachtas is the body empowering the Minister for Finance in line with our Constitution to enter into this guarantee agreement. The pan-European guarantee fund will see us contribute up to €167 million to another central fund designed to support viable businesses and organisations. The fund is structured in such a way as to be available only to those member states which join.
In Ireland, the fund will be administered by the SBCI, which already administers several supports from Departments for businesses, particularly SMEs.
The evolving and uncertain path of the coronavirus is compounding difficulties, particularly in certain sectors. The hospitality, tourism, arts and culture sectors, among others, have, in effect, been decimated by the Covid-19 virus. I have spoken to business owners from various sectors, including the owners of SMEs and larger companies in Galway. I have heard from workers in the arts and culture sector and operators in the hospitality sector. These sectors are of crucial importance to the social and economic well-being of Galway and the rest of the west of Ireland. Everyone to whom I have spoken understands the seriousness of the pandemic and the dangers posed by the virus, including its threat to life. If the price for keeping citizens safe is the continued curtailment of economic activity, then we need to expand the supports available.
The Bill, through the SURE instrument and the EIB guarantee fund, will broaden the supports that Ireland has already introduced. It will facilitate greater certainty and reassurance. I expect the Government to grasp the opportunities presented and make use of the SURE instrument and the guarantee fund. I expect it to supplement and expand our national supports to include supports for seasonal workers, workers in tourism and hospitality and members of the arts and creative community. I expect that it will access the guarantee fund in order to provide greater financial supports for businesses and organisations the support of which directly impacts on the communities in which they operate. The fact that the State has been able to allocate resources that borrow funds for supports reflects the careful and prudent management of the economy in recent years. However, just as with our efforts to suppress Covid-19, we cannot be complacent. Borrowing will not be an option in the longer term and we must be ready to access the EU supports for the good of businesses and workers across the country.
With the permission of the Leas-Chathaoirleach, I will share time with Senator Byrne. I thank the Minister of State for coming before the House and I congratulate him on his appointment. It is an excellent appointment. The urgency and energy he will bring to his portfolio will be very welcome. He can be assured of all our support.
In bringing the Bill before the Seanad, the Minister of State and the Government are recognising the enormous negative impacts of Covid-19, the most tragic of which are, obviously, the loss of life and the ill health of some of our citizens. However, its social and economic impacts have also been significant. The virus has affected people of all ages and sexes. All demographics have been affected by unemployment, but there has been an acute impact on those under 40 years of age. Unemployment spiked across the demographic groups, but the unemployment rate among those under the age of 25 is currently running at 45%, which is alarming. It is a critical situation. It is to be hoped that it will be temporary. The State must make every effort to address it.
Young people put their careers and work lives on hold and showed real solidarity in the heat of the pandemic. The State must show solidarity now with them. We must make every effort to ensure that long-term unemployment does not take hold among young people. Long-term unemployment is very damaging for the individuals concerned. It robs them of their self-esteem and self-worth. It isolates them and prevents them from realising their occupational potential. I urge the Minister of State and the Government to take that sociological threat seriously and to ensure that long-term unemployment does not take hold and become a normalised condition for young people.
It is critically important that the Bill is passed. It seems likely that this will be done today. The Bill follows on from the decision at EU level on 29 May to allow member states to access the funding. I urge the Minister of State and the Government to maximise access to the funds when the Bill is passed in order to prioritise actions that will protect young people, create sustainable jobs, encourage them back in the workforce and give them access not only to quality and sustainable employment but also affordable homes.
This is another area that young people are really struggling with. I congratulate the Minister of State on his appointment. He has my full support. I urge him to bring this legislation through with speed so that we can access the funds and make them available to our young people.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach.
I join with my colleagues in congratulating the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, as I know he will do a superb job as he has a deep commitment to public service. A key element of this legislation which has been mentioned already by a number of colleagues is solidarity. European solidarity has been more important than ever. At a time when the world is facing a very disruptive period when we look at the lack of leadership being shown in the United States and indeed the policies of China, it is important that the European Union provides global leadership both inside the Union and at a global level and this legislation is an example of that. I certainly hope that this can be seen in the future as a Hamiltonian moment within the European Union and that it will lead to greater financial cooperation across the Union.
One area which colleagues have spoken about is the wage subsidy scheme. I certainly support this and it makes a lot of sense to have it extended. There are also opportunities within these funds, particularly in areas of innovation, digital technology and engaging with climate change, for our higher and further education sectors. I ask in particular that the new Department of further and higher education, research, innovation and science looks at ways in which this fund can be used to support long-term development in Ireland when we come out of this period.
I also wish to agree with colleagues around our cultural and creative industries. We have seen a great demand for content over the period of the pandemic. That is going to continue to grow and we should be able to use these funds to support the arts and creative industries to help us recover.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I welcome to the House and congratulate the Minister of State on his recent appointment in what will be a very challenging but no doubt rewarding position as we face into economic uncertainty on the horizon. I also wish to congratulate the Leas-Chathaoirleach on his recent appointment as I did not get the opportunity to do so last week. He follows in the footsteps of a very impressive predecessor, former Senator Paul Coghlan.
We can all agree that on New Year’s Eve 2019, when we were ringing in 2020, none of us would have imagined what we are about to face into, in the unprecedented economic and social challenge that Covid-19 was going to present us with. That is why this Bill is particularly important. It is putting in place the structures that will allow member states within the European Union to, most importantly, protect both workers and jobs in the face of economic uncertainty. When reading through the legislation and briefing notes last night I was particularly interested in what a number of colleagues have already referred to, that is, the supports to mitigate unemployment risk and emergency, or for brevity, the SURE instrument. Under this proposal, as has been mentioned previously, the SURE instrument is going to allow up to €100 billion to be provided to member states. This financing will allow member states to strategically tackle any sudden increases in public expenditure that will come along as a result of Covid-19. It is very important to acknowledge that this instrument will provide states with that kind of flexibility to be able to react quite quickly.
I am also pleased to see that under the SURE scheme, and what may or may not be eligible under it, it appears that the temporary wage subsidy scheme, TWSS, may be eligible for loan support. This is quite important and I will focus the remainder of my contribution on the TWSS. As with all legislation that has been passed by parliaments around the world on Covid-19, a real effort has been made to get it through the houses of parliament as quickly as possible. I accept that because at the end of the day it is for the good of our country that we do this as quickly as possible. An aspect of the TWSS was brought to my attention in the last number of weeks by a small business in County Louth, which is a family business which employs four or five family members. This business had an accountant previously and one of the family members decided to take over the running of the accountancy function, a function the Minister of State will be well aware of himself.
They were not on the CollSoft payroll system on 29 February whereas the legislation states clearly that a person had to be on the wage system on that date. All other wages were then put in ten weeks later but it was after the specified date. I and the family have pushed this through the proper channels within Revenue but it has been clear in stating that, while it is sorry, this is the legislation that has been passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas and it cannot do anything about that. I ask the Minister of State and his Department to examine the anomalies that have been created, not through anyone's fault but due to technicalities. Companies such as this family-run business in County Louth have fallen through the gap as a result. I hope the Government can deal with such examples next week in the stimulus package.
This provides a timely reminder to us that, as we try to get legislation through this House as quickly as possible to take on the fight against Covid, we should reconsider that legislation in the following weeks, and produce amendments or subsequent legislation to tackle issues like those I have raised to help and support small family businesses. I am sure many Members of the House will agree with me. I believe it is inherently unfair that when we are providing so many financial packages for people, due to a technicality and legislation being black and white, a good, hard-working, decent, honest family have fallen through the gap. I hope we can rectify that.
I wish the Minister of State well in the job to come.
I want to extend my good wishes to a good friend of many years, the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming. It is lovely to call him that after all these years. As I said earlier in the House, I am sure he would like the circumstances of his appointment to be different but it is great that he is in the job. He has always been a man of common sense and understanding.
I have been following the debate from my office and there have been some very good contributions in the Chamber today. I go back to a point I made in the debate last week in this House. It is great that this package is coming but its success will be down to cutting out red tape, which causes frustration and annoyance for businesses. At the moment, there is a lot of debate as to whether certain businesses will not qualify for payments because they are not going to survive. I wonder who is going to make that call. We need to be very cautious about this. We have been hit with a type of pandemic that nobody across this world could have envisaged. There are businesses for which the system might decide they cannot survive, and that might be a wrong decision. It is very important we get this legislation through as quickly as possible but, after all of our discussions, we need to be able to distribute this fund wisely and as quickly as possible.
On another point I raised in House last week, I find a lot of resilience among small businesses. As Members will know, there are some 1.4 million people involved in small business in this country and they really are the backbone of the economy. The Minister of State will know from his own constituency that there is great resilience. People are determined to survive and get on with it, but they will need assistance from the State in the autumn, hopefully through this fund. If we are not able to bring that package forward, many small businesses could be in trouble.
I have more to contribute at a later stage. This Bill is welcome and I am glad the Minister of State is in the House. I have listened to many of the comments made in the debate. All of us agree this is vital. Let us get the Bill through as quickly as possible. The bottom line is that, in the distribution of this fund, let us keep the red tape out of it. This is one time in the economic history of this country that the red tape must be taken out of the system.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I congratulate the Minister of State on his appointment.
I welcomed the news yesterday that face coverings should be worn by all customers and retail staff in shops and shopping centres and I welcomed the fact that regulations with details on enforcement and penalties are being drafted. I look forward to seeing those.
I noted yesterday that the national council of the Restaurants Association of Ireland is recommending that all its member cafés, restaurants and pubs implement a face-covering policy for their staff. We are at a critical point in regard to wearing face coverings where physical distancing is difficult. We need a national campaign to communicate clearly what is expected of the public in that regard. The time has very much come for that because of the public health consequences, because of businesses that cannot afford a second wave, and because of the dynamic between customers and businesses that were shut or have suffered because of a lack of footfall and revenue. It is a matter of making it absolutely clear to everybody what we are asking of them.
I have worked for a long time on creating public campaigns, growing awareness of issues and changing people's behaviour. I have worked in public health, including on binge drinking, sexually transmitted infections, smoking and environmental issues concerning litter. I have even worked on getting people to take staycations and on increasing the number of home holidays in Ireland. Changing people's behaviour is actually very difficult. There was a time when getting people to wear seat belts was incredibly difficult. It took a very long time and considerable investment in campaigns to get people to change their behaviour, despite the fact that the public and personal safety benefits were very obvious. Time is not on our side in regard to our public health measures at the moment, especially where businesses are concerned. Many businesses will not have a second chance.
The Irish, including businesses, have been remarkably resilient and compliant in facing the challenges set for them. We have moved from a position of mandatory measures to personal responsibility and now we are actually moving back towards more mandatory measures and having a mix of the two approaches, but I believe we need to help people to find their feet in the new world order. This is difficult for them. We have thrown a lot of guidelines at them and asked a lot of them. A campaign will be necessary because this is a marathon, not a sprint. We need a multimedia campaign, a universal, high-impact campaign, to tell people that wearing a mask is the right thing to do where it is difficult to maintain a social distance. We need to tell people it is better for them and for others. The campaign should be targeted at different age groups, including older people who may feel they are a burden to others, those who believe we are making a fuss, and younger people who might feel they are more resilient. The campaign needs to be appropriate to the targeted individuals' platforms and in their tone of voice. One will have heard from the Covid committee during the week about how we connect with different demographics and how important the method is. The message needs to be shareable and people need to be able to make it their own. There needs to be a mixture of messages, including Government messages, but national spokespeople need to be behind them. I refer to people of different ages and stages in life. I hope I am communicating the scale at which I believe the campaign is needed.
This financial provisions Bill is about helping people to cope, helping Ireland to cope and helping businesses to cope. Other countries have done this very well. I would be happy to share information on their campaigns but I believe we are at a stage where we need some sort of campaign to target various people to tell them clearly what we now want and need them to do.
I congratulate the Leas-Chathaoirleach again on his election to that position. I wish him well. It is a super privilege for him and his family.
I refer to the legislation before the House today and the European Union's aid towards member states. The European Union was set up to create peace in European countries. In recent years, we have all questioned Europe's role in Ireland, and the role of the EU has been questioned in many European states. The EU putting these proposals in place across member states and offering all member states the opportunity to participate in them shows that our membership of the EU is valid and has a huge value. I am glad to see the EU coming together like this and offering these huge supports.
It is to be hoped the wage subsidy scheme will benefit from this type of support because I know small businesses throughout the country need to see it extended and they need to be able to get over this Covid-19 hump, whenever it finishes. It is so much harder to set up a business than it is to close a business, so I hope we are able to pass this legislation expeditiously. I am glad we are members of the EU and that the EU has come together to help us financially in this way.
I congratulate the Minister of State on his appointment and I wish him well. It is an important role that he is taking on in this portfolio.
The role of credit unions, in particular, is something that is undervalued in society. The good they have done for people who the banks do not want to deal with is huge. I would love it if the Minister of State would consider it appropriate to beef up what the credit unions can do for those people so that they serve a particular section of society that is often forgotten by the mainstream retail banks.
The issue of insurance is also important and it is something we have probably not tackled properly. Many of the speeches in the context of this debate have been about the value of this legislation for the SME sector. Insurance is one of the matters that is undoubtedly doing massive damage to our SME sector, as has been mentioned by other Senators. It is important that we tackle the damage that is being done to small businesses by public liability insurance and so on.
A number of Senators have spoken about the value of this legislation and of our membership of the European Union, and that is important as well. This Bill is an important statement of solidarity with every other member state of the European Union. I know the Minister of State has been asked about this and I would echo the request to indicate which member states still have to become signatories to this or if there are any such member states at this stage. As if we needed to know this in Ireland, this matter brings home the importance of being part of that greater Union and it outlines the depth of support that is there for us.
I have listened to other Senators in the course of this debate mentioning the importance of this Bill as a stimulus package and as something that supports the small business sector, and I agree with that, but the contrast with the previous massive downturn that we had a little over ten years ago was also pointed out, as was the suggestion that it is hoped this shows that we have learned from that. In that context, it is extremely important to recognise the difference between what happened in 2008 and 2009 to the economy globally and in Ireland and what has happened to the economy now. They are different types of recessions with different effects, and the remedies for them must be different.
It is important that when we look back to 2008, 2009 and 2010, we look back to a time when there was a massive credit bubble and a massive problem with financial institutions. Recovering from that required getting people back on their feet in a different way. Today we have a situation where viable and active businesses have been shut down, notwithstanding that they have the capacity to turn a profit and employ people on a continuing basis. It is a different set of circumstances that have led us to our current economic difficulties and that must be recognised. I wholeheartedly agree that the way we deal with that into the future is through stimulus and supporting those businesses that we know are viable, are working and are employing people locally. We know these businesses are using local services and products and those profits are being retained in the local economies throughout the country. That is a tremendously important part of SMEs.
An issue I would like the Minister of State to address relates to section 10. A concern has been expressed by one or more banks about whether the insurance provisions extend to them in the context of the SBCI. I disagree with them. I do not believe that there was something that needed to be clarified but I accept that that was the advice. Section 10 solves that matter. However, I want to tell the Minister of State that the information given to me by SMEs in my constituency in Dún Laoghaire is that there is a cold welcome for them when they go to the retail banks. When they go to financial institutions, they do not get the kind of warm welcome we expect they should get. I am of the view that an obstacle was put before this legislation in terms of identifying problems and that it was something which suited those banks. I hope the Minister of State will ensure that the SME sector is valued by the banks wherever possible and that a clear message will be sent from the Department to the effect that the time for cherry-picking by banks between who they do and do not want to lend to is gone. They must stop putting obstacles in the way of viable, good local businesses that can survive and decide that they will not take any risk.
The approach of the banks now to lending, and this probably applies to personal finance also, particularly in the context of how they changed all the goalposts for people looking for mortgages, seems to be that they will only lend money to an organisation or an individual if they can identify a set of circumstances which afford them no risk whatsoever. That cannot be acceptable if we are to have a functional retail banking market.
The legislation is important and I commend the Minister of State on bringing it before the House.
I congratulate the Minister of State on his appointment and wish him well. This is very important legislation that we should support unequivocally. As Senator Ward stated, it is about putting a value on our SMEs. It is about a stimulus to support employment. It is about supporting people. It is about telling the risktaker and those who work in a multiplicity of SMEs that they are valued. It is about the jobs we are creating, the goods that are being produced and bought and the supports at local level.
There is a profound line in the Bill to the effect that the pandemic constitutes an unprecedented challenge with very severe socio-economic consequences. That is what we are facing as a country, as a world but also as a European Union. That is why it is important that there is solidarity and unison and that we stand together, le chéile, to ensure that we do not go back to what happened in the decade which saw a lost generation in terms of what we had to do to rescue our country. That is why the value and the import of being a member of the EU stands today.
I want to congratulate the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, on his election last week as president of the Eurogroup. We should send a message of congratulations from this Chamber today to the former Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, and the former Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, for the stance they took regarding the Apple case. They were vindicated yesterday. Where are all the naysayers today who wanted to spend all that money? I send my congratulations to Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan. I am not ashamed to say in this House that Apple, which provides 6,000 direct jobs in Cork and a multiplicity of indirect jobs, is a company we should support. I will come back to that issue on another day.
Many of my colleagues mentioned the profound benefit of the wage subsidy scheme. It is important to give credit to this Government - and to the previous Government - for extending the wage subsidy scheme because it has allowed people to be employed. It has allowed business people to open their doors and employ people. Senator Murphy made a very good point regarding eligibility and the red tape involved. This is not a time to say that business X should be put to the four corners of the wind; it is about ensuring that we allow for viability and ensure that those risk-takers, and the jobs they create, are protected.
The scaffolding has been put in place by this Bill. We must support jobs and protect workers. Senator Ward is 100% correct. I wrote down his comments about access to finance, an issue which pertains not only to this Bill but also to our pillar banks and financial institutions. Senator Ward is right. The banks must work with business people, not against them. We must ensure that there is meaningful and real accountability for our financial institutions. Senator McGahon made a very good point about the temporary Covid-19 wage subsidy scheme.
Let us make it simple, as the Cathaoirleach said. Let us work with people to protect and create jobs. More than ever before, we are all wearing the green jersey. The job of the Government, of the European Union and of everybody is to work to create and sustain jobs, not to eliminate them or put red tape, obstacles or obfuscation in people's way. We must offer support. I wish the Minister of State well. He has always been a very formidable person, both in Opposition and in Government. He deserves his opportunity to be a Minister of State. He was a very good Chairman of the committee on which he served. I wish him well.
Finally, I am glad Senator Gavan is back. We again congratulate former Deputies Michael Noonan and Enda Kenny on what they did in Europe.
Nobody else is offering to contribute, so I will call the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, to reply. I congratulate him again. Little did he think this time last week that he would be required at this debate as a Minister of State. There is a lot of goodwill and many good wishes towards him.
I thank the Acting Chairman. As I said already, on Tuesday evening I was contributing to the Second Stage debate as a Government backbencher. Some 36 hours later I am here. I thank the Members for the goodwill and good wishes that have been expressed in the House today. I really appreciate that.
I want to respond as quickly as I can to the various comments. I might not pick up on everything, but everything that has been said has been taken care of. The Senators here know the detail but I want the people watching to understand. The legislation is very technical. Reading it, one gets lost in EU directives from 1949 and things like that. To put it simply, there are two main elements to this legislation. One is support to mitigate unemployment risks in an emergency, SURE, which will cover the exceptional costs that Ireland and other EU countries incurred as a specific result of Covid-19. It is very unusual, and it is good to see such a fund being set up. The money we have already spent on the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment, the temporary Covid-19 wage subsidy scheme and healthcare costs can be recouped by way of borrowing. It is not the case that we can only borrow from the point when the fund is set up. We can borrow to meet the costs that Ireland incurred in recent months. Everyone knows that when one applies for a grant or a loan, it is usually for future expenditure and previous expenditure cannot be brought forward. This is exceptional, however, and it is good that this has happened. The legislation is following the spending, but it will cover spending that has already happened to date.
We will contribute €483 million. The total EU fund is €100 billion, about 200 times that figure. This instrument only allows the Government to borrow. There is nothing in it about a jobs initiative. This is to cover the employment support we have been providing in recent months and will continue to provide. The new fund gives the Government the option, if the conditions are favourable at EU level, to use the EU's AAA rating to borrow funds at a very cheap rate. Ireland has been doing that in its own right up to now. We may choose to spread the risk and borrow through the European borrowing mechanism. This is essentially enabling legislation. It does not require us to borrow any money from that fund. We may decide to borrow on our own, as was noted when this was mentioned. If we do want to spread the risk, we can use this mechanism to draw down funds. This will help the national finances.
The second half of the Bill provides for the European Investment Bank, EIB, pan-European guarantee fund. That is dedicated to protecting jobs and restarting businesses.
We have all said we are contributing €167 million into that. The total contribution by EU states is €25 billion, but that allows that fund to borrow up to €200 billion. That €200 billion can be borrowed for investment in jobs and getting the economy kick-started again in the future. That is borrowing by businesses directly through the banks not through the Government. That comes to Ireland through the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland. The key banks get their funding from SBCI and lend to their customers.
A business does not have to be a current customer of a bank to avail of this fund; a business can make its application to whatever bank it chooses. This separate fund is the one that is dedicated primarily to kick-starting the economy. It is to get companies that are viable and struggling with cash flow difficulties up and running straight away. That will really help to kick-start the economy from here on in.
I sat down this morning for the briefing from the officials. I have one important message I want Irish businesses and the banks to pick up from this. The banks are the key link in the chain. This is European money coming through the State body, SBCI, but the lending is done by the main pillar banks. I ask the banks to ensure they do not put any unreasonable obstacles in the way of customers who choose to take this route because they have their own products to sell. They will want to make some profit out of this scheme and we have to prevent the banks from making too much profit. We also have to ensure they allow the funds to get out the other side.
The fund comes into being when we all sign up. The 60% threshold has been reached in the past few days so the fund can be set up immediately. Borrowing can start early in the autumn as quickly as possible once that funding is there or once the guarantee to the states to provide the funding is there. We only have to provide the fund if somebody starts defaulting on loans in due course and the funds will be called upon at that stage, but we have to give the guarantee here now.
One of the reasons it is so urgent from the Irish point of view is that it took us so long to form a Government. Other countries have done this in recent weeks and may not have had to pass it through their parliaments. Different governments may have had different ways of doing it, but it has to come through the Oireachtas because Bunreacht na hÉireann requires that expenditure from State coffers must be approved by legislation and there was no legislation governing this before now. That is why we are here today and that is why it is urgent. We are catching up on most of the other countries which have done their work in this area in recent weeks. That does not mean the fund has not really kick-started at all yet.
My main message to Irish businesses is to get in there quickly. The fund is limited to €200 billion. I think the three big countries are limited to borrowing €60 billion out of the fund. If we look back at this in 18 months and find that Ireland had one of the smallest uptakes for this funding which is available at a very good rate, that would be our fault. The job of the Government after this legislation passes today and is signed by the President is to promote this to Irish businesses as a very important initiative. If we do not, other countries will mop the €200 billion. If we come looking for money next January or February, we could be told we are too late because the fund has been exhausted. I say this to Irish businesses. This is practical; it is not politics. They need to go into their banks as soon as possible and draw down those funds. They should not let other countries steal a march and then we are left fighting for the last element in the fund. That covers points people have mentioned here.
A number of speakers contributed. Senator Casey asked about member states that have signed up to the scheme. I will give some information on this shortly. He mentioned the issue of insurance. In his time as Minister of State, Senator D'Arcy worked very hard on that in recent times. We have commenced on that road, but as the famous phrase goes, there is a lot done, but a lot more to do. Everybody will agree on that. It is a very difficult situation. Following his work, the Government continues to have ongoing contact with the insurance companies to ensure we have a cost-effective insurance industry here.
On the EIB, as I said, the 60% figure has been reached. Twenty member states have signed the SURE instrument and a number of others will do so in the coming days.
A small number, including Ireland I would hope, are expected to sign next week. The legislation is urgent. The Minister will sign the necessary documentation and we will be in at that stage. As I said earlier, most other countries have actually signed up. The funding is just about ready to get up and running.
Senator Higgins referred to public service companies being allowed to draw funds under this legislation. There is a figure for some of this to be used for healthcare. This scheme can evolve and the Senator spoke of the committee. It is not just a one off. They can nuance it as it goes along. There is provision and it is a kind of living scheme. I hope the points that have been made will be taken into account, including the Minister's and our representatives on that committee, to monitor the use of the fund, not only for Covid-19 but also for issues that will emerge such as climate and sustainable development goals so they can be taken into account.
On the issue of health services, the ESM pandemic crisis support was introduced earlier this year. This is another element to assist businesses. No legislation was required for that support but there was a specific facility for some of it to be used for health-related activities. While this is just one mechanism there have been other specific measures like the ESM support that did not require to come before us, and it includes healthcare. Iarnród Éireann, Bus Éireann and other public companies can apply for funding under this provision. It is not strictly for the private sector. It is also for anyone providing a public service. We will continue to watch to make sure the limit of 5%, which might be a limit for this particular fund for now, can be looked at. There are other funds such as the ESM through which other companies in the healthcare sector can borrow with regard to those variants.
A report will be presented each time a payment is made into the fund or a withdrawal is made. Within a month of that happening the Minister will lay a short report before the Houses showing the activities within the fund from an Irish perspective, almost on a real-time basis. Those figures will also be included in the annual report we will present.
Senator Boyhan asked about numbers. I have indicated how many other countries have signed up to date, and it is well known that most have done so. This is why the legislation is urgent. Ireland does not want to be accused of being the people who hold it up and this is why the timing is tight here too. It is voluntary, but there is an obligation and we expect everyone to comply. Whether it is mandatory or whatever, it is voluntary but we expect all to comply. I will just put it that way. It is a phrase we could apply to other situations too.
The State can borrow to help recoup payments made under the temporary wage subsidy scheme. I stress that with everything discussed here no free money is being mentioned. I want to be clear for the public watching that money borrowed by the Government under the SURE fund is repayable with interest in due course. Every loan that is taken out with the banks through the pan-European guarantee fund is money to be paid back with interest. I just want to be real about it. This fund will allow people to borrow. It is enabling legislation so the Government and businesses can borrow. There is no requirement for anyone to borrow anything if they choose not to. If they do borrow, however, it has to be paid back in due course. I say this in case some people think it is all money from the EU that did not have to be paid back. I need to state this. When one gets into detail people may ask if it is a grant or if they have to pay it back, and I am just putting this on the record.
Reference was made to Border counties and those companies that operate close to the Border. It is very clear. If the business or company is located in the EU, which means in this State, then it is covered. If the company or business has employees who work across the Border in Northern Ireland the business is covered, once it is based in the State. This fund is for the businesses to borrow. If the business is based on the other side of the Border it is outside the EU. If it is based here but with employees who cross the Border it comes in under this scheme.
The whole insurance issue is a big factor for small businesses. Several Senators have alluded to that. I now have responsibility in that area. Insurance is being brought into the remit of the Government group looking at the recovery. People are aware that it is a particular issue in different sectors as we go along.
Senator McGahon mentioned the anomaly with the stimulus package in that when it came out, people who missed the date of 29 February because they were not on payroll or were changing an accounting or payroll system were not deemed eligible. I will highlight this with the Minister. While I am making no commitment, it may be possible to address those issues with tweaks in the system in the context of the July stimulus package that will come out in a week or so. A company that was genuinely changing its accounting package during that period should not be penalised. Common sense tells us that. The scheme as drafted did not facilitate it and we will highlight the issue to the Minister before the July stimulus package is completed.
The banks profiteering and cherry-picking customers are key issues. When all is said and done, this is about companies going in to their banks to borrow funds through this special scheme and we encourage them to do so.
I think I have covered most of the points made. I thank everybody for their contributions. We look forward to this legislation being passed in the Seanad as it has been in the Dáil in recent days. My final word to Irish businesses is that they should get in there quickly while the fund is available. They should not leave it for two, three or four months before they start the process. If funding is available at a good rate, they should get in there. Historically, Ireland has been good for getting into schemes early and we want to do so on this occasion.
I do not know the formalities of closing up the debate but I have said what I have to say. I thank Members and look forward to the Bill passing all Stages.
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House on the first day after his appointment to his new role and congratulate him on being elevated to high office. He has done great service in committees down through the years, including the Committee of Public Accounts, involving long hours, early mornings, huge amounts of paperwork to be read and not many thanks. Not many people know the amount of work the Committee of Public Accounts did under his chairmanship, keeping public companies and other institutions of the State in line and calling them to account. It is an important part of Parliament and not one that gets a lot of thanks. I thank the Minister of State and congratulate him and his wife Mary on his achievement.
When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?