I move amendment No. 3:
In page 7, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:
“Support for Public Services and Public Infrastructure
12. The Minister shall, within three months of the passing of this Act, lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas, a report outlining how Ireland will seek to use the Fund
alongside the EU Covid-19 Recovery Fund to support investment in Ireland’s public sector, public services and public infrastructure.”.
The three months that I have set out here is a narrow period of time for a report but it reflects the urgency and the speed at which decisions are being made, decisions around very large volumes of stimulus money and decisions around the direction and shape of the recovery for the years and, potentially, the decade ahead. We have spoken, and rightly so, including on the Microenterprise Bill we debated last week, about small businesses which are a great part of the recovery. It is appropriate that 63% of the EIB fund here is dedicated to those businesses. People have also said that it is very important that we make sure it actually works for them.
However, an economy is not simply made up of the private sector but also consists of the public sector. The public sector is a key employer and customer as it buys from other businesses and contributes to our lifeblood and is part of the very real physical infrastructure of our island. The public sector is a key actor for society and the economy and when we plan a recovery, we cannot leave the public sector at the end as a thing that we might spend money on if we get taxes from the private sector. The public sector is the key. This is the case internationally and historically in the case of stimulus. If we look at the Green New Deal, which has been much-cited recently, or the New Deal that Roosevelt brought through, there was an acknowledgement in these that the public sector would be a key employer and would be building national infrastructure at a time when other building might not be taking place and that it would be creating collective public goods and assets to raise our economy. That is part of the recovery.
There is a concern that in the instruments and packages that have been coming through so far that public sector investment has not been very visible. The Microenterprise Bill rightly focused on the very small businesses. The Bill before us focuses predominantly on small businesses which I welcome, but it does give money to larger businesses. Some 7% is to be given to venture and growth investment through the European investment fund, but only 5% might go to public companies. While the Minister of State mentioned Irish Rail and other companies, these are not eligible at the moment under this fund. Only public companies in the medical and research area are eligible. All the other public companies are not represented. I am not saying that they must fit into this fund but I have pointed out mechanisms whereby this fund might be adapted to incorporate them. What I am hoping for with this amendment is that the Minister of State might set out that if these companies are not included in this fund, where they will be in the other EU recovery fund, some of which, as has been outlined, may not be through loans but through grants. We know that up to €500 billion has been earmarked in potential grants for sectors and areas that need investment across Europe. Many public sector services, ranging from An Post right through to our public transport and to potential public childcare services, should be considered within that recovery fund and have a strong role in it. This amendment calls on the Minister of State to bring to us Ireland’s vision for how that is going to be happening, which is very important.
I return specifically to the question of medical and research public companies, which are the only ones eligible to which this fund can deliver.
As we face the Covid health crisis, we know public healthcare has been crucial. We also know that in the search for a vaccine and treatment, it is very important that public research has a role. We have seen the situation in the United States where, deplorably, I believe, there was an attempt to purchase a monopoly on a drug that could provide treatment in respect of Covid-19. We know there are projects such as the people's vaccine under way, and wonderful initiatives such as the one Costa Rica started with the World Health Organization to try to have a pool of technology so public health systems across the world can back each other up in facing this crisis.
I want to make sure that if there is a brilliant scheme or a research project that comes out of one of our Irish universities, if there are scientists in Ireland who are working for public companies that believe they can contribute something to help us deal with the Covid-19 crisis, something that is not just profitable but is a public good, they will be encouraged and supported to access funding, and the Government will ensure the instruments work for them. Again, they are also employers and these are scientists within Ireland, and we want to see our researchers working in those ways too. That is why I believe it is crucial.
I hope the Minister of State will be able to accept this amendment. I also recognise that, regardless of whether an amendment is made to the legislation today, he has an opportunity today to commit to coming back to the House and to publishing a strategy for the public sector, public employment and public and social infrastructure, and how they will be integral to, funded, invested in and boosted as part of the new vision for how we move forward out of Covid-19.
Again, this is a big issue across Europe. It is an issue for the European Investment Bank as well because the EIB has, unfortunately, had a very strong and narrow private sector focus. This impacts on its international lending to developing countries, where it has often said it would give medical funding but only to the private sector, when we know many countries are trying to build their public health services right now. That is where they need help and support. It is an issue for Ireland and for Europe, but it is also part of that vision of global recovery and how we build robust public systems that employ people and that give us a solid, resilient landscape for a future crisis and a healthy foundation for a thriving economy that will have both public and private actors.