Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are out of order.
Finance Bill 2020: Report Stage
Amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 95 are related and will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 10, between lines 34 and 35, to insert the following:
“Report on economic and distributional impact of the Help to Buy Scheme
8. The Minister shall, within six months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before Dáil Éireann a report on the economic and distributional impact of the Help to Buy Scheme.”.
As we begin Report Stage of the Finance Bill 2020, I acknowledge we had a lengthy debate on many of the sections and, indeed, on the subject matter of many of the amendments that have been tabled on Report Stage for further emphasis. I will not repeat all that was said on Committee Stage. We had a serious engagement over three days with the Minister on many of them, but some of them require further emphasis.
Before going further, I thank the officials from the Department and the Revenue Commissioners for their briefing material and their facilitation of Sinn Féin in preparing for this debate. I also thank the committee secretariat which made Committee Stage go quite smoothly. It was mostly held virtually. I believe it was the first time Committee Stage of a legislative measure was passed after probably more than 90% of the scrutiny being conducted in a virtual manner.
This amendment relates to the help-to-buy scheme. The Minister and I strongly differ on this issue. In my view, the help-to-buy scheme has been a flawed policy that is increasing house prices. It is putting house prices further out of reach of first-time buyers as well as for those who are moving up, perhaps from an apartment to a house. They are unable to benefit from the first-time buyers scheme, but the house prices are increasing. There is anecdotal evidence of house prices increasing as announcements are made. Not only is the Government extending the scheme year on year, it has also turbo boosted the scheme by increasing it by €10,000. The scheme was due to finish at the end of this year, but the Government intends to continue it for another year.
It is worth echoing the sentiments of the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, conference. Dr. Barra Roantree, addressing the conference on the help-to-buy scheme and this version of it, said that it is likely to fuel property price growth and to increase prices. Documentation from the Parliamentary Budget Office states that the scheme is not meeting its objectives. Recently published figures from Banking and Payments Federation Ireland show that mortgage approvals have increased, but for first-time buyers the value of the mortgages being drawn down has increased on average by €10,000 to €245,000 compared to last year, so house prices are increasing. This bears out what has been said by the ESRI and other commentators who have repeatedly issued warnings.
There is also a distributional equity issue with this policy choice. Some 40% of the people who will receive €30,000 of taxpayers' money do not require it to be able to purchase a home. It is important to remember that. There are thousands of people who will be in that bracket. Many people who are listening to this debate know quite well that they could do with a helping hand, not to mind €30,000. This measure will cost an additional €43 million in 2021. For that reason, I put forward this amendment seeking a report on the economic and distributional impacts of the help-to-buy scheme. It is important as the Minister continues to extend the scheme year after year. In addition, this year he increased the value of the scheme from €20,000 to €30,000 and from 5% to 10% of the purchase price of the house. It is essential that a report is carried out on the economic and distributional impact of the help-to-buy scheme.
I will be brief because we had a lengthy debate on this on Committee Stage. I will repeat some of the key reasons we would support the production of a report examining this issue. We believe the scheme is flawed in a number of respects. First, we have issues with the supply of housing at present. The scheme will increase demand. It is quite obvious what happens in a situation in which there is increased demand and a more or less steady supply. It will push up prices. There is evidence of that already in Cork and I believe the same applies elsewhere, especially in the cities.
The beneficiary of that is the developer who pockets an increased profit, and not a small profit. The banks are beneficiaries as well. While I accept that some first-time buyers will benefit from the scheme, in 40% of cases it is individuals, couples or households who would be buying in any case even if the scheme did not exist. The reverse is the case as well. There are many people on low incomes who do not have significant savings who will not be able to benefit from the scheme. Perhaps those most in need do not benefit and those who are in lesser need do, but the big beneficiaries are the developers.
I would like if the scheme were put to one side now. I do not have the option of bringing a motion on that to the House, so I am supporting the amendment to the effect that we will receive an urgent report on this. This scheme costs a fair few bob. It will be €43 million for next year. Up to the end of June this year the cumulative cost of the scheme to the taxpayer over the years has been €289 million. Those resources would be far more usefully employed if we invested directly in social and affordable housing through the local authorities. I support the amendment.
I echo the words of my colleague, Deputy Doherty, about all the assistance that was given in the smooth running of the discussion on the Bill on Committee Stage. It was my first Finance Bill.
I thought it ran very smoothly because of the great work put in by a lot of people. I also thank them for that.
It has been said that we had a very lengthy debate on the scheme, and I expressed my views on it. I think that this scheme is inflationary and does not benefit the people it is supposed to benefit - the first-time buyers. In reality, its inflationary angle means that it helps the developers and the banks rather than those who are trying to save to buy their first homes. From what previous speakers have said, we know that more than 40% of those who have availed of the scheme were already in a position to buy their homes. Therefore, we know that it is poorly targeted and does not really help the intention of the scheme. That alone should have cast doubt on the scheme in general. I do not see the purpose of continuing it. I hope we get support for having a report. The report would detail all the effects of the scheme. If the Government feels differently and believes the scheme is very beneficial, why not have a report and let it prove what it really does? I support the amendment.
I also acknowledge all the work done by the officials in facilitating the smooth running of Committee Stage of the Finance Bill. I want to use my seven minutes to clarify a matter that was raised on Committee Stage in an exchange on the employment wage subsidy scheme. A debate took place between Deputy Doherty and me on amendments Nos. 176 to 180 which related to section 61. The issue arose towards the end of the Committee Stage debate and it related to the nature of flexibility that I have, as Minister for Finance, to extend beyond 31 January 2021 the enhanced rates of subsidy available to employers under the scheme that are being legislated for as part of the Finance Bill process. The enhanced rates that apply from 20 October 2020 until 31 January 2021 are due to cease on 31 January. However, the position is that following the enactment of the changes that were introduced on Committee Stage, I have the flexibility to retain the enhanced rates of subsidy without the need for primary legislation. This will form part of the existing authority that I have to amend aspects of the scheme that relate to rates, qualification criteria and the duration of the scheme. The scheme will be kept under review. At this time, I do not have plans to change those criteria before 31 January. I will make a decision at that point. Given that it was the subject of an exchange during Committee Stage of the Finance Bill and is a very important part of the Finance Bill, I wanted to clarify the matter at the start of Report Stage because I did not give the correct answer when the matter was raised with me by Deputy Doherty.
We take a different view on the help-to-buy scheme. I went through many of these arguments on Committee Stage, but I want to emphasise a number of them again now. First, because this scheme is concentrated entirely on new homes and at first-time buyers, I do not believe it has the inflationary effect that the Deputy suggested it has. Second, that view is borne out if one looks at the value of homes that are included and were supported by the help-to-buy scheme. From January to the end of October this year, it stood at €329,000 while across the same period a year ago it was €328,000. Third, I heard many Deputies make the point that we need to have plans in place to support the direct building of houses. Those plans are in place. They are in place through the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the work done by the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and his predecessor as Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. We have capital plans in place that are multiples of the cost of the help-to-buy scheme that are about either directly building homes or putting in place the infrastructure through public money to allow homes to be built elsewhere. Across the Government, we have a variety of different schemes in place where public money is being used to build homes or enable them to be built. The help-to-buy scheme is a low portion of the entirety of schemes that are in place elsewhere. If one looks at the various independent reports that have been done on the help-to-buy scheme, one will see that those reports say that the scheme has had a minor effect on the movement of prices across that period.
To deal with the point raised by the Deputies, I will always keep this scheme under review, as I do with other schemes. I believe the change we have made to the scheme is merited in light of the uncertainty in the housing market and of what we need to do to continue to encourage the building of new homes this year and next year. I can tell it does not have the inflationary effect that is being suggested by the Opposition. I believe it is appropriate that we help first-time buyers through the tax code with the purchase of their first home.
I thank the Minister for putting the correct information on the record of the House regarding the power to vary rates, which is the appropriate position in order that we do not have to revisit primary legislation. It is welcome that that is the case and that the position has been clarified.
The help-to-buy scheme is a part of it, but this goes to the core of Government housing policy. The Minister has told us about all the various supports and the funding that is available but the reality is that unlike Deputy Mairéad Farrell, this is not my first finance Bill. I think it is my 11th or 12th finance Bill,, if we include an emergency finance Bill. Most of them were under Fine Gael Ministers, and nearly half of them were introduced by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe. The reality is that when we look at housing, as a result of the initiatives that have been introduced in budget after budget, we have a crisis in housing not over the past 12 months alone but in recent years. Are house prices spiralling out of control? Yes, they are. Is it just the Opposition that is saying this measure is pushing up house prices? No, it is not. The Minister should listen to the ESRI and other independent reports. Do 40% of those who are going to get €30,000 of taxpayers' money need it to buy a house? No, they do not. That is not me saying this. They are indisputable facts. That is why, at the very least, the Minister should be considering an independent report on the economic and distributional impact of the scheme. At the very core of the issue is the flawed housing policy of Fine Gael. At a time of great lack of availability, the party introduced a measure that is only about increasing demand, which is then, unfortunately, going to push up house prices.
I support the previous speakers. I think the scheme should be reviewed. An independent assessment should be carried out. I too have been here for a number of finance Bills. We keep pleading for this year in and year out. There was a group outside the Dáil today with 56 black balloons representing the number of homeless people who have lost their lives in this city this year. It is a truly shocking figure. That is replicated up and down the country.
We never used to have homelessness in Tipperary but now we have it with gusto. There are large waiting lists for houses. We are just not building the houses. We are supporting couples and people to build houses who do not need the support because they can build them themselves.
I was on the housing committee for the past four years and we talked and talked about housing. If talk, reports and paper could build houses, there would not be a homeless person in the country.
I wish to speak to amendment No. 95 and the help-to-buy scheme.
I have continually said we should look at this in the context of expanding the scheme to include first-time buyers of properties that are vacant in our towns and villages. It is something we must examine.
The housing market in this country is dysfunctional. The private sector is not building houses because developers cannot get the required price. People cannot buy houses because they cannot afford the required mortgages that are a function of the costs of building. We all keep talking about how many houses we will build, and year in and year out we set targets on the number of houses we will build.
There are two glaringly obvious issues. The first is that we need an effective and affordable housing scheme. The second is that we must look at the gift we have, which is the amount of existing properties that are vacant in our towns and villages. It is why we ask the Minister to come back with a report to see what can be done with the scheme within 90 days of the budget being passed. I know the Department dealing with community and rural development, in which I have been a Minister of State, was considering pilot schemes. This matter is bigger than just a town or village renewal scheme and it must be much better.
There are three suggestions to consider. The first is to expand the help-to-buy scheme, the second is to look at the Rebuilding Ireland home loan mortgage to include refurbishment, and the third is to introduce a very simple VAT refund scheme for first-time buyers of properties in our towns and villages that are vacant but which could be converted to residential and family homes.
We are stating very clearly that we do not believe the help-to-buy scheme is doing what it is supposed to do or what it says on the tin, so to speak. It is not helping those who need it most or who are looking to buy a house for the very first time.
It was mentioned earlier that we believe there is a need for proper social or public housing as well as a proper affordable housing plan, which we have yet to see. The reality is that where I am from in Galway city, there was a ten-year period in which not a single unit of public housing was built. The repercussions are that people have now been on the social housing waiting list in Galway city for 15 years and have never been offered a home.
We need to act urgently on this housing crisis. The Government has a scheme that we do not believe is helping people so we are asking for a report on it. The Minister disagrees, which is fair enough, but we are still asking for an investigation into whether we are correct in saying the scheme is not doing what it is supposed to. I urge the Minister to allow that report to go ahead.
One of the reasons for tabling this amendment is that we want to try to ensure the vacant housing can be occupied. This is a matter I have taken up with the Minister on numerous occasions with regard to the fair deal scheme, and I hope we can see movement there that could release potentially up to 9,000 vacant homes.
There are many homes across rural Ireland in the middle of villages and premises that could be refurbished and reoccupied while bringing young families back into communities where there is already infrastructure in place. This would not require new schools, footpaths or lighting, for example. As I have said before, I am talking about streets where a football may not have been kicked for a generation.
We are spending in excess of €30,000 providing serviced sites in Dublin for local authorities and private developers to develop. As I have said, if we took half that and gave a grant of €15,000 for families to release rental property in Dublin, come down the country and refurbish an existing vacant house in parts of the country where there has been depopulation, it would be a win-win scenario. It would bring life back to a rural community while at the same time taking pressure off the existing housing stock in Dublin, where we could release a home to the market for a family straight away rather than having to wait for a new house to be built.
I will deal with the points made by Deputies Canney and Naughten. We must look at how we can ensure that properties which are either derelict or that have been vacant for a very long period can be renovated and returned to use. I am seeing that work taking place now in local authorities through money being made available to them by the Government and the use of grants. It is the appropriate way in which the challenge referred to by Deputies Naughten and Canney can and should be addressed. It should be done by local authorities receiving funding from central government to do that work. It is a targeted way of ensuring that properties which are either derelict or that do not have anybody living in them can be renovated and brought back to life. The tax code would not be an effective way of achieving the aim.
The intention behind the help-to-buy scheme in the first place is to try to put in place or strengthen incentives for the delivery of new homes so as to see our total housing stock increased. It has been carefully calibrated to avoid the inflationary risk that has been highlighted by some Deputies. It is not happening because of the focus in place and the fact that it only applies to first-time purchases and newly built homes. It is why the scheme is avoiding the kind of risk that could be there if the scheme was broader, such as if it applied to second or third purchases or if it applied to existing homes.
This is a scheme that has helped many thousands of people with their first purchase and it is of help in supporting the supply of particular forms of housing. It is very important in how we respond to the existing housing challenges. I do not accept the amendment, but across the year we will study the impact of this policy to ensure it continues to have the positive effect we want it to have.
Is the amendment being pressed?
It is. The amendment seeks a report but we are really attempting to get the Government to stop going in this direction of fuelling property prices, which really only benefits developers. This is a transfer of taxpayers' money that ultimately ends up in developers' pockets as house prices are pushed beyond the reach of many. It is symptomatic of a failed Government policy on housing.
The Ceann Comhairle may have seen today 56 black balloons outside the gates of our Parliament. Those 56 balloons represent 56 people who died in homelessness services in Dublin alone this year. Some of those - far too many - died on our streets. It is another symptom of a failed Government housing policy. For those reasons, I will press the amendment.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 10, between lines 34 and 35, to insert the following:
"8. The Minister shall, by 1 March 2021, prepare and lay before Dáil Éireann a report on the Help-to-Buy scheme which shall cover the following areas:
(a) the impact on overall house prices of the scheme;
(b) the impact on the profits in construction, banking, and other related property sectors;
(c) other measures and interventions that may deliver affordable housing at a lower cost to householders and public funds.".
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 11, after line 34, to insert the following:
“Report on options for accelerated capital allowances
11. The Minister shall, within 90 days of the passing of this Act, publish a report on options for accelerated capital allowances to assist companies in facilitating employees to work remotely.".
We had a debate on Committee Stage about putting in place additional supports to encourage remote and blended working. I have made the point to the Minister on a number of occasions that the supports and incentives that are available at the moment, at €3.20 per day, are not sufficient to encourage people to work remotely. Having listened to the contributions from the Minister and from Deputies Doherty and Nash on Committee Stage, I withdrew the amendment that I had tabled. I have now tabled a different one along the lines of what the aforementioned Deputies spoke about on Committee Stage in terms of providing a targeted, accelerated capital allowance for certain businesses to assist them in facilitating remote working for their employees, where it would be prohibitive for them to do so. I am trying to send out a clear message within the tax code that we want employers to be proactive in facilitating remote and blended working. We want them to come up with innovative ways to ensure that people can work remotely and can remain within their own communities, minimising the amount of commuting in and out of the city. The amendment I have tabled which seeks to facilitate this through accelerated capital allowances reflects the views of colleagues expressed on Committee Stage and I hope the Minister can accept it.
I support Deputy Naughten's amendment and must declare that I am a self-employed person myself. Remote working has come into its own since lockdown but there are difficulties with it for many reasons, including the lack of broadband and other facilities. Workers should be encouraged to work remotely and employers should get some concessions or supports to put in infrastructure for their employees and their families. In families, if husbands, wives or partners are working from home, this represents a drain on services and if there are children in the household as well, depending on the phone lines and the technology, it can be very frustrating. The pittance of an allowance provided, at €3.20 per day, is nothing. Remote working needs tangible and intangible supports. There needs to be a bias towards this to encourage employers to put infrastructure in place for their employees because everyone benefits. Some people are travelling between two and four hours, twice a day, to get to work. Huge amounts of time can be saved and people are fresher in work as they work their eight or nine hours rather than being stuck in their cars, damaging the environment and putting themselves under enormous pressure because the roads are so busy. Commuting causes so much strain and stress. I am supporting this amendment.
Remote working has been established as a way of life through Covid-19 and it will continue to be thus post Covid. We have been making preparations for this in the last number of years, including through expenditure on the national broadband plan and I acknowledge the Minister's efforts in getting the contract in place. It is important now to look at where we are going into the future and how we are going to deal with it. This amendment seeks to incentivise employers and employees to enable people to work remotely at home or in co-working spaces in order to save on everything, including the environment, by having less traffic on the roads. Accelerated capital allowances would be a great way for the Government to send a message to people that it will support employees and employers and enable remote working.
I support the principle of what Deputy Naughten is trying to achieve here and acknowledge that he took on board some of the concerns I expressed on Committee Stage with the amendment he proposed then. Fundamentally, it is the responsibility of employers to provide the necessary equipment and facilities that employees require to allow them to work safely from home but it is worth exploring ways in which we can support employers who may not have the necessary resources to provide the supports that vast swathes of workers will require as we move more formally to blended working arrangements over the next period, given the lessons we have learned from the Covid-19 working from home experience. This is certainly something that is worth exploring and I would endorse it on that basis. I look forward to hearing the Minister's views on it and whether it is something his Department will examine in closer detail.
I wish to make two points before going into the detail of the issues that have been raised by the Deputies. In the debate that is to ensue regarding the right balance between working at home and working in an office that is generally located in a city, we should acknowledge that there is a value in having city centres that are vibrant and busy. There is a value in that and this is not just an argument about Dublin city centre. It is an argument that is important for many cities across our country. In making decisions regarding where work is to be located in the future, it is important that we do not lose sight of the value of having vibrant urban cores in our cities. In the process to which the Deputies refer, there are benefits to the employer in the decision of people to work from home. There are savings to the employer in terms of rent for offices, the size of offices required and their location and there are efficiencies that employers can enjoy when their employees work from home some of the time. If that benefit is there for employers, then we must ask what the role of the taxpayer is in supporting that decision and making more funding available for it. These are the issues that need to be teased out.
I have frequently said to Deputy Naughten that we may end up with something that is very blended in comparison to where we are at the moment. Right now, very few people are working in offices and most are working from home. It may well be the case that the stable equilibrium we end up is not the opposite of that but is somewhere in the middle. It is an issue that needs to be teased out. We must consider the benefits employers may gain by having more of their staff working from home.
A final point to emphasise in this debate is what this means for our economy overall. There is value in workers, particularly young workers and those who are at the start of their careers, being in an environment in which they are working with other employees. A big pillar of our economy is that we are skills-based. How are those skills developed? They are developed in the workplace. It is not in the long-term interest of those who work for employers all over our country or in the long-term interest of the development of skills to have more and more people not spending any time with their fellow employees in an office environment. These are the issues that we need work on, debate and tease out.
I hope that the availability of one or more vaccines next year will facilitate the return to offices.
We then need to look at how this can be managed safely, while remaining mindful of some of the points on which I have just touched. As regards how this will be done, an interdepartmental group on remote working strategy has been established. This is chaired, appropriately, by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. This group looks at these debates in carrying out its work and I hope this work will form a very important input in resolving some of the issues the Deputies have raised.
The current position is that remote working costs incurred by an employer wholly and exclusively for the purposes of the business may be deducted by that employer in the normal course of calculating the business's tax liability. Depending on the nature of an expense, it may be a revenue expense deductible wholly in the first year or a capital cost qualifying for allowances over an eight-year period. This is in line with the treatment of similar costs incurred for employees working from the employer's place of business.
It is important to recognise that not every employer's business can be undertaken by employees working from home and that not every employee is able to work from home. This may be because of any of a variety of reasons, including the nature of his or her home environment.
From the perspective of the individual employer, there is no specific tax credit available to employees as a result of working from home. I am advised by Revenue, however, that where eworkers incur certain extra expenditure in the performance of their duties of employment remotely or from home, such as additional heating or electricity costs, a Revenue administrative practice is in place that allows an employer to make payments of up to €3.20 per day to such employees, subject to certain conditions, without deducting PAYE, PRSI or USC. Revenue has confirmed that PAYE workers using their primary residence as a workplace during the period of the Covid-19 restrictions qualify as eworkers for the purposes of this practice.
As I have already noted, work is ongoing in my Department with regard to this issue. An interdepartmental group is in place to consider the issue of remote working more generally. I believe that the work of this group will provide a way to debate this matter with the Oireachtas. It is for that reason that I do not propose to accept the amendment.
The subtext of what the Minister has articulated is very Dublin-centric. It is important to realise that Ireland's development is radically lopsided. In European terms, Ireland is an outlier with regard to the size of its capital city in comparison with the rest of the country. Even in Britain, where London is considered too big for the British economy, London has half as much dominance as Dublin has here. To split up this country, literally a third of the population lives in the overheated capital city. Another third commutes to the capital city from as far away as Cork, Galway and Ulster every day. The other third of the country comprises rural Ireland, which is being depopulated of its young people. There is a massive problem with spatial development in this country and the Government is not attending to it seriously.
There is a number of costs to this. The first is the cost of this commuter hell for the families themselves. There is a massive financial cost associated with travelling to and from Dublin every day in addition to the massive family cost of not getting to see one's kids if one is constantly in traffic. I hope the Minister will listen to the following phenomenal statistic. In my own county of Meath, more than half of people leave the county to go to work every morning. The majority of Meath people leave Meath to work while a minority work in the county. In some towns and villages, one can play football on the main street at midday on a Friday such is the level of imbalance in this society.
This amendment is a very logical step towards a small rebalancing which would allow people to work well, effectively and efficiently while remaining closer to their families and in their own communities. I have no doubt that, if this policy was put in place, an opportunity to grow other businesses and enterprises in those localities would also arise.
In response to what the Minister said, I too would be seriously concerned if we are talking about the centres of cities only. As I stated earlier, we must also consider the centres of our towns and villages. One must also take into account the lack of balance in this country. The European Commission has written to us to tell this Government that the north west and western region has been downgraded to a region in transition. We need to make sure that we address that and that we positively discriminate in favour of the people living in these areas and the people we want to bring into these areas. One of the tools to achieve this is remote working and co-working in our towns and villages. I agree that there must be a blended working environment but, if we are to concentrate on bringing people back into the cities, we will be doing a huge disservice to the people in the regions and we will get more letters from the European Commission telling us that our regions have been further downgraded. We need to grasp this urgently.
I too am disappointed with the Minister's response. This is a no-brainer. Things are different at the moment because of Covid, but before the pandemic one could not travel or get accommodation in the cities. We see the homelessness crisis and the other pressures. This is the case in many of our big cities but the capital is completely bogged down. We need supports to allow people to live and work in the country, at least on a blended working basis.
With regard to Project Ireland 2040, the county development plan for Tipperary is being reviewed at the moment. I am shocked to see what is happening in this regard. Dealing with this plan has always been a prerogative of the council but there is now oversight from a new agency which has been set up. The name of it will come to me. This agency can reject what the council decides. We need a recalibration in respect of what is going on in our country. It is totally ham-fisted and unsustainable. The EU is right to be concerned about it because we are worst of all.
There are population explosions in this city and other cities. Additional schools and hospitals are being built, for example, the children's hospital, but we in the country cannot get access. Under our Constitution, country people are entitled to eke out a living as well as those living in the major cities. I see constant encroachment, for example, with regard to the county development plan. We were hoping to have Project Ireland 2040 reviewed. Whatever the elected councillors in Tipperary decide can now be vetoed by this new set-up in Dublin. We are back to the time of Cromwell; to hell or to Connacht. We do not want to go to hell and we do not necessarily want to go to Connacht. We want to stay in Munster-----
What is wrong with Connacht?
-----and Tipperary. I did not mean to say that. We want to stay in Tipperary.
We will show you on Sunday.
Maybe you will and maybe you will not. We will give as good as we get. Tá súil agam go mbeidh an bua againn. We want to be able to live and the countryside is a better place for that. We are losing businesses, families and people. What do we have? Afforestation. Now we will not even be allowed to cut down forests. It is a case of hell or to Connacht and Famine times again.
With regard to my concern, I made a similar argument to the Minister last year. While the narrative might have been different, the position was the same. The Minister was not prepared to support remote working. My fear is that the reason for the current narrative is that we are trying to protect the value of pension fund investments. Such funds have bought a lot of office accommodation here in Dublin. That is my genuine fear. We absolutely need to support city centres, but that is not where the issue lies. Across the globe, investors are coming back to city centres to buy office accommodation. The Minister will know of the investment Salesforce is making. It specifically wants accommodation in city centres rather than in any other locations. That is not the issue here.
I am concerned that we are taking an approach that, as far as the taxation code is concerned, involves being completely neutral on where people should work. In reality, that means we are giving an incentive for people to remain in the existing rat run and offices. People will be doing blended working, not working 100% at home. This means whatever equipment is purchased for them to use at home will be utilised for two or three days per week. There will be an additional cost for an employer with a hot-desking facility or if the employee is travelling to the city centre to work for two days per week. That is why the Minister needs to put accelerated capital allowances in place for such employers.
This is supposed to be a green Government. Surely, it makes sense to take commuting cars off the streets of Dublin and all other streets. It should not be only about having vibrant urban cores in our cities. It should be about having vibrant urban cores in our towns and villages where we have hot-desking facilities as well.
I welcome the amendment by Deputy Naughten. He acknowledged that it derived partly from a contribution I made on Committee Stage on the need to explore accelerated capital allowances and associated caveats since not all companies are the same. Capital allowances are relevant for any company that is facilitating remote working. Companies can claim capital allowances on expenditure anyway. They can claim at a rate of 12.5% over a period of eight years. This could offset the full amount of the investment over an eight-year period. Accelerated capital allowances would allow all that to be claimed in one year. It would be a cash flow issue as opposed to a revenue loss issue for the State, but it would be an incentive for companies that may not be in a position to wait eight years to recoup or offset the full amount of expenditure against their taxable profits to support employees who are working from home.
Many issues have been touched on in terms of the benefits of remote working. The Minister has outlined the need for vibrant city centres. That is important and no one disputes it. However, the importance of having vibrant towns, vibrant rural communities and people working from home in those places matters too. Many people, including people from my extended family, commute from west Donegal to Dublin on a weekly basis and there are costs incurred. Being at home and being able to go to the local café as opposed to the café in the city centre is equally important for businesses in those communities. As I said, the issue of accelerated capital allowances involves bringing forward in a timely manner the ability to be able to claim all of them in one year as opposed to spreading them over a period of eight years.
The Minister will acknowledge that there are other more advanced capital allowances that can be claimed at a rate of 15% for other types of expenditure. It does not have to be a case of one or the other. The Deputy is asking for a report. Let us consider this. Before the pandemic ever visited us and brought all the pain and misery that it has brought, remote working was more and more part of our future. That is the reality. We have to find ways to support it so that we can have remote hubs where people can access proper services and so on. People will be availing of this from their homes. The Minister will be aware that several years ago we had a discussion on this on the Finance Bill. If memory serves me right it was three or four years ago. The Minister brought forward changes to the Finance Act and introduced a new category of accelerated capital allowances. The category of accelerated capital allowances was for gym equipment where companies provided gym equipment that could be of use to their employees. The Minister and the Department recognised the importance of workers being able to stay fit and of employers being able to offset in one calendar year the cost of providing gym equipment to their employees. In another case, a higher rate was provided for the building or the extension of a building where gym equipment would be housed.
What is the difference? Is there not a social value in supporting individuals who are remote working, who want to remote work and who may be involved in a hybrid of remote working on a Monday or Friday and travelling to the city or town centre in the middle of the week? Many workers to whom I have talked want a little of both.
We are going to have a situation in future where people are not properly equipped. People are doing this type of work from kitchen tables and chairs. All of this will cause untold problems in future with the health and well-being of workers, because those settings are not designed for a person to sit and work for eight hours at length.
This is a timing issue from a taxation point of view. It is not a revenue gain or loss. The question we have to ask is whether there is a social good in terms of supporting remote working. I believe there is and that it is going in that direction anyway. I recall a briefing in the Department of the Taoiseach, perhaps a year ago, where someone talked about how by 2050 there would be more people remote working than in physical buildings, although I could be corrected on the numbers. The pandemic has accelerated that pathway.
All that is being asked for is a report. This issue should be examined in a timely manner. It should be published well in advance of the Finance Bill next year so that we can have an informed discussion on whether or which way we should try to support this.
As I said in my contribution on Committee Stage and today on Report Stage, I recognise that not all businesses will need this support. However, some businesses will. Most important, workers may need the proper equipment and supports to be able to work from home, if that is where they are working. Moreover, a company may need to be able to equip a satellite unit or hub to facilitate remote working.
As I said in my earlier contribution on the amendment, we need a balance. It is the case that we will have far more people working from home than we had before the pandemic. We can develop a balance that is good for them and that is, in turn, good for their employers and the Irish economy. I am in favour of finding that balance.
I was in favour of finding the balance before Covid-19 arrived in our country. That is why is I supported the roll-out of the national broadband plan, which is the critical enabler in how we ensure the right kind of connectivity is in place to support more employers being located outside of busy centres and in supporting more work being done at home. Many who were critical of the decision of the last Government to go ahead with the national broadband plan at that point are now calling for an accelerated roll-out of the national broadband plan. That is why it was the right decision.
A process is under way within Government to look at all these matters. This can inform the Oireachtas debate. In conclusion, we already have significant supports in place for employees in respect of the cost of working from home. There are also provisions within the tax code to allow employers to deal with business costs as well. Those supports are in place. They are already of significant help to those incurring more cost in working from home.
As we look at the drawdown of various reliefs in 2020 I imagine we will see more and more expenses being registered against the cost of working from home. The core reason I do not believe this amendment is justified is because this work is already under way within Government. I imagine the report will either be publicly available or a version of it will be publicly available to facilitate the debate that the Deputies are looking for.
Is the amendment being pressed?
I will respond briefly to the Minister. The reality is that the approach in future will be probably two days at home, two days from a hot-desking facility and one day in the office.
The same capital allowance is being given for an office desk which may be occupied five days a week as for a desk at home which might be occupied for two days a week. I also refer to the additional costs in respect of the hot-desking facilities. We are not comparing like with like here, and that is why there should be accelerated capital allowances.
The interdepartmental group established by the Government is welcome. If the Minister recalls, however, 12 months ago he announced the establishment of a group to look at remote working or hot-desking in respect of civil servants working from provincial locations. We are now 12 months down the road and we have not seen much progress on that endeavour.
I want to expand on this point. I ask the Minister to think of a company. It will be possible for that company to buy a treadmill, a set of dumbbells, a rowing machine or a bench press and offset all those costs against its profits in one year. If that company, however, wants to buy a proper chair for a remote worker, so that he or she will not have spinal or back problems, the company will have to offset those costs over eight years. That is where this does not make sense, and that is why this amendment should be accepted. All that is being sought is a report. Seriously, why can the Minister not accept this amendment?
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 11, after line 34, to insert the following:
“Report on operation of income tax relief for cross-border workers
11. The Minister shall, within six months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before Dáil Éireann a report on the operation of income tax relief for cross-border workers under section 825A of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, including the consideration of options to regularise the temporary relief granted by Revenue under section 825A in response to Covid-19 and further measures to facilitate cross-border workers in the future.”.
This amendment concerns a discussion I had with the Minister on Committee Stage regarding cross-Border workers. I asked the Minister to look at this issue through the prism of Brexit and the Good Friday Agreement, GFA. As the Minister will be aware, there is a relief in our tax code called the trans-border relief. People can claim this if they are working wholly outside the State, that is, the jurisdiction, and commuting to work. Mostly, that will involve people working across the Border. In other cases, however, people resident here could perhaps be flying to Manchester or London and be working five days a week in Britain, or elsewhere.
The problem in this area has again been exposed by the pandemic and, in fairness, the Revenue and the Department were quick to act on it. If people carry out any work, which is more than incidental work, in this jurisdiction, then they will lose this trans-border relief. If, for example, people work from home for one day, or half a day, they would lose this relief. That would be the case as long as it was something deemed more than incidental. As a result of the pandemic, the Revenue waived that requirement because we are obviously trying to encourage people not to travel. That is not the issue.
The issue concerns changing work patterns, and we just had a conversation about working from home. If an employee living in Donegal, for example, and working in a company in Derry is availing of this relief, that will mean that the tax which that person pays is calculated in Derry and there is no tax liability in this State. If that person works one day from home, however, that will all be gone. He or she will have a tax liability here then, and the difference between what would be applicable in Derry and this State would have to be paid to the Revenue here. If we look at the reverse case, where an employee was resident in Derry and working in a company in Letterkenny, that employee could work from home up to something like 60 days and still be able to gain the relief. I am not suggesting that this should be right across the board. There is, however, a need to carve out space within our Finance Bill regarding these cross-Border workers on the island of Ireland. I mention looking at this issue through the prism of Brexit, but also in respect of the Good Friday Agreement.
I do not believe we should allow those who live on one side of the Border and work on the other to work remotely most of the year. Let us, however, try to bring the situation into line with what happens in the North. Let us allow for several days where people can work from home. That could be for different reasons. It could be a case where two partners are working. One could be a nurse, a teacher or working on the front line. Perhaps a child is sick on a given day, and that worker who was supposed to travel to Derry cannot do so and works from home instead. If that person works from home on any substantive issue, anything more than something incidental, he or she stands to lose this trans-border relief. That is why there should be flexibility built into this scheme to ensure it is possible for people to work in their place of residence for several days and still be able to avail of the relief.
An energetic group has been established in respect of cross-Border workers. The group has been seeking a meeting with the Minister and I encourage him to have that meeting. The Minister spoke about looking at this issue, which I know from the discussion we had on Committee Stage in respect of the finance papers in July. However, this issue needs more urgency and a commitment that this issue will be carved out and looked more speedily is needed, and that is why I have tabled this amendment.
It is an important issue and affects many people. I am not stipulating what the number of days should be. The Minister can decide that. It could start with 12 or 14 days, whatever number of days he chooses. There must be some flexibility, however. It is far too rigid now. The criteria states that the employment duties must be "wholly exercised outside the State", with none performed in the State, save for duties considered incidental to the foreign employment. That is a situation of a bygone day. Therefore, while we have double taxation arrangements, where there is offsetting of tax from one jurisdiction to the other, trans-border relief is a different matter. We must build into our tax code for workers resident here, but working outside the jurisdiction in the North, the flexibility to not lose this trans-border relief completely if they work from home on a certain number of days in the calendar.
I am aware of the matters raised by the Deputy and I can advise that my officials have been in touch with their counterparts in Northern Ireland regarding this matter. In that regard, I also note that this relief applies not only to persons with UK-based employment but also in respect of employment in the EU and double taxation arrangement network regions in compliance with Ireland's treaty obligations. This relief has broader obligations beyond Northern Ireland therefore, and the suggestion regarding facilitating cross-Border workers should be viewed in that context.
In the case of a person living in Ireland but working in another jurisdiction, the general tax position is that, as an Irish resident, he or she is subject to Irish tax on his or her world-wide income from any source, including the employment exercised outside of the State. At the same time, the employment may be subject to tax in the country in which the work is carried out. In accordance with general principles of international tax, where instances of double taxation arise on the same income, relief against Irish tax may be claimed by way of a credit for any foreign tax already paid, subject to the terms of any applicable double taxation agreement.
Unilateral relief may also be available in certain circumstances under domestic Irish legislation. In the case of a person living in this State, but working in Northern Ireland, the terms of the Ireland-UK double taxation agreement provide for relief by allowing the Irish resident to claim a tax credit for the UK tax paid against any Irish tax which may be due on the same income. The trans-border relief referred to by Deputy Doherty is in addition to the relief provided by the double taxation agreement and may apply, subject to certain conditions, where a person lives in Ireland but works wholly outside the State.
As set out in section 825A of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, in order to qualify for this relief the individual: must be tax resident in Ireland; work in a country that has a double taxation agreement, DTA, with Ireland; be in an employment held for a continuous period of 13 weeks in the year and the employment duties must be wholly exercised outside of the State, with none performed within the State, save for duties considered incidental to the foreign employment; have paid tax in the other country and is not due a refund of the tax; and be present in Ireland for at least one day of every week that he or she works abroad.
Where the trans-border relief applies in the case of an Irish resident who works in the UK, it operates in such a way that only UK tax is charged in the employment income and there is no charge to Irish tax on the same income. Any additional Irish tax that may be due is forgone under domestic Irish legislation.
This tax relief is not normally available for Irish residents who work from home in Ireland. In light of the pandemic, however, Revenue has confirmed that if the employee is required to work from home in the State due to Covid-19, such days spent working at home in the State will not preclude an individual from being entitled to claim this relief providing that all other conditions of the relief are met.
I would like to be clear that the flexibility being shown in the context of the pandemic should not be confused with the overall operation of the measure that requires that a person works outside the State and pays tax in other jurisdictions in order to qualify for the relief.
In the event that the other existing arrangements were to be revisited and done so specifically for Northern Ireland Border workers, a number of issues could arise, including: questions of equitable treatment of Irish residents in respect of employments carried out in Ireland; the competitive position of Irish employers vis-à-vis those in other countries; concerns around the potential for double non-taxation of such workers; and questions around compliance with established principles of international tax.
Any such consideration would also need to be examined in the overall context of Ireland's EU membership, noting that it would likely not be possible for Ireland to give preferential treatment to UK-based employments or Northern Ireland-based employments only without giving similar treatment to other EU member states or double taxation agreement jurisdictions.
As is the case with all taxation maters, this position will be kept under review, and especially in the context of Brexit. I assure Deputy Doherty, however, that in circumstances where this relief does not apply, then relief for foreign tax may be applicable in the normal course, as I set out earlier. As I have already indicated to Deputy Doherty, this is a matter that my officials and the Revenue Commissioners are considering and is an issue that I would propose further examination of in the tax strategy group papers that will be published by the summer of next year.
The Minister has read out word for word the reply to a parliamentary question that he or his officials had scripted and which was given to me previously. Of course there are issues in relation to changing any tax. The Minister has outlined some of them such as, potentially, the impact of it being selective or if it needs to be across the European Union. The Minister also spoke of competitive issues and so on, as well as non-double taxation. This is why I want to see a report on this. It is not like this has never been done across the Border in Strabane, Derry or Newry, for example. If a person is resident there and working in a company in the South in Dublin, Letterkenny or Dundalk, for example, he or she can get this relief and work from home in the North for 60 days and not lose the relief. Many of the issues the Minister talked about have been looked at and addressed in a different jurisdiction and we have to look at them with fresh eyes here.
I am disappointed that the Minister has not addressed anything I said on flexibility, which is the core issue. We know how the relief applies and how double taxation agreements work, which is different and outside of this relief. We know all of that. We are trying to have a debate on whether the Minister believes there is a need for some relief. I would contest that this is not something we should leave until next year. I have asked the Minister if he will meet with the Cross-Border Workers Coalition to discuss this issue. Will the Minister commit to bringing a piece of research forward that does not have to wait until the summer of next year?
The flexibility Deputy Doherty refers to was shown by the Revenue Commissioners in dealing with this matter, in terms of how they have dealt with this issue when the pandemic has changed so much in our country. The research Deputy Doherty is looking for will be dealt with in the context of the tax strategy group papers, which will be done as they are normally done, by next summer. This is, as Deputy Doherty is aware, the way in which we examine matters relating to our tax code.
If the answers I give the Deputy are the same as other answers I have given to him, it is because the issues remain the same. I am committing, through the tax strategy group, that we will look at this issue. It has not been possible for me to meet with the cross-Border group as yet, as it has not been possible for me to meet with many other groups, due to the Finance Bill and other issues I have been dealing with. I would be happy to meet this group at a point in the near future, as I have indicated to a number of other colleagues, because I recognise that it is an issue. There are issues that must be looked at and there is a reporting process in the way to do it, which is the tax strategy group, and that is what I am committing to do.
I have already acknowledged the flexibility of Revenue. It is only in the context of the pandemic. While it is welcome, the rigid application of this relief will go back to the situation where, as I have said, a parent who must work from home because their sick child has to stay home from school will lose this relief. That is the reality and that is how rigid it is. This is what we want to address. It is a nonsense for the Minister to suggest that the only way he can review a taxation issue is to wait for the tax strategy group to look at it, which will not report for another seven to eight months. It is a complete and utter nonsense to say this is the only way we can do this. Obviously, that can be done at any time there is urgency. We may decide to not change the law, if indeed there is a change in the law, until the Finance Bill is done. There is, however, no need to wait until the Finance Bill is done. Taxation can be reviewed at other times too. Without a doubt, if the Minister was so disposed, he could agree.
I welcome that the Minister said he will meet with the cross-Border group. He could also agree that this is an important piece of work and ask his officials to look at it and to furnish a report that could be laid before the Houses or published. That could be done in three, four or five months. It absolutely does not necessitate, and there is nothing set down in law to suggest, that it must wait for the tax strategy group to deal with the issue.
On that basis, and on the basis of lack of urgency, I will press this amendment.
- Andrews, Chris.
- Barry, Mick.
- Boyd Barrett, Richard.
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- Doherty, Pearse.
- Donnelly, Paul.
- Ellis, Dessie.
- Farrell, Mairéad.
- Fitzmaurice, Michael.
- Gould, Thomas.
- Guirke, Johnny.
- Harkin, Marian.
- Healy-Rae, Michael.
- Kelly, Alan.
- Kenny, Martin.
- Kerrane, Claire.
- Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
- McGrath, Mattie.
- Mitchell, Denise.
- Murphy, Paul.
- Mythen, Johnny.
- Nash, Ged.
- Naughten, Denis.
- Nolan, Carol.
- O'Callaghan, Cian.
- O'Reilly, Louise.
- O'Rourke, Darren.
- Ó Broin, Eoin.
- Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
- Ó Murchú, Ruairí.
- Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
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Amendment Nos. 7 and 8 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 11, after line 34, to insert the following:
“Report on tapering out of income tax credits
11. The Minister shall, within six months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before Dáil Éireann a report on tapering out tax credits for incomes between €100,000 and €140,000 at a rate of 2.5 per cent for each €1,000 earned.”.
Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 call on the Minister to prepare and lay before the Dáil a report on progressive tax measures as we emerge from the Covid-19 crisis. In particular, it calls for the tapering out of personal and income tax credits for individual earners who have individual annual income in excess of €100,000 at a rate of 2.5% for each additional €1,000 over €100,000. Amendment No. 8 calls for an additional solidarity tax for individual incomes above €140,000. A similar measure to that provided for in amendment No. 7 was introduced by Gordon Brown as Chancellor of the Exchequer in Britain under a Labour Government many years ago. This progressive measure would bring in €236 million to the State in 2021.
It is important that as we emerge from the Covid crisis we acknowledge that there will be a sizeable deficit and higher public debt. If we are to be serious about greater access to services, dealing with the housing crisis, and an enhanced role for the State dealing with the climate challenge, we need to have a serious conversation about how all this will be funded. The Government is not being straight with the people about this. In fact, the programme for Government has ruled out any increases in income tax regardless of the level of earnings. Indeed, it suggests that the deficit will be reduced by a combination of carbon, plastic, and sugar taxes. That will be some challenge.
Fine Gael and Deputy Varadkar in particular attacked Sinn Féin during the election because we had the audacity to suggest that we might need to look at PRSI increases. He claimed this would cause huge amounts of job losses. The Tánaiste has taken to Twitter where he is now calling for PRSI increases. Sometimes some lead and others follow, but at least they are starting to talk about how we will deal with this deficit.
We need an honest conversation. Those who have the ability to shoulder an additional burden should do so. Amendment No. 7 proposes that the tax credits individuals get to reduce our tax liabilities should not be available to those at the highest levels of income and they should be tapered out on a progressive basis when individual income reaches €100,000.
I ask the Minister to consider these measures and bring forward a report. He has no problem considering other measures which effect low-income households in the form of carbon tax, which hits lone parents hardest as well as rural dwellers. Will he consider whether we should ask those at the highest ends of society earning in excess of €140,000 individual income if they should pay a little more or if they can go without their full tax credits?
I have listened to Deputy Doherty. Issues such as the role of income tax credits and the future of our income tax code can be, and I am sure will be, considered by the commission which the Government will put in place on taxation and welfare which will provide an input to the Government and the Oireachtas on decisions we may have to make in future to ensure we can pay for better public services that will be needed and changed public services that might be needed in the aftermath of Covid-19. However, I have no doubt that whatever proposals the Government or I bring forward, they will be opposed by Sinn Féin.
I find it extraordinary to hear Sinn Féin talk about the need for tax measures to reduce our deficit when Deputy Doherty calls for the abolition of carbon taxes and the local property tax in discussions on the Finance Bill 2020. Deputy Doherty was very willing to quote the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, earlier in the debate. We will not hear him quote the institutions and experts who argue that broadening the tax base through changes to carbon taxation and property tax plays a valuable role in ensuring we have the money to pay for the public services we need.
Deputy Doherty will no doubt stand up and make a speech saying I am unwilling to raise taxes on those who have more. He will not acknowledge the fact that we already have a very progressive tax code. He may surprise me by acknowledging that those who have more already pay more. I would like to hear him acknowledge that one of the taxes he wants to abolish, local property tax, is a very effective way of ensuring that those who have a higher level of wealth and reside in homes that they own pay a level of tax that reflects that.
The commission on taxation will be able to advise the Government, the Oireachtas and me on what we need to do to ensure a tax base sufficient to pay for the changes we will need to make to public services. When we publish that report and steps need to be taken I will not hold my breath waiting for Sinn Féin's support. The measures that currently allow us to pay for public services are the ones Sinn Féin seeks to repeal. In a few moments we will be debating carbon tax. We will not hear those who oppose it acknowledge the changes made to the social welfare code to ensure the most vulnerable are protected from carbon tax. It is just not credible for Sinn Féin members to talk about their commitment to tackling climate change while telling people we can do that without higher taxes on carbon. It is a difficult argument and for many it is a difficult sell. These are the changes we need to make if we are to decarbonise our economy. We are using the money raised to protect the most vulnerable. These issues can be looked at by the commission on taxation, but one can make a case that a higher marginal rate of tax for those who are earning more can and does affect certain types of jobs we want in our country, which in turn facilitate the creation of other jobs.
I am glad the Minister is sitting down so he will not fall down when I say this. Of course we have a tax system under which people who earn more pay more. I am happy to acknowledge that. Maybe the Minister will acknowledge that this is not always the case. Perhaps he will talk about the special assignee relief programme, SARP, which prevents the highest earners from paying more. It is the result of a nice little measure in the Finance Act 2012 which the Minister has continued. The funds industry lobbied the Minister's former colleague, who is now their chief lobbyist, to extend it in subsequent Finance Acts. It is not always the case that those who earn more pay more. I am interested to hear the Minister's comments. Is he stating that the programme for Government's commitment to introducing no income tax increases is no longer valid? Is that now subject to the report of the commission of taxation?
I have no problem supporting the Minister on many initiatives. The Finance Bill 2020 is quite detailed and there are many sections in it which we support. This is where the Minister's argument falls flat. However, I will not support this Minister in bringing in sweet deals for the vultures and the bankers, or allowing the highest-earning people in this State to reduce their tax liability by hundreds of thousands of euro. By God, I will stand up and call the Minister and Fine Gael out. That is wrong. It is not fair taxation. Yes, I will fight against the introduction of taxes that the ESRI says will place a heavy burden on rural dwellers, lone parents and those on the lowest incomes.
Time and again Sinn Féin has suggested ways to raise revenue by more than we would reduce the burden on the lowest incomes. We would do this by taxing intangible assets. The Minister will not even consider that because he protects those. We would not allow the banks to carry losses forward, but the Minister does not want to deal with banks. Let us help lone parents and rural dwellers by making sure the highest earners cannot avail of the tax exemptions the Minister and his colleagues brought in. The Minister will not go there because he protects those people. I will always stand up and be counted here. I will support the Minister and his finance initiatives when they are worthy of support, but I will call out this Minister and this Government when they need to be called out.
For my part I will call out the hypocrisy of Sinn Féin members, who say they want to tackle climate change but oppose carbon taxation. I will call out the hypocrisy of a party whose Deputies lambaste measures in our country while standing over weaker and less impactful measures in Northern Ireland. I will not accept claims by Sinn Féin, Deputy Doherty or any Opposition Deputy that I, my party or this Government are motivated by anything other than supporting ordinary workers and families, the ordinary taxpayers of this country and their jobs. That motivates everything that I and this Government do.
Deputy Doherty made several claims a moment ago. He talked about SARP. Perhaps we will discuss that scheme as part of the debate on the Finance Bill 2020. The only reason we have a scheme like that is that we exist in a world which Deputy Doherty either does not understand or does not want to recognise. Other countries want the jobs that we have brought to Ireland. That is why we have this scheme. We have corporation tax schemes because foreign direct investment is valuable. Other countries compete for it. The jobs that are sustained in this country by policies that I and the previous Government have stood over, which Deputy Doherty and Sinn Féin have relentlessly attacked, are one of the engines of our tax take. These policies keep jobs in our country at a time of such need.
We will have a debate about the Finance Bill 2020. In the years to come we will have a debate about the kind of economy we want and the policies we will need. This economy's ability to recover and raise the tax revenue we will need has been created by the very policies Deputy Doherty and Sinn Féin have relentlessly opposed and voted against.
More nonsense from the Minister. Can he tell me how his policy of rolling out the red carpet for the vulture funds went? These funds bought hundreds of millions of euro worth of Irish assets and mortgages and do not pay a penny in tax on them. Even today they use charity structures under the Minister's nose. How does that benefit Irish society? What is the benefit of real estate investment trusts, REITs, and other structures, which charge the highest rents in this State, push up house prices and do not pay corporation tax, capital gains tax or tax on their rental income? The Minister tried to divert the argument to corporation tax. Sinn Féin supports the 12.5% corporation tax rate. We disagree with the structures and measures in the Finance Bill 2020 that enable these entities to further reduce their tax liability, in some cases to zero. That is what we stand against.
The Minister asks me to accept his bona fides. I have no problem in doing so, but he must prove them to me. He should close the loopholes for section 110 companies. He should make sure the vulture funds pay their taxes and stop REITs and Irish real estate funds, IREFs, exploiting the Irish property market. He should make sure the highest earners in the State are not able to reduce their tax liability to an effective rate lower than what a hairdresser or butcher in rural Ireland would pay.
If the Minister shows it to me, I will support him, but he does not because time and time again littered in these Finance Bills are these types of measures which protect the elite, and that is the problem. Where that happens, I will call it out. That is my job. Where the Minister does something that is worthy of support, he will have my support.
The Minister has concluded his two opportunities to speak on this matter.
I will not take lectures on any elites on our island from the richest party in our country.
The proposer has the right to reply and that is it.
One can tell the Minister has lost the argument when he does not deal with the substance of the issue.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 11, after line 34, to insert the following:
“Report on income levy on high incomes
11. The Minister shall, within six months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before Dáil Éireann a report on the introduction of a high-income levy of 5 per cent on high incomes in excess of €140,000.”.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 11, after line 34, to the following:
“Report on income tax relief
11. The Minister shall, within six months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before Dáil Éireann a report on an income tax relief equivalent in value to 8.3 per cent of annual rent to all private rental tenants not already in receipt of any State subsidy, examining the social and economic impact of this measure in the context of high levels of rent.”.
We know that rents are extortionate and unsustainable for so many ordinary workers and families, as mentioned in a previous contribution. We know there is a huge cohort of people - I am speaking especially of my age group - who have had to move back home. I know many couples who have had to move back in with their respective parents while they struggle to save to try to get a mortgage. The help-to-buy scheme we talked about earlier does not help. We really need to address this. We need to address the whole issue of rents.
This amendment is a proposal to put money back into the pockets of renters and to give that little bit of support to those who have been struggling for so long trying to rent. We have been told it is unsustainable to pay over 30% of one's income on rent and we know fine rightly that in this State the very unfortunate reality is that that percentage is far higher for most people who are renting. In my home town of Galway city rents are extortionate and people cannot pay them. A huge cohort of people fall outside the criteria to qualify for any kind of financial assistance from the State to pay these rents. They simply cannot afford their rents. We need to do something about this. We need to put money back into these renters' pockets. I urge the Minister to consider this amendment and to consider providing the report called for in it.
Tax relief in respect of rent paid was abolished in budget 2011 and is no longer available to those who commenced renting for the first time from 8 December 2010. This followed a recommendation of the 2009 report by the Commission on Taxation that rent relief should be discontinued. The view of this independent commission was that, in the same manner in which mortgage interest relief increased the cost of housing, rent relief increased the cost of private rented accommodation. Accordingly, the result of reintroducing this relief could well be a transfer of Exchequer funding directly to landlords, which would not have the intended effect of reducing the pressure on tenants. In addition, a tax credit of this nature would be of little benefit to lower-income workers, the unemployed and students, who might not receive the relief as they might not be paying sufficient levels of income tax.
We have other measures in place that seek to deal with the great challenge of rising rents that has been described by Deputies Pearse Doherty and Mairéad Farrell. This is why there is legislation in place on rental pressure zones and why, for example, measures have been in place during the pandemic to protect tenants from pressures they could face and are facing from their landlords. It is for these reasons and others that I do not propose to accept this amendment.
I think this would be an extremely effective way of putting money back into renters' pockets. We have a huge issue, in particular in our cities, of sky-high rents, and I do not see the measures the Government has introduced having a significant effect on those people who come to my weekly clinics telling me they cannot afford their rents and asking me what they can avail of and what can be done. I say to them there is nothing out there to help them when they are struggling and trying to pay their rent month after month. This measure, in my view, would be an effective way of dealing with this, and I ask the Minister to take another look at it.
I wish to say a few words in support of this amendment. Today Inner City Helping the Homeless was outside Leinster House to raise awareness of the fact that 56 people who are homeless have died in this city so far this year. That figure is far higher than last year's or the figure the year before, even though this year is not out and December is a cruel month for people who are homeless. This is happening for a number of reasons. The Minister has stated he will hold an investigation into this. I tabled a parliamentary question just the other day to see what state that investigation is at. It has not been launched yet. One of the reasons for these levels of homelessness and death is the fact that rents are currently far out of kilter with where they should be. In Dublin a yearly rent of €20,000 is not unusual. Rents in this city are currently higher than their Celtic tiger peak. The fact that rents are so high and so unaffordable to such a large section of society should be a flashing neon warning light to the Minister of the ineffectiveness and the failure of Government policy on housing and rents. Something has to be done, more than just putting a 4% rent pressure zone break on rents in particular areas. There needs to be material support to families who are bursting themselves paying perhaps 50% to 60% of their take-home income monthly on rent. I urge the Minister be less theoretical and more practical in people's lives.
I do not think the tax system is the primary way through which to alleviate our extortionate rents but I would support this or any other measure that would give any relief to people paying an absolutely shocking proportion of their income on keeping a roof over their head. I would be surprised if the Minister could stand over the status quo, whether he agrees with this measure or what I think is necessary, that is, real rent controls. By that I mean rent controls whereby a body - it could be a beefed up Residential Tenancies Board or the local authority - just goes in and sets rents at affordable levels and says to landlords: "You cannot charge any more than this." The rough guideline that would be applied is that rents or any other accommodation costs should not be more than about 25% to 30% of an average worker's income, while perhaps looking specifically at the property in question but setting a maximum that any landlord could charge for a property. Of course, even those sorts of rent controls will not solve the problem because the market will not deliver the affordable rents we need for the majority of working people. The State itself has to deliver at scale council housing and affordable rental housing.
That said, even if the Minister does not agree with the amendment, surely he must acknowledge we have an absolutely out of control-----
Thank you, Deputy.
Is there a limit on my time?
There is. The Deputy had two minutes and they are up.
Sorry. The Minister must acknowledge there is a problem that is out of control and that the current policies are not addressing it.
Of course I acknowledge there are significant challenges within the rental market. It could be the case that some things in the rental market will be changed by what is happening with Covid-19 or its aftermath, but that does not take away from the great challenges that are there at the moment. That is why, for example, rental pressure zones are in place, as the Deputy is aware, and it is why so much work is under way to try to deliver more homes and apartments. I believe that at the heart of how we will resolve the issues to which the Deputy is referring is building more homes, including more homes available for rent. An increased number of homes being available brings stability to rent levels and I hope it will, over time, also lead to their greater affordability. I genuinely do not believe that bringing in a tax credit would aid that in any way. I think there is a significant risk that the proposed tax credit would be a very expensive relief for taxpayers and would simply result in higher rents. I do not believe it would help those who need help the most. I believe it would ultimately end up with taxpayers subsidising a higher level of rent. I do not wish to see that happening. I believe the best way of addressing the issue is through the building and provision of more homes to allow more homes to be rented.
Of course I want to see houses being built. I want to see public houses and affordable houses being built. I want to see an affordable housing plan. As I stated earlier to the Minister, there was a ten-year period during which not one social house was built in Galway city. That is the reality with which we are dealing. The fact of the matter is that a significant number of people are renting because of bad housing policy decisions by Government after Government. That is the reality. We do want to see a big housing build plan, but what will we say to the people who need to pay their rent this month, next month and the month after that? What will we say to those who are struggling, month after month, to pay their rent? This is not something the Opposition has made up. All Members know that many people simply cannot afford to pay their rent.
The amendment asks for a report to be prepared. The Minister stated that he does not agree that a relief such as that suggested in the amendment should be brought in. Let us see the report and discover what impact it would have. I do not see why he is not agreeing to have a report prepared in order to let us take a look at the issue. The reality of the matter is that it is not sustainable to continue putting that significant financial stress on families and young workers. It is wrong. I encourage the Minister to think about that again and to support the preparation of a report to examine this issue.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 11, after line 34, to insert the following:
“11. Within three months of the passing of this Act, the Minister shall produce a report on abolishing the USC on all those earning less than €70,000 per year and replacing it with an emergency Covid-19 Solidarity Tax on the incomes of those earning in excess of €100,000 per year and on the profits of companies whose net profits exceed €1 million per year.”.
The amendment proposes the introduction of a Covid solidarity tax, in line with calls that are being made across the world for such taxes. Some jurisdictions are actually implementing Covid solidarity taxes to give real effect to the idea that we are all in it together. People Before Profit and Solidarity have for a very long time argued that there is a significant disparity in the distribution of income and wealth and that the gap between the rich and the poor in terms of income and wealth grows pretty much every year, year on year, has grown to really quite obscene levels in recent years and, even without Covid-19, needs to be addressed.
I know the Minister has read Capital in the Twenty-first Century by Thomas Piketty and therefore knows the argument but, in reality, it has not featured in the thinking of any Government since I was elected to the Dáil to think, as it heads into a budget, that one of the things it must do is to narrow the gap between rich and poor. I have never heard that feature as a budget priority. I have never heard a Minister for Finance get up on budget day and say it is a problem that the richest 10% of the population have 58% of the wealth or that the richest 1% have more wealth than the poorest 50%. That is just not deemed a problem. However, if one told any schoolchild that 1% of the population has more wealth than the poorest half of the population, I think that child would express disgust and say something should be done about it, that it is not fair, and would ask how that could be the case. Yet it is the case and the gap grows again and again, year on year.
However, along came Covid and, suddenly, in order to achieve the collective social action that was necessary to prevent Covid-19 overwhelming society, Governments were forced to come up with what could be a socialist slogan coined by Karl Marx or James Connolly - "We are all in it together". As people understood the threat of Covid-19, they bought into that slogan and the idea that people had to make sacrifices for the greater good, for the collective good, because we should all be in it together.
As all Members know, some people paid a very harsh price for Covid-19. Some people paid with their lives and others paid with severe illness. Some people paid with being worked to the bone on the front line of the health services. Some of those working to the bone in the health services, such as student nurses and midwives, were not getting paid at all for doing so. Some people lost their jobs and livelihoods because of the public measures they embraced with great commitment even though it meant significant economic sacrifice that continues even now for them and their families. Those working in certain sectors have not had a day's work since the measures were introduced in March, such as musicians and others in the arts and entertainment industry, those in the events sector and bar workers. Taxi drivers have had their incomes slaughtered and many of them have not worked since March because there is no work out there. All those people have really suffered in the collective effort fuelled by the belief that we are all in it together. Frankly, although the Government will say the supports provided are unprecedented, the lack of supports for many of those people will be felt significantly as we head into Christmas because their incomes are down.
However, some others have seen their incomes continue at a high level and the profits made by some of the wealthiest corporations have actually shot up. In the context of Covid and against the background of us all being in it together, if the Government did not accept before now it was time for a wealth tax in order to redistribute wealth for a greater level of equality, surely it would accept there is a case for doing that now when some people are going to enter into the Christmas period significantly impoverished by what has happened over the past year and is still happening, as well, maybe, if we were to take it a step further, to address the deep, growing and obscene structural inequalities in wealth and income.
We have had all the rhetoric about Covid being a milestone and threshold moment where we will go forward to a new type of normality, learn the lessons of the existential threat Covid has presented, identify new priorities around what is important and which workers are essential, and all the rest of it. If all of that is to mean anything and not just be hollow words that were used to elicit a bit of sacrifice from people, surely the time has come for a solidarity tax to be paid by the big and wealthy corporations and the very richest in our society in order to redistribute some of that wealth, income and profits to those who are suffering because of structural inequality and the particular hardships they have endured in the course of the Covid-19 crisis.
A total of 1% of taxpayers in Ireland pay 23% of the total income tax paid in the country. This reflects the reality that those who have the most are paying the most. The top 20% of earners in the country will pay 77% of the total income tax and USC that is collected in Ireland in 2020. When Deputy Boyd Barrett calls for those who have more to pay more, the reality is that we have a tax code that is already delivering that. The way in which USC is structured and how it interacts with income tax means that those who have a far higher level of income than others pay a far higher level of tax than others. When the Deputy talks about putting in place a fairer tax system, we should evaluate that call against the fact that we already have a tax code which ensures that those in our country who are very wealthy pay a high level of income tax. That is as it should be and it is what our system delivers.
I note that the Deputy did not specify the level of income tax rates that would apply under his proposal. It is estimated that the removal of the application of USC on all incomes below €70,000, as suggested, would cost approximately €1.6 billion in a single year. Assuming no other policy changes were made to the structure of the charge, it is likely that if a new tax took the form of a new USC rate for those earning more than €100,000, it would need to be as high as 14.6%. That, in turn, would mean that the marginal rates of tax for those who earn more would go up very quickly. The Deputy would probably be comfortable with that and it is probably something he would want to achieve. However, for me, there are two considerations that are important in this debate. The first is having a tax code which ensures that those who have more income pay more tax. The other consideration is having a tax code which ensures that jobs which could be located in other countries are located in Ireland. The tax code we have and that I am defending gets the balance right between being fair and being competitive in ensuring we have certain kinds of work and certain numbers of jobs located within our country.
While I absolutely can understand the attraction of the measure the Deputy is proposing, it would not be in the best interest of ensuring we have a tax code that continues to be competitive and continues to do nearly the most important thing for a tax code to do in an open economy like Ireland, which is to help in keeping jobs in the country. The battle for jobs and foreign direct investment is one that is only going to intensify in the years to come. I believe that what Deputy Boyd Barrett is looking to do would be harmful to Ireland in the contest for those jobs. For that reason, the policies he is advocating would not be good for our country and keeping jobs in our country. I also do not believe that this matter is best dealt with by a report arising out of the Finance Bill. Therefore, I do not accept the Deputy's amendment.
I will offer the Minister an example of something that was in the news today which indicates the need for some redistribution. Taking one of the tax breaks that currently go to wealthy executives in some of the big multinational corporations the Minister is talking about - the figures are broadly similar for some of these tax breaks - the special assignee relief programme, SARP, will cost approximately €8 million this year. The Minister will tell me if I have got that exactly right. It is not a huge amount but it is a tax relief that goes to people on the very highest salaries. That figure is approximately the amount that would have allowed the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media to give a grant to every single musician who applied for the music industry stimulus package. There was not enough money in that pot - as I said, the amount needed was around €8 million - and 87% of the 1,400 artists who applied to the fund in order to record a single or album this year were denied the support. These are people whose jobs and livelihoods have been impacted by the Covid crisis. Would it not be fairer if some of the tax breaks that are on offer, instead of going to a handful of already rich people, went to the 1,400 musicians who are on their knees because of the pandemic? That is just a small instance but it is a telling one in terms of the inequality to which I referred. The reason the top 1% or 10% pay such a high proportion of tax is that they have approximately 40% of all income and some 58% of all wealth.
The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, put in place the music stimulus fund to which the Deputy referred to support artists at this very difficult time. She has the ability to continue the fund into 2021 and I hope those artists who were unsuccessful in gaining access to it thus far may be able to do so later this year or next year.
The other side of the coin the Deputy is referring to is the question of how we fund the kinds of initiatives he is calling for, such as the music stimulus fund, and many of the public services we have and for which the Deputy wants more funding. Ours is a small country in which there is a big contest under way for the type of investment we currently have and to keep that investment in place. An element of that is having personal tax codes that are competitive. The Deputy referred to the group of people who work in very senior roles in very large companies in this country and are very well paid, some of whom, as he mentioned, participate in SARP. Their location here in Ireland and the work they do are part of the reason we have hundreds of thousands of people working in the companies they run. I assure the Deputy that when it comes to the roles we are discussing, we are surrounded by countries that would be very eager to see that work located elsewhere. In that context, I believe the tax code we have gets the balance right between being competitive and being fair. It delivers the kind of fairness of taxation that I referred to a moment ago.
The argument has been made but I will make two brief points. Mr. Brendan Boyle, a Congressman from Pennsylvania, spoke on "Morning Ireland" on the day of Mr. Biden's victory. He was asked about Ireland's low corporate tax rate, tax breaks and so forth. He said that is not the main reason they are here. He was questioned quite hard by the "Morning Ireland" team that morning and he said they were not here primarily for that reason but because Irish people are English speaking, there is a skilled and educated workforce and Ireland is part of the European market. Tax is of lesser importance. When he was asked directly whether the multinationals would leave if we increased the tax take from them a little, he said he did not think so. I do not buy the argument that they could not pay a little more than, in some cases, the 1% or 2% they are paying, not the 12.5% they are supposed to be paying.
As important as those executives are, I do not believe they would leave if some of the tax breaks they are getting on their inflated salaries went to the musicians. Musicians have contributed as much culturally, economically and in every other way to the prosperity and richness of our country in the broadest sense as any executive of a multinational company. In fact, they have contributed significantly more.
Amendments Nos. 11 to 22, inclusive, and 24 to 57, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 12, line 12, to delete “2020” and substitute “2020)”.
As indicated on Committee Stage, I propose a number of amendments relating to the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS. This has been a very challenging period for businesses and it may take some time and additional cost to reopen once the restrictions are lifted. I therefore propose an extra restart week to be paid to businesses, the week after the restrictions are lifted, as an additional support to them in reopening. The additional week is payable if the restrictions are in place for three weeks or more and can be claimed at the end of the restriction period.
It was and is my intention that CRSS would commence on budget day, 13 October. At present, section 74(8) of the Finance Bill, as initiated, provides that: "Except where otherwise expressly provided for in Part 1, that Part shall come into operation on 1 January 2021". I propose an amendment that will expressly provide that CRSS will be effective from 15 October 2020. This will ensure that CRSS is given legal effect from the earliest possible opportunity.
The legislation currently provides that a claim for the Covid restrictions support scheme must be made no later than eight weeks from the date on which the claim period to which the claim relates is commenced. To ensure that no business is adversely affected where additional information is required to enable the business to register for CRSS, I am proposing an amendment to allow a claim to be made within three weeks of the registration date, if that date is after the eight weeks. An eight-week limit following the end of the scheme of 31 March 2021 for registrations is also included to ensure that the costs related to the scheme will be incurred within a reasonable period.
On Committee Stage a provision was introduced whereby over-claims would be deducted from future claims. I now propose that where no future claims take place, warehousing provisions similar to those in place for the temporary wage subsidy scheme repayments will apply. If a business has inadvertently been overpaid due to the fact that restrictions were lifted early, the overpayment shall be dealt with as follows. The business may not claim the restart week. Where a balance remains, any further claim will be reduced by that amount. Interest will only start accumulating on these specific overpayments after the specified period ends, which is 13 October 2020 to 31 March 2021, or later if extended. Where an excess balance remains, this will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis after the specified period ends.
New sections are being introduced, with the result that there is a need to re-number subsequent sections and references.
With regard to the employment conditions which Deputies Boyd Barrett, Barry, Gino Kenny, Paul Murphy and Bríd Smith seek to introduce, I accept they are important issues but the scheme is not the appropriate place in which to address them. As we discussed previously, any additional conditionality will make it more difficult for employers to benefit from the CRSS and could have the effect of job losses. That is not the intention of the Deputies, but it could well be an unintended consequence. In addition, the conditions put forward go beyond the remit of the Revenue Commissioners, who operate the Covid scheme, and other bodies, including the Workplace Relations Commission, have responsibilities in this area.
I wish to make a specific point about the CRSS and how it relates to pubs, but I will first make a general point on an issue that has been widely discussed. There is much frustration among the public. Undoubtedly, we all appreciate the situation we are in and the public health advice, but it is vital not only that the tens of thousands of people who are working in the hospitality industry, and particularly in the drinking pubs that cannot reopen at this point, get the support they need now, but also that there are supports and, perhaps, incentives for them in the coming weeks and months when they get to reopen and offer people their services. It is a very large industry and I am thinking mainly of the people who work in it and the families who depend on it.
The particular point I wish to make about the CRSS relates to the pubs that fall in between. I would appreciate the Minister's attention to this because I want him to understand the point properly. There is a category of pubs that falls between the food pubs, or gastropubs as some people call them, and the drinking pubs, and they are concerned that they are in a bind with regard to the CRSS. I will give the Minister an example. I spoke to a person, Donnchadh is his name as it happens, who runs Cashmans bar in Cork city. It is in the city centre. It has a kitchen and serves food. It has long served food. It was not an innovation as a result of Covid-19 or the like. I have eaten there on one or two occasions. It serves food between noon and approximately 3 p.m. when there is generally no other custom.
Donnchadh has looked over his books and food represents about 7% of his turnover. The bar is located in the city centre where fewer people are working. It is next to Cork Opera House in the city so, traditionally, at Christmas approximately 40% of his trade came from the pantomimes, plays and other events at that venue. He believes that the vast majority of his trade relates to drinking customers, and much of that trade is down. It does not make sense for him to open the premises. It is not financially viable for him to open. His concern is that because he has a kitchen and, strictly speaking, might be allowed to open, he cannot avail of the CRSS. That would be perverse and grossly unfair. It would not be a real reflection of the business.
That is not the only business in this situation. I can think from the top of my head of businesses that have not been in contact with me but which I presume are in a similar situation. I am sure that is equally true of pubs in cities and towns across the country.
As I understand it, this is not the end of the road for the Bill, as it has to go back to the Seanad. This does not just apply to the hospitality sector. There must be circumstances in which a business can theoretically open because the restrictions do not apply in a legal sense, but where it would be economically unviable for it to do so. We must take cognisance of that. I agree that the CRSS is necessary and valuable. Its purpose is to support businesses that are affected by restrictions due to Covid, but there must also be a recognition that given the place we are in at this moment in time, it is not viable for businesses to open and it would be perverse to treat them as if they could open. A pub that gets 7% of its trade from food is expected to open to serve food but, in reality, it would lose far more money than it would make. However, it cannot stay closed even though that would be the sensible thing to do because it cannot avail of the CRSS. That seems to be perverse. I appeal to the Minister's judgment and ask him to speak to his officials and bring forward an amendment to take account of the very particular set of circumstances in the hospitality trade and more broadly.
I wish to speak on this issue as well. I appreciate the amendment the Minister is bringing forward to the CRSS scheme. We also dealt with a large number of amendments on Committee Stage. The original version of the Bill has been amended 80 or 90 times. I accept that most of the amendments are technical and we support them.
The issue here is of one substance. I appreciate the challenges when one is designing a scheme and that there will be people or businesses on either side of the lines that must be drawn when the criteria are being created. The large number of amendments that have been brought forward on Committee and Report Stages speak to the fact that the measure has had to be continually tweaked. Rightly so, as there is an issue here. I have been contacted by a key activist in Donegal, Brian Carr from Glenties, who spoke with members of the Licensed Vintners Association in Donegal today and relayed their concerns to me, which are similar to those outlined by Deputy Ó Laoghaire. Pubs that are considered gastropubs, that were serving food this time last year, are technically no longer restricted from opening because they have a kitchen and the ability to serve food. However, because food is a minor part of the overall business, the owners believe it is important for them to remain closed but by not opening, they cannot avail of the CRSS scheme. In some cases, the pub next door, which is closed, can avail of the CRSS scheme. That is the challenge here. I ask the Minister to take this issue on board.
I appreciate that when one draws lines, there will always be cases on either side of them. This is an important issue. One could argue that it forces a pub to open, serve food and allow people to access the premises. I am also mindful, for example, that if a public house that serves food can maintain a distance of 2 m or greater between tables, the time limit does not apply. However, it would be far more desirable to have a time limit. The changes to the regulations, which prevented pubs with a chipper outside the back door or the front door calling themselves gastropubs, were to ensure there was no exploitation of the measure. However, the other side of the coin is that some pubs fall into the category of gastropub because they have the ability to cook food, but food is only a very small part of the business. Such premises are able to open, but if they do not open they cannot avail of the CRSS because of the restriction. I am not sure how the issue can be addressed but it is one that needs to be considered and addressed.
Covid is a real illness and we must do our best to try to reduce its incidence in the State. I do not envy the task the Minister and Cabinet have at times in trying to work out where the balance and proportion lie with regard to restrictions. I am of the view that the country has been overly aggressive when it comes to restrictions. We have the second lowest level of Covid in the European Union. That is partially because we have had the sixth strictest regime on the planet in recent months. That would be fine if there was not a massive cost to those restrictions. They have an incredible cost when it comes to physical health, mental health, society and people's ability to socialise and do business. So many businesses have been completely wiped out, many of which will not return to existence. The Companies Registration Office indicated to me that some 3,500 businesses have already gone completely bust, despite the fact that it will not know the total number of businesses that have gone bust until the end of the tax year next year when that becomes abundantly clear. We know that tens of thousands of businesses are likely to have been totalled in recent months, despite the supports the Government has provided. They have been totalled in many ways because Ireland has been an outlier regarding the severity of the restrictions it has imposed.
At the start of this process, the Government was invested in the idea of regional lockdowns, so we had a situation where the focus was on Laois and Kildare. That decision was lauded for having achieved what was desired at the time in reducing the incidence in those counties. Ireland generally has a low incidence of Covid but certain counties have a very low incidence rate. Several have a rate below 50 cases per 100,000 in the past 14 days. Counties Wexford, Westmeath, Galway and Kerry have a very low incidence. Logic would dictate that to be proportionate and balanced the Government should seek to be less forceful in restrictions in those four counties, especially when it comes to wet pubs. The idea that the presence of a chef in a pub could magically delete any incidence of Covid in the pub is nonsense. We also know that pubs typically tend to be a little more of a controlled environment than homes, where the biggest number of cases arise. In the run-up to Christmas, is it possible for the Government to refocus on having a degree of regional difference in how it applies the restrictions?
I add my voice to the calls for the CRSS to be more flexible. No matter what way one cuts this up, there will always be people on the wrong side of any regulations. The necessity for flexibility in the regulations is to make sure people who have missed out on the support for whatever reason are no longer left out. I call on the Minister to ensure that flexibility is in place.
I wish to make some points about the CRSS scheme and the conditions attached to it. Amendment No. 22 proposes that four conditions be attached. In order to be eligible to get the CRSS an employer would need to demonstrate that he or she pays a living wage to employees. If an employee wishes to join a trade union, he or she must have the facility to have the union recognised in the workplace. The employer must operate a sick leave scheme for employees and must also make contributions to a pension scheme for employees.
The Minister is not opposed, in principle, to the idea of conditions being attached because there is already one condition, which is that the employer in question be tax-compliant. I propose that these four conditions be added.
The essence of the matter is this. Does the CRSS arrangement effectively have no conditions attached, or just one? Could we use this as a lever to improve the rights of workers in the workplace? In other countries, a similar type of scheme has been used as a lever with those types of conditions attached. I am arguing the same should be done with this. The scheme uses taxpayers' money and we should see the maintenance of businesses and jobs but also the improvement of workers' rights in those conditions of employment.
I do not accept the argument that the Minister makes about this being a threat to businesses and jobs. The achievement of basic, standard and decent workers' rights in a place of employment should not be an issue when it comes to the future of a job or the place of employment.
The CRSS is available to a business that has a premises. Taxi drivers comprise a category that should be able to apply for the CRSS as their standard of living and incomes have been decimated by Covid-19. The measures taken in the budget to counteract this have not gone nearly far enough to compensate the taxi drivers in any measure. It seems unfair that if a business has a premises, the owner can apply for CRSS but taxi drivers cannot do it. The cab should be counted as a premises and the taxi drivers should be included in this scheme. I am sure Deputy Boyd Barrett will have something to say on this matter as well.
Has Deputy Boyd Barrett indicated a wish to contribute?
I have. I will return to the example I gave earlier as it underlines the point we made on Committee Stage on the CRSS. It is that various Covid-related income supports have been made available but very significant groups have been left out. I acknowledge that many of these are important interventions to support the incomes of people who have been significantly affected in that they are either not able to work at all or earn a viable income.
Taxi drivers have been left out, which is not fair. Their premises are, in effect, their cars. Like a premises, they must pay insurance on a car, maintain it and pay for fuel when driving around looking for work. These are costs of work for a taxi driver. For certain sizes of businesses that happen to have premises, the Government has indicated it will contribute to covering those costs because it knows that people either cannot work now due to restrictions or their ability to generate income is significantly affected by restrictions. It is helping to cover those ongoing costs but the Government is still excluding a cohort of people who have those costs but do not have a premises.
This is not fair and I do not know how anybody could say with a straight face that it is. The percentage of income being lost by taxi drivers is considerably more than that of many of the recipients of this scheme. Many taxi drivers are simply not going back on the ranks because the work is not there. They know if they all went back to work, a driver would be lucky to get one job per week. That may improve a little over the next few weeks but on a rank at St. Stephen's Green or anywhere else over the past six or seven weeks, we could see them sitting in their taxis. It is depressing to look at them waiting for hours on a fare. When they finish with a fare, they might be back at the rank for another two hours. They may literally jump for joy if they get one fare but often the cost of going to work on the day would be greater than the amount of income earned. In every other sense, the taxi drivers tick the boxes for the CRSS but they are excluded because they do not have a premises, which is not fair.
There is also the case of musicians and people whose jobs are related to the industry, including sound and light engineers, etc. These people may not have a premises but they must travel for work and carry costs if doing a recording in a studio, for example. They carry those costs in order to sustain their art but they are also excluded from the scheme. After this there is the insult of applying for an award from the Department dealing with arts which is refusing 87% of applications. Imagine how demoralising and insulting that is for talented people who cannot get the CRSS either. It is just not fair.
We have said this repeatedly to the Minister and I am genuinely appealing to him. I know he thinks about such matters so please think about what we are saying here. There is an unjust exclusion of a number of categories of workers who have been worst hit by the Covid restrictions imposed by the Government. They are being unfairly excluded when others, who in some cases have been less harshly hit, get access to the scheme. People have access who might have more ability to absorb a hit because they may have made more money in the past. Meanwhile, the people in the most difficult position are being excluded. This cannot be justified.
Please do not reply by saying these people get the pandemic unemployment payment, which has been cut and is just not enough to cover costs. These are people who were able to earn a half-decent income and could pay their costs and so on. They have mortgages and car repayments that need to be made and they cannot do it on the PUP. They are clocking up debt all the time because of the pandemic. It is a complete abandonment of the "all in it together" principle at the most basic level not to recognise that these people are in trouble and they need targeted, additional, justified and legitimate support.
I really believe the Minister should consider this. Our amendment only calls for a review, which is minimal action, but I want not just a review but for the Government to acknowledge that it is unfair to leave out these people and do something urgently about it. It is very demoralising for these decent people. They want to work and do not want to depend on the State. They have been put in this position through no fault of their own and they need a hand now. It is the appeal I am making and I really hope the Minister responds to it.
I too make what is a badly needed appeal. I do not know how the Minister does not get this. As Deputy Boyd Barrett has said, surely he knows about this from the taxi drivers, musicians and artists. He might not know from the countryside the plight of self-employed Readymix truck owners, the self-employed drivers of flatbed and tipper trucks. He might not know about the minibus driven by its owner. There is a plethora of groups that do not have a rateable premises and they do not qualify for the scheme as a result.
There is also the case of musicians, sound and light engineers, whose vehicles and equipment could be worth €100,000.
At least that is how much they cost. In many cases they used their homes as collateral to buy their equipment. They did not mind doing that; they were brave and proud. They loved their talent and loved their business. They were self-employed and maybe they employed other people at times as well and it is dreadful to think they cannot get anything. The Minister removed the moratorium as well, allowing the banks to go after them and some of those people cannot sleep now. They are ill now because they are so worried and frightened. They have wives and families to support and bills to pay.
Taxi drivers have also been badly impacted. Nobody in the last several months needed a taxi and I feel so sorry for them. We also have the man in the bread van. There are lots of self-employed people who pay their taxes and who are registered. They want to work. They do not mind working and they work long and arduous hours in arduous jobs, providing a service to the public. The public reciprocates by working with them, hiring or engaging them and that is the way it works. That is what makes them tick.
Musicians love to impart their talent, culture, teanga and everything in song and the people love it and are missing it. There is so much sadness and people are down about it because they love it. They would travel anywhere to hear it. They will get it on Zoom if they can but many people cannot and do not get it. We need to think of these people. There are large cohorts of people affected. Many artists applied for grants but only a small minority got them. I have nothing against the Arts Council but it got huge funding and some of the bigger companies got huge funding. Some of them got multiple funding from different schemes but the ordinary daoine beaga, the man in the van, the taxi or the truck, were not able to get anything. They will be needed again if we are going to have a recovering economy. They will be needed to supply goods, to balance supply and demand and kick-start our economy. Above all, they have wives or partners and families and they need to be supported and helped. Their children have to be educated, college fees have to be paid and everything else. It is very short sighted. They cannot get supports just because they do not have a rateable premises. What happened to "Ní neart go cur le chéile"? What happened to "We are all in this together"? We are not in it together. The banks are knocking on doors. Revenue is also knocking on doors in some cases, or writing to these people and they are so fearful, especially in the these dark, long days. They are seeing lockdowns continuing and they are not allowed to make a living. They must be entitled to get some supports from the State because they would be working if they were allowed to work and to work safely.
I came over here in a taxi this evening. The driver had spent money converting his taxi and it was quite safe. I asked him how he was getting on. "Don't even ask" he said. I believe he was driving just to get out of the house and to do a few runs. I thought the traffic this evening was busy enough but he said it would die after 6 p.m. He is self-employed with a newish car. It costs money for insurance, tax and so on. He has to pay those bills the same as everybody else. It is so sad that those cohorts of people - and there are many others that I did not mention - did not get the support that they deserve. Pensioners have been totally neglected because anybody over 66 did not get a penny from anywhere. All they wanted was the balance between the payment and what they had on the pension. It is heartless. We have been beating this drums for months and I do not know why the Minister cannot listen. Why can there not be some bit of equity and fairness for those groups of people who so badly need it?
I want to follow up on what Deputy Mattie McGrath has said. There are people out there who feel like the forgotten people in all of this. These are people who have worked very hard, including musicians, taxi drivers, people involved in the haulage industry, people who are on the road and who never wanted anything for nothing. They never wanted anything other than to be given the opportunity to work in a very fair way. They feel that they are being hit in an extraordinary way. They feel that what is being discussed here and the implications of this budget and this year's Finance Bill, as well as next year's and that of every year for the next ten years will have an extraordinary effect on them and their livelihoods. What worries me greatly is that an awful lot of people in Ireland do not realise the full implications of what this Government is doing. It is tying the hands of future Governments to increases in a way that never happened before. The Government is unique in what it is doing to future generations and future politicians, who are having their hands tied now. I have great concerns about it and am speaking on behalf of those hard-working people who are going to have to pay the price for what is contained in this Bill. I want to speak up for them and for the people in County Kerry whom I am very glad to represent. I think of the taxi ranks in Tralee, Killarney, Listowel and other places like Kenmare, late at night with drivers waiting to collect fares. I think of those people who have to wait and wait for a fare in order to make a few euro only to give back an awful amount of it in excise duty and tax, every time they roll the wheels of their vehicles, the same as the people in the haulage industry. These are people who are revenue collectors for the State, the Department of Finance and ultimately, for the Minister for Finance. They are out there, working hard, collecting money to give to the Minister to run the country. The only trouble is that in the future, the Minister is going to be looking for an extraordinary amount of money from them on top of what they are already paying and I am standing up to speak on behalf of those people tonight.
This Finance Bill is about the measures introduced in the budget and the sections we are discussing now deal with help and support for businesses. There have been very significant investments made by the Government and the taxpayer to make sure that businesses that have been affected by Covid-19 will continue to operate, notwithstanding the fact that there are very serious trading conditions for a significant number of them. It is all very well to have a go at employers and say they are not being fair to their workers, do not care about their quality of life or the burden carried by people whose jobs have been significantly affected by the reduction in business costs. In fact, the budget and this Finance Bill includes the employment wage subsidy scheme, the Covid restrictions support scheme, the restart grant scheme, the rates waiver scheme and other tax measures to support businesses, cash flow support for businesses, help for specific industries, training and mentoring and helping people who have been laid off or who are working on reduced hours, as well as social welfare support for employees.
The Government cannot do everything but it has used its leverage to borrow at very low interest rates on the international markets to pay for all of the aforementioned supports for businesses. This Government wants to support enterprise and keep workers at work. The businesses and people that have been most affected are in tourism and many are not on the east coast. There is seasonal work involved and many businesses have been affected because of the travel restrictions. People would love to go to places like County Kerry and the west of Ireland. It is important that all of the affected companies can face into the current difficulties with the supports that form part of this year's budget.
I agree that taxi drivers, for example, have had a very difficult time. However, they can continue to get the PUP and can earn up to €480 per month after some expenses are deducted without affecting their payment. I know that is nothing like the income they had previously and I know they work extremely hard. I acknowledge they work very long hours in what is a very difficult job but to say that they are not being supported is not true. Obviously we would like to give them more.
The other point about taxis is that drivers' biggest expense is the purchase of a new car. Taxi drivers are required to purchase new cars when their old ones are ten years old. As I understand it, although the Minister can confirm, taxi drivers may now continue to drive their cars for an additional year provided they meet all safety and other regulations and requirements. I understand serious consideration is being given to extending this period for a further year, provided the car is in good mechanical order.
This budget aims to deal as well as possible with all parts of our society. Why should businesses not be supported? Why should they not be able to benefit from the Covid restrictions support scheme? Many businesses, and small businesses in particular, would most certainly have gone to the wall if they did not have these supports and their workers would be a lot worse off. When the vaccine comes - please God it will come sooner rather than later - people will be able to go back to work and these businesses will still be there. Many of these are small or family businesses. They have kept small communities going for generations. I laud the support they have been given. It is the least we can do for them.
Businesses are not getting money for jam. They are getting it because their incomes have been very significantly reduced. Their incomes must have fallen to 25% of what they had been or even less. Let us be frank and clear. I do not know what sort of country those who argue against business supports think they are living in but this is a modern democratic society that supports enterprise and jobs, that keeps family businesses going, that looks after people whose incomes are seasonal and that looks after people in the tourism industry. Nobody on the Opposition benches said anything about the reduction in VAT, which is very important. People ring me who were in extremis when Covid hit. Their businesses had collapsed and the wolf was at the door but at least the local authority rates had been set aside and all of these supports were there to help and assist them in these most difficult times.
Many of these restrictions apply from level 3 upwards. These businesses have been significantly and adversely affected. My strong view is that it is right and proper that these supports are in place. I ask people to think twice before denigrating the enterprise, commitment and value of businesses, and not just their value in the context of profit and sustained growth but also how they care for their employees. That is very clear and obvious to me. Notwithstanding the points people have made, these amendments are just pie in the sky. People are refusing to see the reality of a democratic society supporting businesses in the time of their greatest need.
The approach of Dublin City Council in dealing with the provision of restart grants for barristers is creating great difficulties. Some 497 barristers received approval only to subsequently get letters stating that this approval had been cancelled. This means that the money they had factored into their budgets for the year has been withdrawn. This is a big mistake in anyone's book and a massive imposition on anybody who is dependent on this funding. I do not know how Dublin City Council can justify this. Will the Minister comment on this matter? How can we ensure that barristers are entitled to the restart grant or support under the CRSS in the same way as everybody else?
Since this dreadful disease arrived in our country, the Government has: brought in the temporary wage subsidy scheme, which we then replaced with the employment wage subsidy scheme; reduced the standard rate of VAT to support retailers; reduced the VAT rate for the hospitality sector in order to support it; brought in a Covid restrictions support scheme to support businesses that are closed due to public health guidance; launched restart grants to support businesses that need help to reopen; warehoused tax liabilities through the Revenue Commissioners; reduced the rate of interest taxpayers will have to pay on outstanding debt; increased capital spending in our economy at exactly the time when the economy needed demand to be stimulated; and brought in the pandemic unemployment payment to ensure that those who most needed help were able to get it when they lost their jobs due to the arrival of the pandemic and the change in public health guidance. That is the track record of the Government in supporting employers, enterprise and jobs at a time when our country most needed help. We were able to do these things because of actions taken by the European Central Bank combined with the national finances having been in good condition coming into this crisis. No Government in the history of this country has ever rolled out a set of supports at a time of challenge such as that which this Government and the one that preceded it have rolled out.
I will return to the substantive point raised by Deputy Ó Laoghaire. He referred to a specific pub, which Deputy Doherty also touched on. The challenge I face in developing schemes to support employers is that there will always be employers and businesses that fall just outside the criteria. There will always be businesses that are just a bit different from the kind of business that falls inside a scheme such as the Covid restrictions support scheme. For example, the criteria for access to the Covid scheme include a requirement that the business is closed due to public health guidance. If we changed that requirement and allowed businesses that could open but decided to stay closed to access the CRSS, the next question I would face would be: what about all the businesses that opened and lost access to the scheme?
The Minister's time is up.
I ask the Ceann Comhairle to bear with me. I have only been given two minutes in this round. My understanding is that I get seven minutes.
The Minister gets seven minutes to respond to the first round.
This is the first round on this group of amendments.
Is it? I apologise. I have just taken the Chair.
I am responding to the first round of interventions. The challenge I would then face is that businesses that are allowed to reopen and have done so would then ask why they cannot access funding under the Covid restrictions support scheme if businesses that can open but remain closed can. Pubs would take this view and restaurants and hotels would quickly follow. It goes back to the point I made, which is that any time criteria are set for access to a scheme that has already paid out tens of millions to employers, there will always be some employers who fall just outside those criteria. I accept that this is difficult and I will look at the operation of the scheme and see whether it has been set up in a way that gives support to those who need it most. The challenge one always faces in putting together a scheme such as this, however, is that there will always be businesses that fall just outside the criteria.
I listened to what Deputy Ó Laoghaire said regarding the particular business he mentioned. I return to a point I made earlier. This pub and other businesses that decide to reopen will face a lower VAT rate. In addition, while I will not comment on the particular business in question because I am not aware of its circumstances, such businesses will, in general, still be able to avail of the employment wage subsidy scheme and a deferral or, for many business, a waiver of commercial rates. They will also be able to access the variety of other supports that are available.
Such businesses will, in general, still be able to access the deferral or, in the case of many businesses, will not have to pay commercial rates. They will be able to access a variety of other supports available. Even if this support is not available, a range of other supports are available precisely for the reason set out by Deputy O'Dowd.
These businesses are crucial in the generation and retention of jobs within our country. When businesses run into a challenge such as a pandemic, we have a duty to help them. Even if this particular form of help, in the form of the CRSS, is not available to some businesses, a range of other supports are available. These are in place because we value them. We are trying to keep them going until the point where public health improves and we are able to go back to something that is closer to the normal that we left.
Deputy Barry made another point regarding criteria for accessing the scheme and why other criteria are not available. All the issues Deputy Barry raises are important but they are not issues to be dealt with through our tax code. They are not issues to be dealt with through a scheme that is trying to keep employers going and jobs maintained. They are best dealt with through an industrial relations mechanism like the Workplace Relations Commission or the engagement that should and does take place between employers and employees. The only role of these schemes is to try to keep jobs in place. At the moment, that is the most critical challenge I face as someone charged with overseeing our economy overall and trying to keep it safe. That is the most important job we face.
Deputy Michael Healy-Rae made the point about my actions burdening future generations. I assume he was referring to the levels of national debt that will exist in future. If I did not take the actions that I am taking that will cause the debt to rise and if the Government did not do the same, then we would face charges and criticism for not doing enough. It will be the case that our national debt will go up. It is also the case that hundreds of thousands of jobs would not have the chance to come back if it was not for the actions I have described.
In my contribution I acknowledged the difficulty and challenge of designing the scheme and the fact that we will always find people marginally outside. I believe there is possibly a way if we ask Revenue to look at this in terms of the criteria. We will always find grey areas. If a beautician is going to open, it is likely that it is the business of a beautician and there is no other part of the business that is restricted. The same applies to a hairdresser or retail store. However, there is a unique situation with pubs because of gastropubs and wet pubs, as we are calling them. We have split the business into two. I imagine there is a willingness to address this because the intention behind the scheme is to help businesses through this period; that is why we support it. I imagine there is some way Revenue and the Minister and his officials can come up with criteria. For example, let us imagine a business is still under restrictions and the wet pub accounts for 75% of the turnover. Then if it remains closed, it may be deemed to be under restrictions. There are ways to do that. These cases are not great in number. I imagine most people are trying to stay open. As we discussed, some people try to find elaborate ways to be deemed a gastropub. This is the opposite, in that in these cases they want to remain closed. They may believe they are restricted from opening as wet pubs. Is the Minister willing to talk to his officials in Revenue to look at something like this? Deputy Ó Laoghaire has given an example where 93% of the turnover comes from the wet pub, which is deemed to be closed under the restrictions. That business would be, for all intents and purposes, still a restricted business and therefore able to access the CRSS. The scenario that my colleague, Brian Carr, has relayed to me is similar and involves several pubs in Donegal. I would appreciate if the Minister would give a commitment to re-look at this. In my view, this does not require further legislative change because we know this is under the management of the Revenue Commissioners and they have the latitude to bring in guidance of this nature if they deem it necessary.
I defer to the better knowledge of my colleague, Deputy Doherty, on the ability of the Revenue to govern this in terms of whether legislative change is required. If such change is not required, that would be a positive thing.
The point has been well made. This is a particular category of business. I accept 100% that everything in respect of the CRSS is being done in the interests of supporting business. I accept there is no bad faith and that there is a genuine desire to help businesses. I accept of course that it is complex to design a scheme. It is a little like designing constituencies in that no matter where we put the line, it will always fall somewhere such that someone is not totally happy with it. Having said that, there is no other category of business I can think of where the largest part of the business is restricted while a small minority of the trade is not. The point has been well made that there is a division in this regard. I believe an ability was shown, at the time of the restrictions, to distinguish between businesses that could not open, even though a minority of such business could be allowed, but the majority of it could not be.
While the Minister said he would look at it, I am unsure whether the tone of what he was saying exactly implied that he would pursue it enthusiastically or vigorously or that he was optimistic resolution could be found. I hope the Minister can do so. This is a particular category and the number of businesses is not great. I believe it can be done in such a way that does not create further anomalies or precedents or anything like that. The idea is to treat a business as a restricted business because the largest part of the business cannot function. Perhaps the scope for a resolution exists within the Revenue Commissioners. In keeping with the spirit of the scheme, we should try to support these particular businesses that are affected and with a little creativity and imagination we can come up with a solution.
I too am disappointed with the tone of what the Minister has said. To listen to Deputy O'Dowd, one would think we were all criticising. We have welcomed this approach. We have worked to help our constituents and businesses. We have helped and encouraged them to draw down from the scheme. We appreciate what is being given but there are businesses marginally outside the limit. I am appealing for flexibility from the Revenue and everyone else. There must be some latitude.
People had no desire to be in this situation. They were forced into the situation by draconian regulations passed in the House. They give the Minister for Health far too much power to make any and whichever regulations he likes. This is where we are now.
Last night and today we saw the vintners trying to get clarification about pubs. There will be bedlam with the so-called dry pubs. That is a horrible name, as is the reference to wet and dry. It is as though there should be wellingtons in one while one could sunbathe in the other. It is a disgusting acronym. Today, I asked Fáilte Ireland, which gets blamed for many things, who came up with this. It is shocking. People from pubs that are big enough have contacted me today. Every pub within 15 miles of either side is closed. They are afraid to open. They have to protect their staff; health and safety is important. These people would have vast crowds coming to the pub because all the others are closed. What is going on has to be discriminatory and unconstitutional. The Constitution seems to be the last thing the present Government is thinking of now. These people are not going to open. Now, we are being told if they do not open, they will be penalised and they will lose and not get payments again. They have to consider their safety and the safety of their staff. One publican told me that two of his staff are pregnant mothers-to-be. They are afraid of the crowds that will come. It is not a question of serving food; they will be trying to keep people away. We never heard the likes of it. This is only happening in Ireland. It is stupid, illogical and is downright blackguarding of those people. They are afraid to open now because all the others are closed. If they were all opened, people would be cautious, would come in small numbers and would be well looked after. All these publicans have licences. They are proud people and they get their licences renewed every year. They do not break the law. They are law-abiding people who want to make a living.
Their interests are poorly served by Deputy Mattie McGrath and the kind of argument he puts forward. He talks about tone. Each time Deputy McGrath makes an argument like that, the only people to whom he does a disservice are the good people who are trying to earn a living. They have not had their lives changed by a capricious Government, as Deputy McGrath sneeringly infers.
It was because of an awful disease that arrived in this country, and any decisions made by this Government are about how we try to keep people safe and look after their well-being and health. That is all that is motivating the decisions which have been made.
Deputy Doherty made a point about drawing a comparison between a beautician and a hairdresser. I remember the debate we had on Committee Stage. I was asked on that occasion why beauticians could not access the lower VAT rate available to hairdressers. This is the point. When we are putting together a scheme such as this, the only way that I and the Revenue Commissioners can deal with the huge complexity we are facing, as Deputy Ó Laoghaire mentioned, is by having criteria that are clear and understood, and can be understood and implemented by the Revenue Commissioners. That is what the CRSS does. It is providing valuable support to businesses which have to stay closed.
Deputy Ó Laoghaire referred to how I will approach this matter. I spent hours and days poring over these schemes trying to ensure they are effective, while also trying to ensure that we can afford them for as long as they are needed. I will look at any matter raised by a Deputy, particularly when he or she is raising an issue concerning a business that fought hard to keep going during difficult times and which is now closed through no fault of its own. I will of course look at such cases. I must be honest with the Deputy in outlining the sequence of events for which I am also always accountable. Any change made to a scheme such as this inevitably gives rise to issues, which are then raised with me by other Members of the House. Getting the balance right between having effective schemes and being able to afford them is what we are trying to do with this and other schemes.
Regarding wet and gastropubs, many publicans have contacted me in recent days. This issue, or something close to the mark regarding what I am explaining, has been brought up already and perhaps it is one the Department could look at. I refer to publicans who had kitchens as such, but these are not deemed kitchens now in respect of allowing them to reopen. They are not entitled to avail of the CRSS because they served food previously. These publicans may not have a major kitchen in their bars but they were serving food, such as soup and sandwiches and little bits and pieces, from whatever facilities they had. Now, however, such businesses will be deemed ineligible for the payment for that reason.
Publicans who spoke to me said they would have no problem opening their bars, but they will not be allowed to do so because their kitchens are not up to the full standard required for a kitchen to be open and they do not have a chef in the bar. Apparently, it is necessary to have both. These businesses are caught in a catch-22 situation. It is terribly unfair because they are quite happy to open but they are not able to because of the new and additional that were put in place. Some of these people have mortgages to pay and they do not have a clue where they are going to get a payment from. They are in a desperate position. I ask the Minister to make a slight change in this area.
As was said earlier, it is impossible to tick every box initially but this is certainly a grey area and these pubs are in dire danger. These publicans are in danger of losing their business and they are asking me if a change is possible. They are asking me if this issue can be raised in the House and whether changes can be made by the Minister. I would appreciate it if the Minister could look deeper into this matter. These are basically bars which were serving food - they were not bringing it in from a chipper or any other location outside the bar - but have been deemed not to have full kitchens or a full-time chef and are not allowed to open now. They are also not allowed access to the funding that is available. They are caught in an unfair catch-22. They are willing to open but not allowed to do so. They have no choice but to accept this situation but they are also not able to get the payment that is in place. I would appreciate if the Minister could look into this.
I would love to have a verbal engagement with the person who dreamt up the term "wet pubs". It should be banned from our language completely because it is an insult. There is no such thing in Ireland, or anywhere else in the world, as a wet pub. It is a stupid statement dreamt up by a stupid person. A pub is a pub, end of story. A pub is run by a person called a licensed vintner, who is respectable and must go before the courts every September to get a licence to trade. It is a highly regulated business. Having this terminology of "wet pub" is stupid beyond belief and it should not be used in this House any more.
We had publicans up yesterday. They came up in a respectable way. Two people had travelled from Kerry, the county I represent, for example. We had the same kind of representation from around the country. It was not that people came or moved en masse or anything like that. They were representing public houses which are being told they will not be allowed to open. We honestly think that is wrong. These are dependable people and if they were allowed to open, they certainly would not have anything to do with the spread of the pandemic or anything like it.
There is also another group of people about whom I want to speak. I refer to people who own public houses, are of pension age and have worked very hard but have not been able to receive any supports. Those people were not looking for the €350 pandemic unemployment payment. They were being reasonable and understanding. What they were saying to me was that they wanted what they were getting in their pension to be subtracted from the €350 and for the balance to be given to them. If such people were getting €220 or €230 on a pension, they were just looking for that amount to be made up to €350. I think that is a plausible and sensible request for any person to make. These people have been working hard and serving their communities well over the years. If the number of people from County Kerry who raised this with me is reflective of the rest of the country, there are an awful lot of people in that position. I would dearly love to see those older people - they are not that old - get a little bit of a leg up. I would have thought the Minister would have been able to cater for that very important group of people.
On keeping rural pubs closed, to give the Minister an idea of this situation, places like Gneevgullia, Scartaglin, Fieries, Curra, Headfort, Barraduff and Rathmore have no pubs that can open. A number of pubs can open in Killarney. On a Saturday night, about half the pubs in Killarney will be open. What is going to happen then? As sure as day follows night, there will be a bigger crowd in Killarney than ever before. The town is usually well able to cater for crowds, but now half the pubs will not be open. A combination of people will be coming into the town from Kilgarvan and even from parts of south Kerry where the pubs will not be able to open. They are all going to arrive into Killarney. For those who do not, shebeens will open up and, as I said earlier, the Garda will have to have very good jeeps and other vehicles to find them. It was easier to monitor and work with the regulated pubs. The Government is making a massive mistake in not allowing all pubs to open and spread people out.
This is very wrong for the customers. We must talk about mental health because many customers in rural places will not be able to travel to places like Killarney, Tralee and other places with bigger pubs that able to cater for and serve food. They will not be able to travel those distances and no consideration has been given to this issue. From Mallow all the way to Killarney, there will not be a pub open in that vast countryside.
It is absolutely ridiculous. I cannot understand it. I appeal to the Minister. I acknowledge his ability and his understanding but I ask him to get a hold of the rest of the members of the Cabinet and thrash this out. It is not making sense. I asked the Taoiseach today for the scientific evidence that suggests that rural pubs caused or spread the virus, or would spread the virus. Where is that scientific evidence? If we have it, or if the Minister has it somewhere, perhaps he would give it out to us. He has not listed it out to us yet. It is very wrong to penalise and not trust people. I trust the people who have a licensed premises. I trust the licensees. The vast majority, or 99% of them, are honest and hardworking people. It is a cry to God that the leaders of the country are not trusting these kinds of people. The question is "Why?" As my brother, Deputy Michael Healy-Rae, has said, when the pandemic payment was given out all we asked for was that the people who were slightly over the age limit would get the extra bit to bring them up to the €350. They have outstanding costs, insurance costs and other services that they have to pay. When they pay for these they do not have enough to feed themselves. That has been happening all the year. It is very wrong that the Minister is not trusting our licensees in these rural places. This is not hurting Dublin at all because two thirds of the pubs in Dublin will be open because they are serving food. One third will remain closed but it is the other way down around our way where not even one third of our pubs will be able to reopen in all of Kerry. It is wrong. It is coming up to Christmas. It is hurting customers and it is hurting publicans. It is hurting each of them as much as the other. I ask the Minister to please look at it again because he is not being fair to honest, hardworking people. I ask the Minister to take another look at it and to take more consideration of what they do.
The Minister can make another contribution if he wishes. Can the Minister get hold of his colleagues for Deputy Healy-Rae?
I am afraid that I am going to disappoint Deputy Healy-Rae and tell him that I agree with all of my colleagues in the decision that has been made. I absolutely understand how difficult it is for those pubs that are not in a position to be open. I absolutely understand how hard vintners and publicans work in running businesses, and the hugely important role they play in societies and in the lives of the people as represented by Deputy Healy-Rae just now. The evidence that was presented to the Government did show that there are risks involved in the congregation of people when it does not involve food. If we are trying to open up parts of our economy, if we are trying to reopen the restaurants, as referred to by Deputy Healy-Rae, and if we are trying to open up hotels again, then we have to make choices to allow other and more businesses to open up. I absolutely understand that this is very hard, and very tough and demanding for those businesses that remain closed. The reason we brought in the Covid restriction support scheme was so these very businesses would be able to get up to 10% of their turnover back per week they are closed. The scheme is in place because we recognise the difficulty that has been referred to by Deputies who represent closed businesses. We recognise that by those businesses being closed it hopefully creates an environment in which we can keep other businesses open for longer. In recognition of this, the Covid restriction support scheme is in the Finance Bill 2020 to support those businesses.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 13, line 13, to delete “(20)” and substitute “(21)”.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 13, line 41, to delete “(v)” and substitute “(vi)”.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 14, line 3, to delete “(v)” and substitute “(vi)”.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 15, to delete lines 20 and 21, and substitute the following:
“(vi) make an order either that subsection (8) of section 485 shall cease to be in operation on and from such day, or that the election referred to in paragraph (b) of that subsection, which that subsection enables a qualifying person to make, shall not be exercisable save in such circumstances, as the Minister for Finance—
(I) considers necessary to—
(A) fulfil, better, the objectives specified in subsection (1)(a), or
(B) facilitate the furtherance of any of the purposes specified in subsection (1)(c),
(II) specifies in the order,
and any matter that is provided for in the preceding subparagraphs is referred to in section 485(3) as a ‘modification’.”.
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 15, line 22, to delete “(iv) or (v)” and substitute “(iv), (v) or (vi)”.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 17, line 18, to delete “(3)” and substitute “(4)”.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 17, line 26, to delete “Where,” and substitute “Subject to subsection (8), where,”.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 18, line 40, to delete “(ii)(II),” and substitute “(ii)(II);”.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 18, between lines 40 and 41, to insert the following:
“(f) subsection (8) and the election referred to in paragraph (b) of it which a qualifying person is, by virtue of that subsection, enabled to make,”.
I move amendment No. 21:
In page 20, line 4, to delete “(21)” and substitute “(22)”.
I move amendment No. 22:
In page 20, between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following:
“(a) the person can demonstrate that they pay a ‘living wage’ to their employees,
(b) the person can demonstrate that they facilitate their employees to join a trade union that has been or will be recognised by them as a body to deal in collective bargaining with employees concerning pay, health and safety, terms and conditions of employment and other employment related matters,
(c) the person operates a sick leave scheme for employees,
(d) the person makes contributions to a pension scheme for employees,”.
Amendment No. 23 is out of order.
I move amendment No. 24:
In page 20, line 25, to delete “(13)” and substitute “(14)”.
I move amendment No. 25:
In page 20, line 30, to delete “(13)” and substitute “(14)”.
I move amendment No. 26:
In page 21, line 14, to delete “(9) and (10)” and substitute “(10) and (11)”.
I move amendment No. 27:
In page 21, between lines 38 and 39, to insert the following:
“(8) (a) Where, in relation to a relevant business activity carried on by a person—
(i) applicable business restrictions provisions were in operation such that a qualifying person made a claim under this section in respect of a claim period and that claim, taken together with any claims made by the person immediately preceding that claim, is in respect of a continuous period of not less than three weeks, and
(ii) those applicable business restrictions provisions cease to be in operation,
then, where that qualifying person, within a reasonable period of time from the date on which the applicable business restrictions provisions cease to be in operation, resumes or continues, as the case may be, supplying goods or services to customers from the business premises in which the qualifying person’s relevant business activity is carried on, that qualifying person may make an election under paragraph (b).
(b) Where no part of the week immediately following the date on which the applicable business restrictions provisions ceased to be in operation in respect of a relevant business activity would otherwise form part of a Covid restrictions period or a Covid restrictions extension period, a qualifying person to whom paragraph (a) applies may elect to treat that week as a Covid restrictions extension period and may make a claim under this section in respect of that period.”.
I move amendment No. 28:
In page 21, to delete lines 39 to 41 and substitute the following:
“(9) A claim made under this section in respect of an advance credit for trading expenses shall be made—
(a) subject to paragraph (b), no later than—
(i) eight weeks from the date on which the claim period, to which the claim relates, commences, or
(ii) if the date on which the qualifying person is registered as a person to whom this section applies (following an application which is made in accordance with subsection (5)(a) and within the period of eight weeks specified in subparagraph (i)) falls on a date subsequent to the expiry of the period of eight weeks so specified, three weeks from the date on which the person is so registered,
(b) in the case of a claim made under this section that is referred to in subsection (8), no later than eight weeks from the date on which the applicable business restrictions provisions concerned cease to be in operation.”.
I move amendment No. 29:
In page 21, line 42, to delete “(9)” and substitute “(10)”.
I move amendment No. 30:
In page 22, line 9, to delete “(10)” and substitute “(11)”.
I move amendment No. 31:
In page 22, line 23, to delete “(14) and (15)” and substitute “(15) and (16)”.
I move amendment No. 32:
In page 23, line 5, to delete “(16) and (17)” and substitute “(17) and (18)”.
I move amendment No. 33:
In page 23, line 9, to delete “(18)” and substitute “(19)”.
I move amendment No. 34:
In page 23, line 13, to delete “(11)” and substitute “(12)”.
I move amendment No. 35:
In page 23, line 18, to delete “(12)” and substitute “(13)”.
I move amendment No. 36:
In page 23, line 28, to delete “(13)” and substitute “(14)”.
I move amendment No. 37:
In page 24, line 37, to delete “(14)” and substitute “(15)”.
I move amendment No. 38:
In page 24, line 40, to delete “(16)” and substitute “(17)”
I move amendment No. 39:
In page 25, line 6, to delete “(15)” and substitute “(16)”
I move amendment No. 40:
In page 25, line 9, to delete “(16)” and substitute “(17)”.
I move amendment No. 41:
In page 25, line 35, to delete “(16)” and substitute “(17)”.
I move amendment No. 42:
In page 26, line 33, to delete “(14) and (15)” and substitute “(15) and (16)”.
I move amendment No. 43:
In page 26, line 35, to delete “(17)” and substitute “(18)”.
I move amendment No. 44:
In page 27, line 25, to delete “(7)” and substitute “(7) or (8)”.
I move amendment No. 45:
In page 27, line 26, to delete “where” and substitute “where, after the end of the specified period,”.
I move amendment No. 46:
In page 27, line 31, to delete “time,” and substitute “time from the end of the specified period,”.
I move amendment No. 47:
In page 27, line 33, to delete “(14) or (15)” and substitute “(15) or (16)”.
I move amendment No. 48:
In page 27, between lines 33 and 34, to insert the following:
“(f) Where the conditions referred to in paragraph (c) are met, the excess amount shall carry interest as determined in accordance with section 1080(2)(c) as if the reference to the date when the tax became due and payable were a reference to the day after the day on which the specified period ends.”.
I move amendment No. 49:
In page 27, line 34, to delete “(18)” and substitute “(19)”.
I move amendment No. 50:
In page 27, line 41, to delete “(19)” and substitute “(20)”.
I move amendment No. 51:
In page 28, line 16, to delete “(20)” and substitute “(21)”.
I move amendment No. 52:
In page 28, line 20, to delete “(21)” and substitute “(22)”.
I move amendment No. 53:
In page 28, line 33, to delete “(22)” and substitute “(23)”.
I move amendment No. 54:
In page 28, line 37, to delete “(13)” and substitute “(14)”.
I move amendment No. 55:
In page 28, line 41, to delete “(23)” and substitute “(24)”.
I move amendment No. 56:
In page 29, line 6, to delete “(8)” and substitute “(9)”.
I move amendment No. 57:
In page 29, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:
“(2) Subsection (1) shall be deemed to have come into operation on 13 October 2020.”.
Amendments Nos. 59 and 60 are related and will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 59:
In page 29, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:
“12. Within four weeks of the passing of this Act, the Minister shall produce a report on whether the Covid Restriction Support Scheme is accessible to and has provided meaningful financial support for self-employed/lone traders in sectors such as the taxi industry, music, arts, live entertainment and other similarly affected sectors.”.
The Ceann Comhairle was on a roll there. I thought I might get this through on the back of all those other amendments. If only it was that easy.
The contribution I made earlier related, to a large extent, to this amendment. That is why I did not come in on the second round of the earlier discussion and I assume it is why the Minister did not respond to the points I made. I will briefly summarise them and give him an opportunity to respond. The CRSS is supposed to support people whose businesses are impacted as a result of Covid restrictions. We support that and businesses that have been genuinely impacted and whose revenues beyond a certain threshold have been significantly reduced, or eliminated completely, should get that support. We support the Government on that. What we cannot understand is why, as I noted earlier, people are excluded from the scheme on the basis that they do not have a rateable premises, even though they carry all the same sorts of costs as businesses that have premises. It is just not fair. They have to make repayments on equipment and cars and they have to pay fuel and insurance costs. They have all the other overheads and things that are the reasons the CRSS is in place, yet just because their premises is a taxi, a van or a studio space for musicians, they are excluded. It is not fair. I would like to hear the Minister tell me it is fair but I do not see how he could possibly do so. Thousands of musicians, sound engineers and light engineers in the music industry have been devastated. The industries of other artists and performers have also been devastated and shut down since the beginning. Their art and music have helped sustain us through the pandemic and they are excluded. It is not fair.
It is not fair on the taxi drivers either. The revenue threshold for the CRSS is 25% and their incomes are down 70%. They might go up a bit with Christmas but they will still be way down. How are they supposed to pay their insurance costs or the repayments on their cars? What if their cars reach the ten-year limit and they have to replace them next year? How are they supposed to replace them? It is just not fair. This scheme should apply to them.
The Minister heard the debate about musicians erupt on the radio this morning. It is very unfair and demoralising for those musicians, many of whom are household names, to be denied that funding. Fair play to the ones who got it but 87% of those who applied did not because the fund was less than €1 million. If the Government is not going to give them that award, it should give them some other supports to carry them through. That is what our amendment is asking the Government to do. We do not, in truth, just want a review. We would like to just do it. We must extend this scheme to small businesses and lone traders like musicians, artists and taxi drivers, who need it.
I thank Deputy Boyd Barrett for tabling this very important amendment. Musicians and people who create entertainment are a very special group of people in that they cause merriment, whether in an old folks' home on a Sunday evening, inside in a public house or at a wedding. They entertain people the evening of a funeral, when they are at their lowest. They are a very special group of people. I am, of course, modest about this but we have the finest musicians that have ever graced this land in County Kerry and coming from County Kerry, in both the present and the past. Many of my own friends and relations are musicians. One could say I have a conflict in this but if I do, it is a good conflict to have because it is great to have these people who are so important in our communities. I am saying this directly to the people, to the musicians in County Kerry especially, such as the likes of Ger Healy, the singing jarvey, and all the great bands and families who are steeped in the tradition of music and entertainment. They have young people coming up after them who will be there for many years when we will not be there at all.
I want the Minister to ensure those people will be able to continue entertaining people because it is such an important job. These people's incomes were taken away from them last March, virtually in their entirety, and their way of work and way of life has been taken from them. Some of them who provided entertainment at night might have had other jobs during the day and so both their jobs are gone. Their two sources of income are gone from them. They are grateful for the PUP, if they were able to get it, but it is very difficult for those people to carry on and I just want that to be acknowledged. That is why it is good that we are having this debate, to acknowledge the place of Irish people, Irish musicians and Irish dancers in our society. Places like the Irwin School of Irish Dancing in Killarney have trained decades and generations of people into the merriment of Irish dancing. Indeed, not many people would realise that the leader of our own group, Deputy Mattie McGrath, is an all-Ireland medal holder in dancing. We have talent among our own group.
I want to highlight a section of our society that has been badly affected and has not benefited from the CRSS, that is, fish suppliers and suppliers of all kinds to the hospitality sector. These businesses were not officially closed down at all but because the places to which they were supplying their wares had been closed down, they have suffered immensely. Even though the incomes and businesses of fish suppliers, meat suppliers and vegetable suppliers that were supplying the hospitality sector have been washed up for the past number of weeks, Revenue has said they do not qualify because they were not officially closed down. I ask the Minister to look into this. These people should have qualified. The Minister and the Department said that they would but Revenue said they did not. I ask him to address that.