Enterprise Ireland

Questions (16)

Neale Richmond

Question:

16. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will provide a report on the activity of the Enterprise Ireland office in Lyon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2523/21]

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Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

Growing Irish exports into the Eurozone is a key strategic focus of Enterprise Ireland. Enterprise Ireland supports companies to start, scale and succeed in international markets. Through Enterprise Ireland’s network of 40 international offices, the agency assisted client companies to increase their exports by providing market intelligence to inform companies’ internationalisation strategies.

France is a key destination for Irish exports, with €1.1 billion of exports to France reported by Enterprise Ireland’s clients in 2019. Key export sectors include Fintech and Services; Industrial; Construction and Cleantech; Engineering and Lifesciences/pharmaceutical. Enterprise Ireland has two offices in France, Paris and Lyon. Enterprise Ireland’s office in Lyon opened in November 2019 as part of the Government ‘Global Ireland’ strategy supporting the acceleration of exporter diversification.

The Lyon office supports Irish companies to expand into the Rhône-Alpes region, particularly in the following areas.

- life sciences

- clean technologies

- engineering.

The Lyon office is actively connecting with buyers in the Rhône-Alpes and linking them to Irish companies to assist them establish and scale the Irish companies in the region. As part of this, Enterprise Ireland Lyon is reaching out to the Irish diaspora in the area and raising the profile of the office among this community. The Lyon office is also working with companies on their future growth strategies in the Rhône-Alpes region through the provision of Market and business intelligence to assist companies entering or scaling in the region.

Value of Exports

Questions (17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 32)

Neale Richmond

Question:

17. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he expects exports to the EU to increase in 2021 in view of trade diversification post Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2524/21]

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Neale Richmond

Question:

18. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the steps being taken to maximise Irish exports to the EU single market post Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2525/21]

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Neale Richmond

Question:

19. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the markets and industries which are the focus of Irish trade diversification post Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2526/21]

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Neale Richmond

Question:

20. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the Irish industries that will benefit most from increased trade into the EU Single Market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2527/21]

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Neale Richmond

Question:

21. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the extent to which exports to the UK are expected to fall in 2021 as compared to 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2528/21]

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Neale Richmond

Question:

32. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the plans that have been made for Irish companies and Irish exports to replace UK exports to the continental EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2820/21]

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Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 17 to 21, inclusive, and 32 together.

The long-term response to Brexit is for companies across all sectors to become more competitive, more innovative and to diversify their export footprint into more international markets. My Department’s 2021 budget allocation of €1.13bn represents an increase of €154 million or 15.9% on the 2020 allocation. This is in addition to €100 million earmarked from the Recovery Fund for Brexit. This is a record allocation and will significantly bolster the capability of our enterprise and regulatory agencies to help businesses examine their Brexit exposure, seek advice, avail of customs training and make plans to protect their business.

In 2015, the value of goods and services imported from the UK to Ireland was €31 bn, which represented 14% of Ireland's total imports that year. In 2019, while the value of goods and services imported from the UK to Ireland had increased to €41 bn, this represented the lower percentage of 11% of Ireland’s total imports in that year. The total value of goods and services imported into Ireland increased from €223 bn in 2015 to €388 bn in 2019.

Similarly, for exports, in 2015 the value of goods and services exported to the UK was €37.2 bn which accounted for 16% of total exports from Ireland. In 2019 the value of exports to the UK had increased to €51.6 bn but this represented the lower percentage of 14% of Ireland’s total exports that year. In the period 2015 to 2019, the value of total exports from Ireland increased by €135 bn or 57%, to a record level of €374bn.

Enterprise Ireland client companies achieved record levels of exports in 2019 of €25.6bn, against the backdrop of Brexit uncertainty. In 2019, the Eurozone region, which is a key focus of Enterprise Ireland’s diversification strategy, saw growth of 15% to €5.65bn, while exports to North America increased from €4.08bn in 2018 to €4.72bn, an increase of 16%. In the same period exports to the UK increased by 2%.

2020 export performance and the outlook for exports to the UK, Eurozone and rest of the world continues to be significantly impacted by both Brexit and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Enterprise Ireland’s ambition for 2021 is to sustain Irish jobs and exports and increase the resilience of the enterprise base with a view to ensuring global exports retain their pre-pandemic, pre-Brexit value of €25.6 bn. The agency’s focus will be on supporting clients to adapt and succeed in a post-Brexit environment, sustaining existing export sales and accelerating the diversification of Irish exports. While the UK will remain a major market for Irish companies, expanding the Irish export market in markets beyond the UK will continue to be a priority.

In recent years the majority of Ministerial-led Trade Missions have taken place to the Eurozone, North America and Asia Pacific, which represented the strongest growth opportunities for Irish companies. These Trade Missions focused on promoting the innovative capabilities and competitive offerings of Irish companies to international buyers in sectors including internationally traded services, fintech, high-tech construction, engineering, ICT and lifesciences. In 2020, due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, promotion of our companies abroad continued through the work of our State agencies, and, in particular, their offices located on the ground internationally.

My Department is currently in contact with Enterprise Ireland with a view to developing a Ministerial led Trade Mission Programme for 2021. At this stage, it is envisaged that such a programme will contain a mix of virtual and actual trade missions. At the same time, Enterprise Ireland will continue to support companies to sustain their existing export sales and to increasingly diversify their export markets. This will include strengthening sales and marketing capability of companies, with a particular focus on remote/virtual channels and providing targeted financial and advisory supports to companies adversely impacted upon by COVID-19 and Brexit to support their adaptation to the challenging market environment.

As well as the global efforts supported by our agencies, key to our success in growing exports has been our commitment to trade liberalisation in order to open new markets for our indigenous sectors. With a small domestic market, further expansion in other markets is essential to our continued economic growth and, in this regard, Ireland will continue to support the EU’s ambitious programme of negotiating new Free Trade Agreements, opening new markets for Irish companies and increasing export and investment opportunities.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (22)

Willie O'Dea

Question:

22. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the reason there is now a public health risk in allowing customers to collect goods from non-essential retailers, given that it was not a risk in the last level 5 lockdown, in view of the fact this ban will have a disproportionately negative effect on smaller family-run retailers; if consideration will be given to reversing the ban on non-essential retailers operating a click and collect or call and collect service in order to help them survive the Covid-19 pandemic; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2537/21]

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Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

Under Level 5 of the Plan for Living with COVID-19, only essential retail outlets will remain open. Further information can be found on https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/2dc71-level-5/. The decision to move to full scale Level 5 was not taken lightly and all factors were considered. The restrictions are in place for a period of at least one month from 31 December 2020.

S.I. No. 701 of 2020 Health Act 1947 (Section 31A - Temporary Restrictions) (COVID-19) (No. 10) Regulations 2020 and S.I. No. 4 of 2021 Health Act 1947 (Section 31A - Temporary Restrictions) (COVID-19) (No. 10) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 (https://www.gov.ie/en/collection/1f150-view-statutory-instruments-related-to-the-covid-19-pandemic/) clearly sets out the temporary restrictions under Level 5. A list of essential services can be found at https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/c9158-essential-services/ and the list of essential retail outlets at Level 5 can be found at https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/60ecc-essential-retail-outlets-for-level-5/

Level 5 does not restrict people from purchasing any product, it does however restrict people from physically going into non-essential stores. This is to stop people making unnecessary journeys, congregating and browsing for non-essential goods, to limit the spread of the virus.

Under the current temporary restrictions click and collect from non-essential retail outlets is no longer permitted. Click or phone and deliver will continue.

We are asking retailers to fully get behind the spirit of the regulations. In particular, we are asking retailers with mixed retail offering which have discrete spaces for essential and non-essential retail to make arrangements for the separation of relevant areas. We are also asking retailers to operate staggered opening and closing hours, as well as facilitating starting and finishing hours, in order to minimise the impact on public transport and to continue to provide dedicated hours for vulnerable customers.

My colleague Minister English has met regularly with Retail Forum members and representatives from the retail grocery and distribution sector to continuously assess adherence to the public health restrictions.

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) ‘The Work Safely Protocol’ incorporates the current advice on the Public Health measures needed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the community and workplaces. The Protocol is available on www.gov.ie. The HSA is the lead agency in overseeing compliance with the Protocol in the workplace. If employers or employees need further guidance on the Protocol, the HSA Helpline can be contacted at 1890 289 389 or wcu@hsa.ie.

In addition, the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) have also produced two guidance documents, one for the retail Sector and one for Shopping Centres. Both documents can be found on www.nsai.ie.

I would like to thank retailers and their customers for their efforts at this difficult time. By each of us following the spirit of these new rules and working together we can hopefully return to a lower level of the Living with COVID-19 framework.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (23)

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

23. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if his attention has been drawn to the fact that many businesses selling both essential and non-essential items have not sealed off sections of their premises where non-essential items are sold, allowing customers to browse these areas; his plans to address the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2591/21]

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Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

Under Level 5 of the Plan for Living with COVID-19, only essential retail outlets will remain open. Further information can be found on https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/2dc71-level-5/

S.I. No. 701 of 2020 Health Act 1947 (Section 31A - Temporary Restrictions) (COVID-19) (No. 10) Regulations 2020 and S.I. No. 4 of 2021 Health Act 1947 (Section 31A - Temporary Restrictions) (COVID-19) (No. 10) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 (https://www.gov.ie/en/collection/1f150-view-statutory-instruments-related-to-the-covid-19-pandemic/) clearly sets out the temporary restrictions under Level 5. A list of essential services can be found at https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/c9158-essential-services/ and the list of essential retail outlets at Level 5 can be found at https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/60ecc-essential-retail-outlets-for-level-5/

Level 5 does not restrict people from purchasing any product, it does however restrict people from physically going into non-essential stores. This is to stop people making unnecessary journeys, congregating and browsing for non-essential goods, to limit the spread of the virus.

Under the current temporary restrictions click and collect from non-essential retail outlets is no longer permitted. Click or phone and deliver will continue.

We are asking retailers to fully get behind the spirit of the regulations. In particular, we are asking retailers with mixed retail offering which have discrete spaces for essential and non-essential retail to make arrangements for the separation of relevant areas. We are also asking retailers to operate staggered opening and closing hours, as well as facilitating starting and finishing hours, in order to minimise the impact on public transport and to continue to provide dedicated hours for vulnerable customers.

My colleague Minister English has met regularly with Retail Forum members and representatives from the retail grocery and distribution sector to continuously assess adherence to the public health restrictions.

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) ‘The Work Safely Protocol’ incorporates the current advice on the Public Health measures needed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the community and workplaces. The Protocol is available on www.gov.ie. The HSA is the lead agency in overseeing compliance with the Protocol in the workplace. If employers or employees need further guidance on the Protocol, the HSA Helpline can be contacted at 1890 289 389 or wcu@hsa.ie.

In addition, the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) have also produced two guidance documents, one for the retail Sector and one for Shopping Centres. Both documents can be found on www.nsai.ie.

I would like to thank retailers and their customers for their efforts at this difficult time. By each of us following the spirit of these new rules and working together we can hopefully return to a lower level of the Living with COVID-19 framework.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (24)

Mairéad Farrell

Question:

24. Deputy Mairéad Farrell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his views on the impact of Covid-19-induced economic disruption on both the domestic and multinational sectors; and his views on whether domestic sector and employment within it will be disproportionately impacted by the economic dynamics of the crisis. [2609/21]

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Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

The economic disruption wrought by COVID-19 has been widespread across all sectors of the economy and all regions of the country. Using the latest quarterly national accounts data from the CSO, the Arts and Entertainment sector was identified as the sector most affected by COVID-19 related disruption, followed by the Professional, Admin and Support Services Sector and the Construction Sector. The areas of the economy that fared best included the Information and Communications Sector and the Manufacturing Sector, which tend to be dominated by foreign owned multinational enterprises.

The resilience of the multinational sector and its importance to the Irish economy is highlighted by the fact employment in IDA Ireland client companies actually increased by almost 9,000 in the year to September 2020, highlighting the resilience of these multinational enterprises and the important role these firms play in the Irish economy.

Many sectors of the domestic economy have been particularly hard hit with widespread job losses. In January 2021, the sector with the highest levels of people in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment was Accommodation and Food Service Activities, followed by Wholesale and Retail Trade.

The domestic sector, and employment within the sector, has been most impacted by COVID-19 disruption. The Government has introduced the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and the Employment Wage Support Scheme (EWSS) to aid employees.

To help businesses to adjust to the challenges of the pandemic and ensure they are in a position to benefit once the economy re-opens, several schemes have been introduced, including loans, grants, vouchers, training and mentoring programmes. Small and medium firms are the biggest source of employment in the Irish economy and the Government will continue to support these businesses as they will be a crucial element of Ireland's recovery.

Remote Working

Questions (25)

Thomas Gould

Question:

25. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when he will publish the report on working from home. [2615/21]

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Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

As our country continues to navigate Covid-19, remote working has become more important than ever before.

To date, my Department has had a strong focus on the topic of remote work. Last year as a response to COVID-19, my Department launched a Public Consultation on Remote Work Guidance and created a new guidance webpage for employers and employees.

Building on this work, my Department formed an Interdepartmental Group to steer the delivery of a National Remote Work Strategy. This Strategy was published last week.

The objective of the Strategy is to ensure that remote working is a permanent feature in the Irish workplace in a way that maximises economic, social and environmental benefits. The report is built on three pillars which are bolstered by underpinning conditions. These pillars are:

- Create a Conducive Environment

- Develop and Leverage Remote Work Infrastructure

- Build a Remote Work Policy and Guidance Framework

Under these pillars and underpinning conditions there are 15 actions to progress remote working into the future. Departments and agencies will deliver these actions over the course of 2021 with progress updates being reported to my Department.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Questions (26)

Louise O'Reilly

Question:

26. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the steps taken by his Department to ensure that the service of persons out of formal work due to closure of schools and childcare facilities and who are now in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment will be protected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2617/21]

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Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

From the outset of Covid-19, many employers have taken the initiative, in line with subsequent requests from the Government, to be as flexible as possible in allowing staff time off to look after their children who are not attending school or crèche. Employers have a general duty of care towards their workers and that care is often expressed in the form of negotiation, compromise and flexibility. Some of the options to be considered for workers with caring responsibilities that preclude them from working their normal hours in the normal, pre-Covid way include -

- Offering paid compassionate leave,

- Allowing employees to work from home,

- Altering shifts, so that employees can coordinate caring between themselves and partners, or another person,

- Allowing employees to rearrange holidays,

- Allowing employees to rearrange parental leave,

- Allowing employees to take paid time off that can be worked back at a later time etc.

- Allowing employees to take unpaid leave until they can return to work full or part-time.

I would encourage any employees affected by the lack of childcare to engage with their employer in the first instance to explore all options available to enable them to continue working. I would encourage employers to be as flexible and supportive as possible with a view to maintaining good employment relationships over the long term.

In circumstances where employers fail to consider any reasonable accommodations, employees may have recourse to pursue a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) under the relevant legislation such as Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977 to 2015, the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 or the Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2015.

If the employee has availed of an arrangement with their employer then that agreement should have regard to the issue of service.

If however they have left employment temporarily, then service would not accrue.

Redundancy Payments

Questions (27)

Louise O'Reilly

Question:

27. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if his Department is engaged in the design of a contingency plan to ensure that workers can access their redundancy if they so wish and that does not put businesses in financial precarity to replace the redundancy moratorium, which has been extended to 31 March 2021; if his Department has engaged with workers and the trade union movement regarding the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2619/21]

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Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

Section 12A of the Redundancy Payments Act 1967 is the emergency provision which suspends an employee’s entitlement to claim redundancy from their employer following certain periods of lay-off or short time work due to Covid-19. When this emergency provision ceases to have effect, eligible employees will be able to make a claim for redundancy from their employer. The employer can then agree to the redundancy payment if they do not have work to offer the employee, or they can give counter notice by offering the employee not less than 13 weeks unbroken employment.

Under existing provisions, in situations where an employer cannot sustain the cost of redundancy payments due to financial difficulties, the Department of Social Protection provides a safety net for both employers and employees and can make the statutory redundancy payment to eligible employees from the Social Insurance Fund on behalf of the employer. When such a redundancy payment is made, a debt is raised against the employer.

That Department will engage with employers to establish their financial situation on a case by case basis and will seek to recover the debt on a mutually agreed basis. Since the start of the pandemic, the Government has been very mindful of the difficulties that employers are facing. Where appropriate an agreed repayment plan can be put in place to minimise financial hardship on an employer. For example, the debt can be recovered by way of instalments over a period of time.

There has been ongoing dialogue with both employee and employer representative groups on the continued operation of the emergency provision, Section 12A of the Redundancy Payments Act 1967.

The Government has also put in place unprecedented levels of financial supports for businesses in response to the Covid-19 crisis which provides employers with the security of continued assistance, thereby sustaining jobs.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (28)

Holly Cairns

Question:

28. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the reason children's and babies’ clothes are not included in essential retail categories during level 5 restrictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2681/21]

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Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

Under Level 5 of the Plan for Living with COVID-19, only essential retail outlets will remain open. Further information can be found on https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/2dc71-level-5/

S.I. No. 701 of 2020 Health Act 1947 (Section 31A - Temporary Restrictions) (COVID-19) (No. 10) Regulations 2020 and S.I. No. 4 of 2021 Health Act 1947 (Section 31A - Temporary Restrictions) (COVID-19) (No. 10) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 (https://www.gov.ie/en/collection/1f150-view-statutory-instruments-related-to-the-covid-19-pandemic/) clearly sets out the temporary restrictions under Level 5. A list of essential services can be found at https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/c9158-essential-services/ and the list of essential retail outlets at Level 5 can be found at https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/60ecc-essential-retail-outlets-for-level-5/

Level 5 does not restrict people from purchasing any product, it does however restrict people from physically going into non-essential stores, including clothes stores. This is to stop people making unnecessary journeys, congregating and browsing for non-essential goods, to limit the spread of the virus.

Under the current temporary restrictions click and collect from non-essential retail outlets is no longer permitted. Click or phone and deliver will continue.

Retailers can and have made arrangements, on compassionate grounds, for individual customers to urgently purchase a non-essential item in store. This is only in exceptional circumstances where it is not possible to plan ahead and avail of remote ordering services such as in emergencies, e.g., admission to hospital.

We are asking retailers to fully get behind the spirit of the regulations. In particular, we are asking retailers with mixed retail offering which have discrete spaces for essential and non-essential retail to make arrangements for the separation of relevant areas. We are asking retailers to operate staggered opening and closing hours, as well as facilitating starting and finishing hours, in order to minimise the impact on public transport and to continue to provide dedicated hours for vulnerable customers.

We are also asking retailers to exercise their best judgement and common sense on a case by case basis, to ensure those requiring urgent access to a non-essential item are accommodated.

My colleague Minister English has met regularly with Retail Forum members and representatives from the retail grocery and distribution sector to continuously assess adherence to the public health restrictions.

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) ‘The Work Safely Protocol’ incorporates the current advice on the Public Health measures needed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the community and workplaces. The Protocol is available on www.gov.ie. The HSA is the lead agency in overseeing compliance with the Protocol in the workplace. If employers or employees need further guidance on the Protocol, the HSA Helpline can be contacted at 1890 289 389 or wcu@hsa.ie.

In addition, the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) have also produced two guidance documents, one for the retail Sector and one for Shopping Centres. Both documents can be found on www.nsai.ie

I would like to thank retailers and their customers for their efforts at this difficult time. By each of us following the spirit of these new rules and working together we can hopefully return to a lower level of the Living with COVID-19 framework.

Haulage Industry

Questions (29)

Joe Carey

Question:

29. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if his attention has been drawn to the critical shortage of qualified drivers of heavy goods vehicles; the plans in place to deal with this issue; if he will give consideration to increasing the level of non-EU work permits to assist in dealing with this skills deficit in a vital supply chain sector for the economy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2692/21]

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Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

The State's employment permit system is designed to supplement Ireland's skills and labour supply over the short to medium term by allowing enterprises to recruit nationals from outside the EEA, where such skills or expertise cannot be sourced from within the EEA at that time. The system is, by design, vacancy led and managed through the operation of the two occupation lists: critical skills and ineligible. These lists are subject to twice yearly evidence-based review, taking account of labour market research, a public consultation and other issues such as Brexit and Covid 19.

With effect from 2017, the occupation of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) driver has been eligible for a General Employment Permit, subject to a quota initially of 120 employment permits. In January 2020, this was extended by a further 200 in anticipation of the impact of Brexit on the sector and evidence that labour shortages were an EEA-wide challenge. To date ,131 employment permits have issued to HGV drivers, leaving 189 permits available out of the total quota of 320 permits

The Department working with the Department of Transport will keep this matter under review.

Microfinance Loan Fund Scheme

Questions (30)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

30. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of persons that have applied for a microfinance loan through Microfinance Ireland and the local enterprise offices, LEOs, in each of the past five years; the number of persons that have received a loan in each of the past five years; the average length of time for the processing of each loan from first engagement of the customer to the delivery of the loan; the number of steps necessary for businesses to take to achieve a loan; the rate of interest; and the reason he reduced the cap on loans from €50,000 to €25,000 in the middle of an economic crisis. [2695/21]

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Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

The Microenterprise Loan Fund administered by Microfinance Ireland provides loans to businesses that do not meet the conventional risk criteria applied by commercial lenders and have less than ten employees.

Data on the number of microenterprises that applied for a loan directly from Microfinance Ireland and through the LEO network in each of the past five years and the number of microenterprises that drew down a loan in each of the past five years is provided in the table below.

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020*

Number of persons that have applied for loans directly from MFI

324

438

610

644

1,229

Number of persons that have applied for loans from MFI through the LEO network

433

367

326

327

665

The number of persons that have received a loan in each of the past five years (loan drawn)

330

358

346

386

978

*The latest data available is up to 31 October

The steps required to obtain a loan are:

- The applicant must choose the loan package that suits the business and register their interest in that loan package. MFI will then send the applicant the relevant document package.

- The applicant must prepare and submit an application.

- MFI will assign a loan assessor who will contact the applicant directly to discuss the application and the business.

- MFI will make a credit decision

- MFI will contact the successful applicant to request documents to be submitted in order to draw down the loan

Further details are available on the MFI website https://microfinanceireland.ie/application-process/

The average processing time of a loan application up to the credit decision is 2.33 days where a complete application is provided and this extends to 9 days in the case of incomplete applications. The applicant then has 21 days to provide documents to allow drawdown and has a further 60 days in which to draw down the loan.

Standard loans from Microfinance Ireland have interest rates of between 6.8% and 7.8% with reduced rates for the Covid-19 loan and Brexit Business Loan of 4.5% where the application is made through the Local Enterprise Network or other partners or 5.5% where the application is submitted directly to MFI.

The maximum loan level was reduced in August 2020 for two reasons. Firstly, my Department's COVID Credit Guarantee Scheme was launched in September with loans from €10,000 to €1 million. It was important not to have two state loan products competing with each other. Secondly, the EIB EASI counter guarantee, which MFI has access to, only covers individual loans to a maximum of €25,000. Following MFI rapid emergency response in March, it was prudent for the state to ensure as many MFI loans could avail of this cost reducing measure.

I wish to assure the Deputy that MFI are an important resource fully supported by myself and my Department and are ready to continue to provide loans to micro businesses through their Brexit, COVID and standard loans.