Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Employment Rights

Louise O'Reilly

Ceist:

90. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if his attention has been drawn to the fact that provisional liquidators have been appointed to a group (details supplied); and if he will engage with the workers and their trade union to ensure that, regardless of what happens, the company will honour the workers' collective agreement. [44124/20]

Before the hostilities break out, as they inevitably will, I want to take this opportunity to wish the Minister, the Ministers of State and their families and the staff in the Department a very happy Christmas and a safe and - fingers crossed - healthy new year. I know how hard everybody has been working and I am sure they are all, like myself and all of us on this side of the House, very much looking forward to a bit of a break.

My question is reasonably simple. It relates to the appointment of liquidators to the Arcadia Group, which includes shops and brands such as Topshop, Wallis and Topman. As the Minister knows, I am looking for him to engage with the workers and their trade union to ensure the collective agreements of these workers, regardless of what happens. I will not describe the collective agreements as "enjoyed" by these workers because I do not believe anyone will enjoy what is about to happen. As the Minister knows, these people are at work now and extremely busy. However, their jobs are hanging in the balance.

Joint provisional liquidators have been appointed by the High Court to four Irish operating companies that are part of the UK fashion group Arcadia. As the matter is before the courts and not a matter for Government, it is sub judice and I am limited in what I can say.

I extend my sympathies to the workers who are in danger of losing their jobs. I fully appreciate how difficult the situation is for those involved, especially at this time of the year.

It is important to say that a provisional liquidator does not take steps to wind up a company but rather preserves and secures the company's assets pending appointment of an official liquidator. Therefore, the employees of Arcadia remain as employees and continue to have employment rights and contractual rights, which they can exercise.

I understand that it is hoped to secure the sale of the Irish operations as part of an overall sale of the group and that the Irish stores will continue to trade through Christmas to maximise the value of stock.

The Government hopes a suitable and sustainable buyer can be found, and that any potential job losses can be avoided or mitigated.

Section 12 of the Protection of Employment Act 1977 makes it mandatory on employers to notify the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment of a proposed collective redundancy. To date, we have received no such notification in regard to Arcadia.

Redundancy is a matter for the employer in the first instance but the State will guarantee the employment rights and entitlements of the workers in Arcadia; it should be borne in mind that a collective agreement such as the one the Deputy mentioned is contingent on the employer's ability to pay.

The Companies Act 2014 provides safeguards to ensure that a liquidation complies with the law. In the event of the appointment of an official liquidator, workers also have rights as creditors under company law and they can execute these through the courts. They, or their representatives, can go to court on any question arising in the winding up of a company. The Government will work in a co-ordinated way to assist anyone who loses his or her job. A wide range of measures including welfare entitlements, job search assistance and upskilling opportunities can be made available. We will be happy to engage with the trade union representing the workers in Arcadia.

I thank the Tánaiste for his response. There are 491 jobs in the balance at the moment. That is 491 people with families, bills to pay, etc. I appreciate what the Tánaiste is saying regarding the appointment of the provisional liquidator. However, these people are in work today. They are looking at their collective agreement. They are looking at what happened to the workers in Debenhams. They are wondering if their collective agreement is worth the paper it is written on. For the avoidance of any doubt, a collective agreement is always about give and take. These workers have already given in terms of what they will get back and now they are looking at their jobs hanging in the balance. I welcome the fact that the Tánaiste will meet them. I will inform their trade union so that those arrangements can be made. I understand a good many of these workers work in the Blanchardstown centre and would be constituents of the Tánaiste. I am sure they will be in touch with me. Will he join me in sending solidarity and support to those workers? They are working now over the Christmas period. It is extremely busy and they do not know if their jobs will be safe and secure. I would like to hear from the Tánaiste what he can do to be proactive. I fully respect that some matters are before the court but in terms of being proactive, what can he do to secure the almost 500 jobs for those workers?

The Deputy is absolutely right. Many of these workers live in my constituency and have been in contact with me already. There are 500 of them across the country. The first objective will be to save as many jobs as we possibly can save. The second will be to ensure that their rights and entitlements are guaranteed but with support and solidarity must come honesty. That means saying that, as people would understand, legal rights and entitlements are set out in law. A collective agreement is contingent on the ability of the employer to pay. I have often said previously that I believe the Debenhams workers were very badly treated by their employer, in the way they were laid off in particular, but they were also badly treated by some people who took up their cause. I do not mean their trade union. I mean political forces that led them to believe that there is a big pot of money somewhere here in Ireland or in the UK to which they can get access. We know now from the independent report of the chairman of the Labour Court, which came out this week, that that was not the case. Some months ago there was a deal on the table - two weeks redundancy per year of service, an extra €1 million and some of the stores, and the jobs, being saved - and that opportunity was lost. That is a real shame. I hope that when the Arcadia workers see some of those people riding over the hill coming to help them that they run them because they did not help them. The best thing they can do is to take the advice of their trade union leadership, and the Government will do everything we can to help them.

I do not want to get into a slagging match about that but I am someone with a fair amount of industrial relations experience. I am not in the habit or in the practice of interfering in industrial disputes but I see a very clear role for the Government in this regard. I have spoken at length with representatives from Mandate. It is not good enough for the Tánaiste to simply say that he hopes an alternative buyer is found and that the jobs will be saved. We are talking about 500 jobs. He has a responsibility, as the Minister with responsibility for jobs, to intervene in this case. As he said, the first steps have to be to save the jobs. In that regard, is there anything the Tánaiste can do? I am trying to be positive. I am not in the business or the practice of giving workers false hope. I did not do that when I was a union organiser. I do not do it now as a TD. The Tánaiste appears to be a bit passive on this issue. He stands back, shrugs his shoulders and says that the nature of retail is changing. People are being driven to shop online because they do not have money in their back pocket. That is a fact. These jobs are important and I wanted to hear from the Tánaiste what he is prepared to do, in his role as Minster with responsibility for jobs, to save these jobs and to ensure these workers have a secure future.

What the workers will get is what they deserve, which is solidarity, support and total honesty. They may not get that from others. We will do the best we can to secure as many of the 500 jobs as possible and keep as many of the stores open as possible. We will engage with the union and, to the extent that we can, with the liquidator on that. As a Government we will ensure that the legal entitlements and rights of the workers are honoured but we will be honest in saying that they have the same set of rights as every other worker. There cannot be special or extra rights for some workers over others. All we can honour is what is set out in the law.

Retail is changing. People who have money in their pocket are now spending it online. For the first time in Ireland, more money is spent online than physically. The pandemic has accelerated a change that was happening anyway. That means we will need fewer people working in the shop in retail but we will need more in other areas such as distribution, for example, and warehousing. That is why we are willing to provide training and educational opportunities to ensure people can retrain for new jobs because there will be jobs in other sectors.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Louise O'Reilly

Ceist:

91. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if his attention has been drawn to the Organisation of Working Time (Amendment) (Carryover of Annual Leave) (Covid-19) Bill 2020 which was introduced on 26 November 2020, which seeks to allow workers to carry over untaken annual leave which they could not take due to the impact of Covid-19; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that similar legislation has been passed for workers in the UK and Northern Ireland; and if he will support similar legislation here. [44125/20]

Again, this is a fairly straightforward question. It is to ask if the Tánaiste is aware of the Organisation of Working Time (Amendment) (Carryover of Annual Leave) (Covid-19) Bill 2020 introduced in November. It seeks to allow workers carry over untaken annual leave and to give them a legal right to be able to do that. This is leave accrued as a result of Covid-19. I am aware that in some instances leave can be cashed in and they can take the money but after the year those on the front line in particular have had, I believe this capacity to carryover their annual leave and take it at a time when we can be more freer would be very beneficial.

I want to once again express the gratitude of the House to all of the front-line and essential workers who continued to provide services throughout the pandemic.

The Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 sets out an employee’s entitlement to annual leave and the terms and conditions around the taking of that leave. Under section 20 of the Act, the times at which annual leave is taken is ultimately determined by the employer. This is subject to the leave being granted within the leave year to which it relates or, with the consent of the employee, within the six months after the end of that leave year. The Act also allows for further flexibilities to be agreed at sectoral, or company level, when it suits both employees and employers.

If an employer does not allow an employee to take his or her annual leave and does not allow them to carry it into the first six months of the following year, then that employer is breaking the law.

An employee’s entitlement to annual leave was introduced as a health and safety measure as part of the European working time directive, which was transposed into Irish law. While there have been fewer opportunities for travel and recreation activities this year, it is still very important that employees avail of annual leave to take a break, avoid burnout and maintain an appropriate work-life balance, even if that means that they cannot travel abroad or out of their county. This is even more true for staff who have been engaged in work related to the pandemic and have been through an extremely stressful and challenging year.

To date, my Department has not received any representations that would suggest that the carryover of annual leave is a particularly pressing issue at this time. I have sought the views of union and business representative on this matter, via the Labour Employer Economic Forum and their responses to date do not suggest that this is a significant problem but we will keep it under review.

With regard to emergency workers, I have received assurances from both the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the HSE that public sector and front-line workers are being encouraged to take their annual leave throughout the pandemic so that they can get a rest and are not being asked not to take their annual leave.

If an employee believes they have been denied their right to take annual leave they may refer a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission.

They may indeed refer a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission but they need a rest now and as the Tánaiste knows, it can take months, if not years, to get those complaints resolved. The purpose of the legislation is to reflect these extraordinary times we are in and while I respect the conversations he has had with employers and others with regard to them saying it is not a significant problem at this time, my understanding is that it is a problem and one that can be fixed.

Many people may not be in a position to take their leave and want to carry it over. As the Minister and members of the Government have said, we are not out of the woods yet. This could go on for many months, and indeed past the first six months of 2021. We should give people the entitlement to have the benefit of that rest and to carry that leave forward, not just into 2021 but into 2022. The intention of this legislation is to reflect the extraordinary nature of the times that we are in. It does not just refer to front-line medical and other workers but to those workers who we now all regard as essential, who may not have been regarded as essential previously, such as supply chain workers and people in meat processing factories, and who kept us fed and supplied throughout the pandemic. I think giving them the legal right to carry forward their annual leave is important.

We will keep this under review and if we find cases of people who are being refused their annual leave, we will take legislative action if we need to. It is important to say that people can carry over their annual leave for six months into the next year and that we are encouraging people to take their annual leave, because people need a break and to rest. Even if they cannot travel abroad or outside of their county, they should still take that leave, break and rest. People in the public service are being encouraged to do that and I am told by the authorities that they are not being refused annual leave. We do not want people choosing to bank their annual leave and then taking two or three months in a block next year or the year after, because it could undermine the delivery of public services if large numbers of people chose not to take their leave this year and took a significant amount of leave next year.

There is no suggestion that public services would be undermined. People have an entitlement to take their annual leave. If the Tánaiste reads the legislation, it provides for cases where leave cannot be taken, not cases where workers are banking their leave. I note that the Minister's first port of call is to blame the workers themselves for not taking their annual leave or to suggest somehow that they are trying to game the system. They have an entitlement to benefit. Rest and recreation are extremely important. Notwithstanding the fact that they cannot go outside of their county or go abroad, people need to have a rest from work, but where that cannot be taken or they cannot avail of that rest, it is only fair that they be given the legal right. We have the Organisation of Working Time Act because we cannot just rely on the goodwill of employers. Legal entitlements have to be laid down for workers to ensure that they can get the benefit of their annual leave. In that regard, it is important that those workers would have the capacity to carry it forward, not just for the first six months but for the entirety of 2021 and into 2022, in a scenario where they cannot take their annual leave. It is not that they are, as the Minister has suggested, trying to game the system or bank their annual leave so that they can have three months off in a block and crash public services.

That is a misrepresentation of what I said. If there are examples of people who cannot take their leave, where they are being refused leave by their employer, whether it is a public service employer or private sector employer, we want to know about it, because an employer in those circumstances is breaking the law. People are entitled to their annual leave and can carry it forward for at least six months into the second year. That is already the law. If people want to take their leave and are being refused that leave, that is a serious matter and we want to know about it. It can be adjudicated at the Workplace Relations Commission, and if it requires strengthening the law, I am open to doing that. So far, from the representations coming to us from our engagement with unions and employers, we are not seeing a significant number of cases where people want to take their leave and are being refused it.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

92. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will introduce an enterprise and trade support scheme similar to and-or the equivalent of the Covid-19 restrictions support scheme for businesses that are not subject to business rates and-or conduct trading activities from a business premises located in a region subject to restrictions in view of the fact that the Covid pandemic unemployment payment and the employment wage subsidy scheme are not particularly appropriate to certain business models within the tourism and live entertainment sectors. [43719/20]

Will the Tánaiste consider the introduction of a trade support scheme equivalent to the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, for businesses that are not subject to commercial rates and do not operate from a business premises, in view of the fact that the pandemic unemployment payment and wage subsidy scheme are not especially appropriate to certain business models in the tourism and live entertainment sectors?

The Covid-19 restrictions support scheme was introduced to provide targeted compensation to those businesses adversely affected by the imposition of public health restrictions. It has advantages over the restart and restart plus grants as the amounts payable under the scheme can be varied depending on the length of time that restrictions are in place. The level of payment also reflects the turnover of the affected businesses under normal trading conditions. At present, businesses without a fixed premises cannot avail of the CRSS. For such firms, their fixed costs will likely be lower as a proportion of their total expenses than businesses with fixed premises. However, these business can avail of the employment wage subsidy scheme to help to meet payroll costs and other interventions such as warehousing of tax liabilities and VAT reduction.

In the recent budget, the Government allocated significant additional resources to Departments to provide help to different sectors. Nearly €400 million was provided to the Department of Transport and €222 million was provided to the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. These additional moneys will go towards supporting businesses, including those not in receipt of the CRSS, such as the €30 million scheme for private bus operators, a €55 million scheme for strategic tourism businesses, and a €50 million scheme for the live entertainment sector. There have also been special packages for taxi drivers and wet pubs. These are in addition to financial assistance provided by Enterprise Ireland, InterTradeIreland and local enterprise offices. I recognise the issues raised by the Deputy and I have received representations on it. My officials are working with the Department of Finance to identify the type and number of businesses that fall outside the scope of the CRSS and are not covered by other sectoral schemes, and to report back to me with proposals on how we could amend CRSS or develop a new scheme for those companies that have fallen between stools.

It is welcome that it is under consideration. Fáilte Ireland has a €10 million fund called the Ireland-based inbound agents business continuity scheme but it is complex. The information that is required is substantial and not accessible to many small businesses. The entertainment and tourism sector will be terribly important for our recovery. We need to make sure that they are able to pick up, to a degree, where they left off, so that they can recover quickly. Online travel agents, production companies, event planners and associated businesses are all excluded from this grant. The running costs do not cease. I understand that there is a cost of a business premises but, for example, a small tour bus operator will have insurance costs and probably leases on buses, depreciation costs, insurance costs and so on. Tour companies that earned a commission had to return it because people could not go ahead with their holidays. There is a significant disadvantage for this sector.

It is important to bear in mind that any and all firms can qualify for the employment wage subsidy scheme. That is designed to help with the cost of the payroll and keeping staff on. The CRSS is designed to help with fixed, non-employment-related costs of keeping a company going. Those non-payroll costs tend to relate to the cost of running a premises. I mentioned sectoral schemes for taxi drivers, wet pubs and private bus operators. There is €50 million for strategic tourism businesses and €50 million for the live events sector. Those will be rolled out in January. I appreciate that even with those across-the-board and sectoral schemes, there will be a number of orphan companies that might be able to avail of the wage subsidy scheme but cannot avail of any other schemes. That is the kind of work that we are now doing with the Department of Finance, with a plan to have proposals in January to have either a modification of CRSS or a new scheme for those companies, recognising the fact that they fall between those stools.

I am not sure if the Tánaiste is aware of domestic destination management companies, which link golf courses, hotels and taxis. They do all the booking. Essentially, they do not have to operate from a business premises. They are key to the reason people will come here on holidays because all of their requirements are pre-booked. Somebody does that. This is the type of company that is falling through this crack. There is no question of them being able to avail of, for example, the €480 per month that some companies can get and they cannot operate because of the necessary restrictions that have been imposed in relation to the pandemic. This is an example of the type of company I am speaking about.

A company like that qualifies for the employment wage subsidy scheme and so it would receive money towards its payroll costs. The question in regard to a company like that is what its non-payroll costs are. In other words, what are the fixed costs not related to payroll that it has to cover? That is the kind of issue we are trying to explore at the moment. Without a premises, a business's fixed costs should be relatively low. Even still, a company like that might be able to quality for the new strategic tourism business scheme. There is €55 million available under that scheme, which will be launched soon by the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin. Again, I appreciate the fundamental point the Deputy is making, which is correct, namely, there are going to be companies that fall between schemes and we will need to design a scheme to do something for them. That is what we intend to do.

Corporate Governance

Louise O'Reilly

Ceist:

93. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will report on the interactions he has had with the Director of Corporate Enforcement regarding the Companies (Corporate Enforcement Authority) Bill 2018. [44126/20]

Question No. 93 is in the name of Deputy O'Reilly and Deputy Quinlivan has been nominated.

The Companies (Corporate Enforcement Authority) Bill 2018 is important legislation. We met a couple of months ago and we discussed it briefly. If it is delivered, it could have a real impact on the issue of so-called white collar crime, or more aptly, economic crime. I look forward to the Bill coming before the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment in the new year. A fully functioning and fit-for-purpose Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE, will play a key role as the Bill seeks to establish a corporate authority on a commission structure. Can the Tánaiste advise of the interaction he has had with that office in relation to this legislation?

As the ODCE falls under my delegated functions, I will take the question. I understand the Tánaiste is due to meet the Director of Corporate Enforcement in the new year. However, I met him shortly after my appointment and we had a constructive engagement primarily around the establishment of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement.

The Companies (Corporate Enforcement Authority) Bill 2018 is my legislative priority for this session. The legislation has been in development since the Government adopted a package of measures to enhance Ireland's corporate, economic and regulatory framework in October 2017. The package included the action to establish the ODCE as an independent company law compliance and enforcement agency.

The general scheme of the Companies (Corporate Enforcement Authority) Bill 2018 was published on 4 December 2018. My Department worked with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel on the drafting of the Bill and the director was consulted on the draft legislation on an ongoing basis. Pre-legislative scrutiny on the general scheme of the Bill had not concluded at the time of the dissolution of the last Dáil and is under way again. I understand the director recently provided a submission on the legislation to the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment, at its request. I also understand it is the committee's intention to invite the Tánaiste to appear before it on 20 January next.

I thank the Minister of State for the reply and his comments. I am delighted he has met the director of the ODCE. I am pleased that it was a constructive meeting. I take this opportunity to advise the Minister of State that I have invited the Tánaiste and the director to attend the first possible meeting of the joint committee in January. I hope that will happen. We want to meet the director first and we will then meet the Tánaiste, as Minister, in the next available opportunity, hopefully in January. Those invitations went out today.

The Hamilton review has welcomed the effort to enhance the autonomy of the ODCE and has made a number of recommendations regarding enhanced powers, enhancement of the Ethics Act and, in particular, amendments to the criminal justice legislation with respect to search warrants. In his discussions with the ODCE, did the Minister of State express concerns regarding the recommendations of the report? Crucially, the creation of a stand-alone authority will allow greater ability to hire staff and expertise rather than being dependent on the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment for such recruitment matters. Has a decision been made with regard to the level of funding that the autonomous authority will receive?

The policy approach underpinning the general scheme is the establishment of a statutory agency that is appropriately resourced, is accountable and has a clear mandate. It is clear that white-collar crime is a menace on society and has huge consequences for the economy. It is important that we have a fit-for-purpose authority established as quickly as possible. It is regrettable that during the course of the last Dáil the committee, of which I was a member for a number of months, could not, for reasons known to it, undertake pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. In January, the committee will have an opportunity to meet the director, the Tánaiste and me to finalise the general scheme of the Bill, to undertake pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill and to plough on and ensure this legislation is enacted without any further delay. It is important legislation. I welcome Deputy Quinlivan's commitment to it and I look forward to working with him, the Tánaiste and the committee to ensure the Bill is enacted without any further delay.

I would like to put on the record my thanks for the work done by the former Chairman of the committee, Deputy Butler, now Minister of State at the Department of Health, to try to progress this Bill. There were a number of legal and other reasons that did not happen. Hopefully, it will happen next year.

We are in broad agreement on the need for structural change to the ODCE. We all agree on the need to tackle white-collar crime. White-collar economic crime is something citizens have been more exposed to during the Covid-19 pandemic. Since March of this year trade and commerce has been, in the main, conducted via electronic means. I am concerned that if we establish the authority and give it the necessary statutory power, but we fail to enhance support to the related Garda divisions and other agencies or authorities involved in tackling economic crime, the impact of this change could be negligible. The establishment of the authority is an important part of the work in tackling white-collar crime but it is not the only part. We need a suite of measures, some of which are alluded to in the Hamilton report. I hope that the Tánaiste, the Minister of State and other relevant Ministers will seek to expedite the recommendations contained in the Hamilton report.

We are on the same page on this matter. We can work together to progress the legislation in a timely fashion. The Deputy is correct that the establishment of this authority on its own will not be the panacea to white-collar crime and that this is a matter that crosses many Departments. The Deputy referenced the Hamilton report launched by the Department of Justice earlier this year and the aspirations contained therein. It is important that we take the first step, which is the establishment of the authority. It is long overdue. That does not mean the reforms will stop there. We will continue to build on that, evolve and ensure our legislative responses are fit for purpose. I have no doubt we will do that.

The Deputy asked about funding. The funding for the ODCE in 2021 is over €6 million, which is a 20% increase on the allocation for 2018. This is an acknowledgement of the fact that in establishing the authority it must be adequately resourced so it can be fit for purpose.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Cathal Crowe

Ceist:

94. Deputy Cathal Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of businesses in County Clare that have received support under the restart grant and the restart grant plus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43793/20]

There are exactly 14 days remaining of this year. It has been a very tough year for businesses. How many businesses in County Clare benefited this year from the restart grant and restart grant plus schemes administered by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment?

The restart grant and restart grant plus schemes were designed to help small and medium-sized businesses through the exceptionally difficult time since the Covid crisis hit the country last spring. The restart grant scheme was launched on 15 May with a budget of €250 million originally. The restart grant plus scheme was launched on 10 August, with an additional budget of €300 million from the Government's July jobs stimulus, as a result of the increase in demand for the original scheme.

The purpose of the schemes was to help with the cost of reopening or adapting business premises in order that normal business could resume and to facilitate dealing with some of the businesses' fixed costs during times of closure. Grant payments were administered by the local authorities via the commercial rates system as this was considered the most effective means of getting urgent financial assistance to small businesses impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. The restart grant scheme closed to new applications on 31 October and the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, operated by the Revenue Commissioners, has been in place since that date.

In response to the Deputy's specific question, as of 11 December 2020, Clare County Council has awarded 1,045 restart grants and 1,735 grants under the restart grant plus scheme. In total, more than 118,600 applications have been managed under both restart schemes throughout the country. I compliment the local authorities on their approach to the schemes, working with the relevant Department and with my Department to administer these funds and get them out as quickly as they possibly could. My understanding is that there has been quite a high success rate in terms of applications and processing times. The schemes have been very successful and I am glad Clare County Council embraced them.

I thank the Minister of State for providing those details. I understand there were a number of problems early on with the restart scheme. The software linking the Department to local authorities did not function or was not up to scratch immediately, which delayed roll-out to some extent.

There are still a number of outlier businesses throughout the country. Eamonn Andrews, a constituent of mine, is one of them. He is a photographer who goes around to schools photographing children who have made their communion or confirmation, school graduations and so on. He does not have a physical premises and works out of the boot of his car, where he keeps his tripod and camera. He takes beautiful photographs and sends them back out to schools. He is not benefiting from the schemes currently in place because he does not have a premises. Another example is Sean Kilkenny, who runs a jarvey business out of Dromoland Castle, taking people out in horse-drawn carriages. He has more than 40 horses to feed over the winter and he has not benefited from the schemes thus far. The Department needs to look at the schemes it has in place in the new year, including the CRSS, with a view to amending the terms in order that people who do not have a physical premises can start to benefit from them.

I thank the Deputy for highlighting those two cases. While I do not have details of individual cases, we certainly value every job that is out there and every business that creates those jobs. During the Covid period and as we enter into the post-Brexit situation, we recognise how important it is that we, as a State, support businesses and jobs. That is what we use taxpayers' money for and it is why we have seen a serious amount of money allocated over the past 12 months to supporting jobs across a number of schemes, including the restart grant, CRSS, the wage subsidy scheme, the rates rebates, and all the various vouchers available through the local enterprise offices, LEOs, and local authorities. We are here to support businesses.

However, the Deputy is right that there are a couple of areas in which people are still finding it difficult to access all the supports. They can all avail of the wage subsidy scheme and many of the vouchers, but some of the schemes are directly linked to premises because there are costs, including fixed costs, to having those premises open. The Tánaiste mentioned that our Department is engaging with the Department of Finance and other Departments to focus on each individual sector and area to identify where people cannot avail of enough supports to keep their businesses open. I will certainly take on board the two cases the Deputy has represented and feed them into the system. We are looking at this issue in the next couple of weeks and into January. An amount of money was allocated in the budget for recovery and for a new scheme that may be announced next year. We will try to work with the Deputy on these issues as best we can.

I am most concerned about the outliers, as I said. I ask that the Department look at putting in place a mechanism to assist them in the new year. Sean Kilkenny and Eamonn Andrews are two examples. There are also the bookkeepers who only have a racecourse presence. They do not have a bookkeeping office but appear with their leather bag at the racecourse. They are another group who are missing out.

Bed and breakfast owners are another group where people felt they lost out early on when the Covid supports were kicking in. There are supports in place for them now but bed and breakfast owners in County Clare are very worried to hear that many of them are going to be approached by the Valuation Office in early 2021 and that they will be judged as being commercial entities. In some places, like Killarney, for example, there are large 14-bedroom bed and breakfast businesses that could be considered to be almost mini-hotels. However, that model of bed and breakfast accommodation is not on offer in County Clare and the operators there are worried that, at a time when they are struggling to keep their businesses going, they will be subjected to rates. I ask the Minister of State to defer whatever plan he has in this regard and to work with other Ministers to look at broadening the scope of the range of business supports in order that more businesses can benefit from them in early 2021.

We review all our schemes regularly anyway. Since the Covid pandemic hit, we have constantly reviewed the support schemes and adapted them where it made sense to do so and where there was evidence to back it up. That happened in regard to bed and breakfast businesses. We are constantly reviewing all of our schemes. As I said, we are doing so again to see whether there are particular sectors and jobs we have not been able to reach and support. We feel very strongly, with the use of taxpayers' money through all the various schemes, that we should be reaching the majority of businesses with strong supports. The wage subsidy is available to everybody. However, it is fair to say that there are some sectors in which business owners do not have a premises and might feel they need additional supports. That is what we are looking at. The Deputy gave some very good examples in that regard today and we will use them.

The revaluation process has been ongoing for a number of years. In the majority of cases, it has resulted in a reduction in the rates businesses have to pay. Businesses in some sectors have had to pay an increased amount, but the majority have had a reduction in rates. It is important that we revaluate at regular intervals how the rates are administered and charged. That process is well under way and is being rolled out throughout the country. We certainly are prepared to look at all the various schemes to see whether we can strengthen and adapt them and, if needs be, whether we need to introduce new schemes. We are here to support job creation and make sure most businesses have a chance to recover next year and into 2022.

National Development Plan

David Stanton

Ceist:

95. Deputy David Stanton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the priorities of his Department in the context of the forthcoming national development plan review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43682/20]

In light of the changes that have occurred in recent times with Brexit and the challenges associated with Covid, what are the Department's priorities in respect of the review of the national development plan?

The review of the national development plan is an important opportunity to assess our programme of investment in public infrastructure and ensure we are developing our physical infrastructure, human capital and cultural capital to serve the changing needs of our society and economy. The Government's priority is that we use our capital investment optimally to drive a jobs-led recovery and develop the longer-term capacity of our economy and the reorientation of our economy. The original national development plan was written at a time of full employment. We are now in a very different place and enterprise and employment must feature more strongly in the revised plan.

The revised national development plan will reflect the priorities of the forthcoming national economic plan, which will set out a pathway to a renewed economy and society. It is now time to plan for renewal and for a lasting and inclusive recovery in 2021 and beyond. The updated national development plan will be impactful on a number of fronts, such as providing a countercyclical fiscal policy, renewing the Government's investment in regional development, closing significant infrastructure gaps, supporting agility and resilience in the enterprise and labour market, and funding climate-related investments. At €10.1 billion next year, our capital budget will be the largest ever. In practical terms, this means investment in our transport networks, and public transport in particular, broadband, e-hubs, health and education infrastructure, and our water network. It means investment in the kind of infrastructure that will enable the transition to a digital and low-carbon economy.

We must also continue to make considerable investments in our human capital, that is, our people, in order to achieve the widest economic and social return on investments in physical infrastructure. Such investment needs to be flanked by investments that enhance competitiveness in job creation and productivity and the innovative capacity of our businesses. These will include capital programmes such as those managed by the enterprise development agencies.

I thank the Tánaiste for his comprehensive response. When does he expect the national development plan review to be completed? He referred to capital infrastructure. Does he envisage that the plan will include areas of the country that have been left out of development up to now, including towns that have not seen any major growth in employment? With the roll-out of broadband, will he be looking at towns such as Youghal in County Cork, in my constituency, with a view to increasing employment there? Will he encourage IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland to focus on towns like that, which could now become seriously important in terms of providing employment?

The original plan, Project Ireland 2040, and the national development plan which flowed from it stands. There was going to be a review in 2022 and we are bringing forward that review by a year. We should have the revised national development plan by the middle of 2021. There is more money going into capital expenditure than we intended so there will be some scope for new projects and others will have to be re-profiled because of various issues that have delayed them. There will be something of a change in focus which will be more towards digital, with a little bit more on housing and climate. That we have gone from full employment to high unemployment will have to be recognised in any national development plan. As the Deputy has said, job creation is going to be a big part of that, which will mean ensuring the national broadband plan benefits all parts of east Cork so that there will be more job opportunities there. It may mean improving the service to some of the commuter rail stations around Cork, such as Midleton in east Cork. That will be a very significant focus of the plan.

I thank the Tánaiste and welcome his reply. I draw his attention to the need for Irish Water to be given more resources. There should be a focus on speeding up some of its work because many development plans, especially in my area, depend on Irish Water getting its act together and putting infrastructure in place. I would be concerned that any other plans could be stalled because of the challenges that it faces.

As part of the budget for 2021, there is an increase in the capital allocation to Irish Water so it will be getting more resources. I am aware that water services are a significant development constraint in many parts of the country. If we look at the list of works that need to be done and the available budget, it does not mean that everything is going to be done next year or the year after, but hopefully we will be able to speed up some of the projects and perhaps add some more.

Question No. 96 replied to with Written Answers.

Brexit Supports

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

97. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the analysis his Department has carried out into the low uptake of the Brexit loan scheme compared to the uptake of the future growth loan scheme; if unexpended Brexit loan scheme funding will be available for repurposing through bespoke supports for microenterprises and small enterprises; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43941/20]

I ask my question in the context of the Irish Government's economic and evaluation service spending review and assessment of the impact of Brexit and Covid-19 on Údarás na Gaeltachta and its client companies. Specifically, what analysis has the Tánaiste’s Department carried out on the low uptake of the Brexit loan scheme compared to the uptake of the future growth loan scheme?

The Brexit loan scheme and the future growth loan scheme have very different objectives and were both established prior to the onset of the pandemic. The Brexit loan scheme was launched in 2018 to provide SMEs and companies with fewer than 500 employees with an option to access competitively priced working capital finance to help them to mitigate and react to the impacts of Brexit. It was intended that the scheme would be available for one year prior to and one year after Brexit. With the repeated deferrals to the Brexit deadline and the transition period, many businesses, quite naturally, delayed their Brexit preparations. The added disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic has meant that businesses have had to focus their efforts through much of 2020 on successfully navigating this unforeseen crisis. These factors have resulted in a modest uptake of the Brexit loan scheme to date with approximately €57 million in loans approved to 281 businesses.

In comparison, the future growth loan scheme, which was established to provide long-term lending to SMEs and also aimed to close an identified gap in low investment and underinvestment among Irish SMEs, has seen a rapid uptake from its launch in April 2019. The initial €300 million scheme was expanded by the Government through a further €500 million in available lending. There continues to be high demand for the scheme and to date €523 million of the €800 million scheme has been sanctioned for 2,601 businesses. It is very encouraging news that even at this time, so many businesses are seeing opportunities for expansion and are taking steps to invest in their businesses to ensure their longer-term sustainability and growth. However, Brexit will mean change for Irish businesses, and it is imperative that the option of providing access to working capital remains available. In this regard, I have extended the Brexit loan scheme so that it will remain in place through the entirety of 2021.

I ask that the Tánaiste might address himself to the spending review because it is very interesting with reference to the Gaeltacht areas. First, 85% of all of the jobs there are in microenterprises of less than ten employees. Second, they are the most exposed sector to Brexit in all of Ireland. Why is that? It is because most of their exports go to Britain. I know that the Tánaiste is well aware of this but I will give him a number observations from this review:

Gaeltacht companies are significantly more exposed to a disorderly Brexit than the Irish economy in general, due to their reliance on the UK as both an export market and a source of raw materials and other imports ... In 2018 31% of ÚnaG companies exports went to the UK... [and] ...82% of ÚnaG client companies [surveyed as part of the review] had not applied for any Brexit supports.

I could go on. The review identifies the problems in that the packages available are not targeted, which is one of the review's main findings. We need targeted and focused supports for the small businesses in the Gaeltacht areas.

I believe these schemes are targeted. There are many different loan and grant schemes. It may be the case that they are not targeted particularly to the Gaeltacht but they are targeted to small businesses. Microenterprises, which the Deputy mentioned, and enterprises with fewer than ten employees can benefit from the Microfinance Ireland loans, and there has been a very good uptake of that. That is effectively an interest-free loan for the first year and a low interest rate thereafter. I would also encourage small businesses in the Gaeltacht that are trading with Britain to avail of the €9,000 grant which we are making available through Enterprise Ireland to enable them to either take somebody on to do customs, or, if they are very small and that is not what they need, to redeploy somebody in the business towards customs so that they are ready for trading with Britain on 1 January.

Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil an Tánaiste tiomanta don Ghaeilge agus, ar ndóigh, tá éacht déanta aige. Is eiseamláir é ó thaobh na Gaeilge ach maidir leis an gceist seo, tá sé thar a bheith soiléir nach bhfuil an tacaíocht ar fáil do na daoine ar an talamh. Mar shampla, má léann sé an giota seo as an tuarascáil:

Despite the large suite of measures available to companies through Enterprise Ireland to deal with Covid-19 take up by ÚnaG client companies was very low. Feedback from those companies would suggest that this is in large part due to the fact that many of the supports were in the form of repayable grants or low-cost loans.

The report continues:

The feedback from Údarás na Gaeltachta is that the small Local Enterprise Office Covid-19 grants have worked well due to the fact they are easily accessible, with a simple application form and open to the wider business community. This demonstrates that there is an appetite for micro and small enterprises to engage with the development agency when the product offering addresses their core issues.

This is a very interesting review if the Tánaiste has the opportunity to read it. I pay tribute to the writers who have made it very readable and accessible. They are highlighting that the Gaeltacht areas, in particular, are suffering for the reasons I have outlined. We first need a recognition from the Government and then a targeted approach. That is why I asked the Tánaiste what analysis has been carried out.

Tá an tacaíocht ar fáil do na daoine agus do na fiontair ar an talamh. I will take a look at that review. I received a brief summary of it but I have not read it from cover to cover and I will do that over the Christmas break. We have a package of grants and loans. There is, of course, more demand for grants than for loans because grants are not repayable and that will always be the case. Businesses taking on debt need to make a decision on whether they want to do this. One of the reasons the future growth loan scheme has been so successful is because it is long-term money at a low interest rate for businesses that can afford to expand. These are businesses that can afford to repay loans. The other loans are for working capital, which is short-term lending to get over the hump of Brexit or the pandemic, and there has been less demand for them.

It might be the case in Gaeltacht regions that people are not getting the level of information they should be getting on what is available. If one takes the grant for customs, for example, just 300 companies, approximately, have availed of that so far. I will definitely look at that review to see if there is something we can do that is focused on Gaeltacht businesses.

Examinership Arrangements

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

98. Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the progress that has been made in developing a cheaper and easier form of examinership which could assist viable enterprises to achieve some restructuring with creditors in order to protect jobs in the trading difficulties. [43183/20]

The Tánaiste will have read this morning that the ESRI is saying that by the end of this year we could still have 15% unemployment. One of the concerns that many people have is that when the various concessions on periods of interest, taxation or rent are lifted, there will be companies in dire need of restructuring.

The loss of those companies could add significantly to unemployment. Can the Minister of State make the process of examinership easier to access for such companies that need to restructure?

I thank the Deputy. The State's long-standing preventive restructuring framework in examinership is internationally recognised and has proven to be a successful tool for restructuring in its current form. However, I accept that the cost of examinership is prohibitive for smaller businesses. The Tánaiste wrote to the Company Law Review Group, CLRG, in July requesting it to consider the issue of rescue for small businesses, following on commitments in the programme for Government. The CLRG completed its work and reported back to the Tánaiste and me on 24 October 2020. The report set out its recommendations for a proposed new process for the rescue of small companies, distinct from the existing examinership legislation.

The issue of company rescue extends far beyond the distressed company itself. It impacts all creditors, which are often other small companies. Any new framework must reflect the delicate balance between sometimes competing stakeholders and provide sufficiently robust safeguards for the protection of creditors, particularly employees.

I am acutely aware of the difficulties faced by many small companies. I am committed to progressing legislation to support their long-term viability and preserve employment. Already, I have steered legislation through the House to assist in the survival of companies during the Covid-19 crisis. The Companies (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Covid-19) Act makes necessary temporary amendments to the Companies Act 2014 and related legislation. It provides for an additional 50 days in the examinership process, bringing the period up to a total of 150 days, and it increases the threshold at which a company is deemed unable to pay its debt to €50,000. The interim period for this legislation was due to end on 31 December 2020, but, following Government approval this week, it will be extended until 9 June 2021. This means that the extension of examinership to 150 days and the threshold change remain in place. It is important, in light of the extension of these temporary provisions, that viable companies and co-operatives have sufficient flexibility to restructure and trade through the crisis.

Regarding what the CLRG has proposed, it is the firm ambition of the Tánaiste and me to have a new process enacted in a timely manner.

I thank the Minister of State and welcome his acknowledgement that the cost of examinership, running between €80,000 and €130,000 and involving High Court action, is way beyond the scope of most companies. It is estimated that fewer than one quarter of the companies that would be rescued by examinership in the US or UK are subject to such restructuring rescue here.

This will break in the next six months. I do not believe the Government will be able to get legislation through in time for the high point. Could the Minister of State consider changes that might be made on an administrative basis? He rightly said there are complex issues associated with creditors but the worst thing of all for creditors is to see a viable business destroyed and everyone left without any payment. Therefore, I stress the urgency of bringing forward proposals.

The guiding principle of the CLRG's report was to reduce the cost and make the process as accessible as possible. However, there were points on which the CLRG members did not reach a consensus. My Department is working on developing these points and further operational details. The CLRG has recommended a stand-alone process separate from examinership but mirroring key elements of examinership in respect of rescue and small companies.

This is very much a priority for both me and the Tánaiste. We spoke about it only last week to explore how we can ensure measures are put in place to sustain viable businesses. No one wants to see viable businesses going out of business. That is why, as a temporary measure, we increased the number of days to 150 and the threshold to €50,000. It is also the reason for the extension earlier this week until July.

We need to have a new fit-for-purpose regime put in place for the SME sector, and we are determined to do so in a timely fashion.

The key is whether the Government can deliver legislation in time. From listening to what the Minister of State is saying, I believe there are many issues to be resolved. We will not have the legislation for at least 12 months. It is a question of whether the Government can set up, even on a voluntary basis, an arrangement that could be administered in a similar way to that of the personal insolvency advisers, who produced proposals. Over time, the Government might want to make them statutorily enforceable but, in the short term, could we move to a voluntary administrative scheme that would allow some companies to restructure and prevent the catastrophic loss of jobs? Where companies go down, people's collective agreements do not get respected, as we know from other cases. It is a question of whether the Minister of State can do something without having to pass time-consuming and tricky legislation that will not be delivered in time to address the wave of difficulty coming towards us.

I am very conscious that the Deputy is a former Minister in my Department. He has a wealth of experience in bringing legislation through the Oireachtas. He is aware of how long it can take to pass legislation, particularly when it is difficult. The difficulties and challenges should not dampen our attitude or resolve to introduce legislation in a timely fashion, however.

We could certainly consider the voluntary process the Deputy is advocating. I am not aware of it myself but we can certainly explore it. I will bring the Deputy's suggestion back to the officials in the Department.

This has been a priority. The CLRG prioritised it and has already produced its report. The Department has already assessed that report so progress is quite swift. In acknowledgement of the difficulties facing companies as a result of Covid, temporary measures have already been introduced. In this regard, I have already mentioned the extension of the number of days and the raising of the monetary limit.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Cormac Devlin

Ceist:

99. Deputy Cormac Devlin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of businesses in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown that have received support under the restart and restart grant plus schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43788/20]

I acknowledge the level of support for businesses, which assists in keeping people in employment during the Covid crisis. It is unprecedented and extremely welcome. On the restart and restart plus grants, can the Minister provide information on both applications and decisions across Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown?

The restart grant and restart grant plus schemes were designed to help small and medium-sized businesses during an exceptionally difficult time. The restart grant scheme was launched on 15 May, with a budget of €250 million. The restart grant plus scheme was launched on 10 August, with an additional budget of €300 million from the Government's July stimulus, as a result of the increasing demand for the scheme. The purpose of the schemes was to help with the cost of reopening or adapting business premises so normal business could resume. Grant payments were administered by the local authorities via the commercial rates system as this was considered the most effective means to get financial assistance to small businesses quickly. The restart grant plus scheme closed to new applicants on 31 October. The Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, operated by the Revenue Commissioners, superseded it.

In response to the Deputy's specific question, as of 11 December 2020 Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown County Council has awarded 1,191 restart grants, and 1,646 businesses have benefited from grant payments under the restart grant plus scheme. In total, 118,600 applications have been managed under both restart schemes across the country.

I thank the Tánaiste for that. It is very encouraging to hear about the level of support, amounting to 118,600 applications, 1,646 restart plus grants and 1,191 restart grants. I pay tribute to Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown County Council because it, like many other authorities, processed an unbelievable number of applications in a very short period. The grants have really gone to the core to assist businesses as they struggle through the pandemic.

Regarding the supports to businesses outlined by the Tánaiste, maybe he will provide additional information on the number of applications by comparison with the number of approvals, and also information on issues that arose during the process.

I join the Deputy in thanking and congratulating the staff in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, and county councils throughout the country, for doing such a good job in processing all these applications. It was not a part of their normal work. They were asked to do it and it took a few weeks to get going, but they did it and they did it well. We rightly congratulate and thank healthcare worker and other essential and front-line workers for the work that they have done during this pandemic, but we should not forget the people behind the scenes in administrative jobs in offices, without whom nothing else would happen and without whom this money would not have gone out to those businesses. Some of those businesses might not have survived and people might have lost their jobs in the run-up to Christmas. I offer that shout-out to all those people who work in administration and management, whose work is also essential and who have made a big difference during the pandemic.

The Deputy asked about the number of applications and I do not have those figures here. I will send them to him by correspondence. In general, where applications were refused, it tended to be due to non-eligibility. I do not have the information for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown specifically, but for the country, there were 55,000 restart grant applications, of which 46,000 were approved. There were 63,600 for restart grant plus, of which 56,300 were approved. Where they were not approved, it was generally because a company was not eligible.

I would welcome those figures. I know that there is now discussion around the roll-out of vaccines, which is very welcome, but the impact of the pandemic is going to be with us for much of 2021. The Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, also acknowledged that while unemployment will remain at 15%, it may dip to 10% towards the end of 2021, which would be welcome. It is critical that we continue supports for businesses.

In response to an earlier question, the Tánaiste mentioned that the new strategic tourism scheme would be launched in January, which is welcome. I ask the Tánaiste, through his offices, to consider including car rental firms in that scheme. There are about five key companies in the country which need support and have fallen outside of many of the existing schemes. It is essential that they are brought in under the umbrella of the tourism scheme or another one, if possible.

That is a €55 million scheme that will be administered by the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin. She and I are working closely together on tourism and hospitality issues because there is such an overlap between enterprise, employment, tourism and hospitality. I will certainly bring that matter to her attention but I cannot make a commitment here.

The Department of Finance and I are working on a modification to the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, or indeed on a new scheme that will help out what I call "orphan companies" that have fallen between the stools and do not qualify for CRSS or one of the other specific sectoral support schemes that have been put in place along the way.

I had a quick look at the ESRI report this morning and it is interesting reading. It shows that Ireland's economy will grow this year, which people will be surprised to hear, given the pandemic. We will be one of few countries in the world where the economy may well grow this year. That is down to the strength of our multinational corporations and our commitment to international trade. I think those who doubt the benefit of having multinational corporations here, the policies we have out in place to attract them and our commitment to international trade really need to reconsider their positions. We would be in a worse position than we are now had it not been for all of that.

Departmental Meetings

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

100. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment further to Question No. 28 of 10 November 2020, if he has held the meeting with the agencies with a particular focus on Ballinasloe, County Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42230/20]

I welcome the high-level meeting between the Tánaiste and the enterprise agencies regarding the town of Ballinasloe. It now needs to be followed by a determined effort by all of the agencies, especially the IDA, to promote the town and what it has to offer. I ask the Tánaiste to ensure that a co-ordinated marketing strategy is put in place for the unique IDA site in the town which has a large, State-owned land bank and is the only such site in the country with access to water, wastewater, gas and fibre in abundance.

I again acknowledge the difficulty that the Aptar job losses present for Ballinasloe and the surrounding area, in particular the individuals and families directly affected.

I met with the western regional enterprise steering committee on Friday 11 December by videoconference. The committee is comprised of representatives of various agencies, including Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, the local enterprise offices, LEOs, the local authority chief executives, the regional skills forum manager, the Western Development Commission, higher and further education institutes, and Fáilte Ireland. The committee implements the regional enterprise plan for the west and considers new and emerging issues for the region. The meeting focused on one agenda item, which was maximising enterprise development potential in the west. It was noted that the life sciences sector, ag-tech and creative sectors offer particular opportunity for further growth through start-ups, business growth and new investment. The IDA, Enterprise Ireland and the LEOs will continue to work with stakeholders in the region to secure sustainable employment opportunities in the west, including but not exclusively Ballinalsoe.

The IDA is going to promote the Aptar property to prospective foreign and indigenous companies and I am encouraged to hear that 60 of the former Aptar employees have already secured alternative employment and that Harmac is going to expand its operations in Castlerea. I also expect 30 more jobs to be announced in Galway city in the next few days.

In the coming months, we want to refresh the regional enterprise plan for each region, including the west, to generate a pipeline of new investment, enterprise growth and economic recovery, in line with the objectives of the forthcoming national economic plan. I have asked the west regional committee to begin this work.

I was encouraged to hear that the Western Development Commission will provide a programme manager, with whom I met the other day, on an interim basis. The commission is now actively working with the four local authorities in the region to put a longer term arrangement in place for the development and implementation of the new regional enterprise plan for the west.

I thank the Tánaiste for his response. I will bring him back to the comments he made last Friday after the meeting. He specifically referenced the IDA lands in Ballinasloe. There are 50 acres of land available there. Will the IDA acquire those lands which are currently in the ownership of the HSE? Will the IDA build an advance factory on those 50 acres rather than relying on the local community to try to fundraise to build an advance factory there? Will the Tánaiste direct the IDA to develop a marketing strategy for that 50-acre campus which is unique in terms of the infrastructure available and its capacity as development land? There is not another site like it in the country and it needs to be marketed nationally and internationally by the IDA.

As the Deputy knows, the IDA is going to market the Aptar site to alternative investors. The Deputy is correct that the 50 acres to which he refers is a valuable piece of land that can be developed for industry and employment. Ballinasloe has a lot of assets, including good transport links.

I would have to talk to the IDA about the HSE lands. The IDA acts autonomously and, as a Minister, I am always cautious about getting involved in land deals or transactions or commercial transactions in any way, though I appreciate any deal in this case would be between two public bodies. I will certainly speak to the CEO of the IDA about that matter.

The Deputy asked about advance factories or advance building solutions, as the IDA likes to call them. These have been a real success down the years. People often complain that the IDA does not do enough site visits in their area but there must be something in the area to show somebody. An advance building solution is such a thing. Eleven have been built and seven are now occupied. As part of the IDA strategy that we will approve in January, we propose to build more of those around the country but I cannot give the locations today.

I will again bring the Tánaiste back to the comments he made last Friday. He stated on the local radio station that the 50-acre site is underutilised. That is not in the ownership of the IDA. Will the Tánaiste ask the IDA to acquire and market the site?

I welcome the fact that we are going to have a new regional enterprise plan.

I suggest that Roscommon and east Galway should form part of the midlands enterprise strategy, given that Athlone is designated as a growth centre and that we saw the closure last week of Shannonbridge power station and tomorrow of Lanesborough power station. If we are talking about a just transition across the midlands, surely all the local authorities and communities impacted should be part of a single regional enterprise strategy.

We do not have any plans to change the IDA regions. No matter where these boundaries are drawn, there will always be people who argue they should be somewhere else. There are merits and demerits but we think including east Galway and Roscommon in the west rather than the midlands makes most sense. I take the Deputy's point on Athlone as a designated regional growth centre in Project Ireland 2040.

I will ask the IDA to examine those HSE lands to see if they are appropriate for acquisition. I am told that the IDA continues to market the available lands on the IDA Business and Technology Park in Ballinasloe to potential investors, including the advanced planning permission for an advanced technology unit on these lands, which are adjacent to Aptar.

Questions Nos. 101 and 102 replied to with Written Answers.

Company Law

Mick Barry

Ceist:

103. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will report on progress made on implementing the Duffy Cahill report recommendations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43553/20]

I ask the Tánaiste for an update and a progress report on plans to implement the Duffy Cahill proposals.

I thank the Deputy for raising the question. We had a good committee discussion on this recently and the Deputy might have had a chance to review the transcript of that. The Government has committed in the programme for Government to review whether the current legal provisions surrounding collective redundancies and the liquidation of companies effectively protect the rights of workers. It is in the programme for Government and, in the first meeting the Tánaiste and I had with Mandate and the former workers of Debenhams, we committed to doing this review. They had two issues in their campaign. One was to see if the legislation could be strengthened for anyone in future situations; the other was to pursue their former company for their ex gratia payments.

The responsibility for employment rights, redundancy and insolvency recently transferred to my Department from the Department of Social Protection. The recommendations made in the Cahill Duffy report are being revisited as part of that review. The Tánaiste, the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, and I are involved in this because it impacts on company legislation as well as employment legislation. We have asked the Company Law Review Group to look again at the aspects of company law in this area and that group is due to report back to us before the end of the month. We have jointly met with employer and union representative bodies in November to continue a discussion on the various legislative provisions that deal with redundancy and insolvency from both a company law and an employment law perspective. There has been engagement and toing and froing around recommendations and suggestions in that conversation. Included in that is the Cahill Duffy report and the recommendations in that. There have been positive and constructive engagement and meetings with the stakeholders, where the discussion focused on identifying whether there are gaps or weaknesses in either body of legislation. Following this meeting, the Department has continued to engage with the employer and union groups to help advance our review of the legislative protection under company and employment law for workers in the context of insolvency and redundancy generally.

We are clear on this as a Department and a Government. If this process identifies areas where we can strengthen the position and make the law more effective, we will do that. The committee the Deputy is involved in does similar work and the chair has undertaken a review of the Cahill Duffy report. Naturally, we took part in the committee proceedings and I made a commitment that we would engage with the committee again when it was appropriate during January to review suggestions and recommendations.

The last Government, led by the Minister of State's party, failed to implement Duffy Cahill. The Minister of State and the Tánaiste have been in denial about that. They deny the negative consequences for our workers. Deny, deny, deny. They denied that in Debenhams it would have made any difference, saying it was different from Clerys because Clerys had a building, etc. Of course, that is true but the Government turned a blind eye to the fact that there is €9 million worth of fixtures and fittings in Debenhams, according to a report submitted to the courts. There is €12 million worth of stock - cost price - according to documents submitted to the courts. In online business, the ownership and address of debenhams.ie was changed in a three-day period in the springtime from Dublin to London.

Duffy Cahill would have given greater legal force to enhance redundancy deals which would have done no harm to the Debenhams workers in their campaign. Rather than deny, deny, deny, will the Minister of State not hold his hands up and seriously consider offering a better deal to the Debenhams workers, who rightly feel the Government has let them down badly?

We have had many discussions on Debenhams in this House and we have had a committee discussion on Cahill Duffy. The authors of the Cahill Duffy report have not backed the Deputy up on his claims that the implementation of the recommendations would effect any case in Debenhams. My colleagues and I have looked at this quite a lot over the last couple of month and I see no evidence that the recommendations in the Cahill Duffy - the Deputy keeps referring to Duffy Cahill but it is the Cahill Duffy report - would help the cause. There is no proof of that. The authors have not said that. The committee has not said that yet. This is what we are looking at. If we can strengthen the legislation, we are committed to doing it.

The recommendations of the Cahill Duffy report were specific to a case and to certain cases being dealt with. Those recommendations were looked at before by previous Departments. We are committed to looking at them again in light of other events to see if they are worth implementing. We are focused on that. Others have made other suggestions and we take all of that on board. The Deputy repeatedly comes in here and makes claims regarding the Debenhams situation and I have not seen evidence to back up his claims about assets and movement of online assets. The courts will judge that and laws are in place to track assets if they have been removed and so on. The Deputy keeps saying this. I have repeatedly suggested that if he has any evidence, he should present it.

The chair of the Labour Court met with all involved, reviewed this and made recommendations. Again, they do not seem to mirror the Deputy's interpretation. The Deputy has to be honest with workers. He references money and assets which he claims are there, but the courts do not seem to back him up on that. They will judge this in a liquidation context.

We are committed as a Government to doing all we can to help the workers of Debenhams. We have worked with the Labour Court chair to put in place a fund that will enable the workers to find new jobs, reskill and retrain for other areas or start up their own business within the retail sector or another sector. That is a significant fund on behalf of the taxpayer to help their cause as well as reviewing the legislation. More importantly, the State has paid out the statutory entitlement. That is what the State is there to do: to back up statutory entitlements when workers are made redundant in insolvency situations.

Equally, the authors of the Cahill Duffy report have failed to back the Tánaiste's view that the report would under no circumstances have been of assistance to the Debenhams workers. The important thing is that the legislation is implemented.

Has the Tánaiste received any communications from trade union officials in the last half hour asking him to stop making the kind of comments he made in the Dáil earlier because they might be somewhat embarrassing to Ireland's trade union officialdom? The Tánaiste told Deputy O'Reilly that he hoped our Arcadia workers would run over the hill when they saw these people - in other words, socialists - coming and instead take the advice of their trade union leaders. Trade union leaders might be embarrassed to hear those kinds of comments being made by Ireland's most famous Thatcherite, who is on record as calling for the banning of strikes, certainly in sections of the public sector. The Tánaiste might wish to comment.

No, the Minister of State is answering here.

If the Deputy was here for all the questions, he would know the Tánaiste was here for the last hour and a half, so could not be reading correspondence from trade unions.

As I referenced in the Arcadia conversation last week, we ask that people who find themselves in difficult situations of insolvency or companies being liquidated listen to the advice of the unions. Unions are experienced and best placed to give out good advice. In our view, they have given good advice over the last couple of months. Others have given other counter-advice, including the Deputy. He comes in here with claims around assets and millions here and millions there. I have not seen any evidence. He has probably given advice to workers based on his opinion on what assets are there. That might not always be the best advice. We would say the unions are in the best position to give good advice and guidance, have negotiated quite well and have worked with us as a Government around the review of the legislation. We have said we will take on board any positive recommendations. If we can strengthen the legislation on behalf of workers, of course we will do it. Why would we not?

It involves a review of the Duffy-Cahill report's recommendations as well as other recommendations from the unions. We are doing all of that.

We will move forward in a positive way if that is effective, but I remind the Deputy that previous reviews over the past four or five years have referenced the fact that there is already a great deal of legislation in place - company law and employment law - to protect employees because we value that as a country. We need to determine why that legislation is not always utilised to its full potential.

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