Free Travel Scheme

Ceisteanna (255)

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

255. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Transport the details of the road passenger transport operators based in counties Cavan, Monaghan, Westmeath, Leitrim and Longford that received payment from his Department in respect of the carriage of free travel pass holders in each of the years 2015 to 2019 and the individual routes in respect of which payment was made. [27274/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Transport)

As Minister for Transport I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport.

The Free Travel Scheme comes under the remit of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and therefore I or my Department have no function in relation to the issue raised by the Deputy.

Driver Test

Ceisteanna (256)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

256. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Transport when driver tests will resume in Clifden, County Galway; the reason for the delay in resuming tests at the centre; the number of persons awaiting a test at the centre; the efforts being made to reduce the waiting times at the centre; the reason the RSA continues to take fees from applicants in circumstances in which tests are not available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27283/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Transport)

Specific details on individual test centres and the fees process are an operational matter for the Road Safety Authority. I have therefore referred this part of the Question to the Authority for direct reply. I would ask the Deputy to contact my office if a response has not been received within ten days.

As you can appreciate Covid 19 has had a profound effect on the delivery of many services. The Driver Test service has seen its weekly capacity reduced significantly in order to comply with occupational and public health requirements. As an example, due to the additional hygiene and sanitation procedures that are now absolutely necessary, each testing slot now takes a much longer time to complete. In addition to this, the number of testers working in any centre at the one time has to be reduced to ensure physical distancing rules can be maintained.

Those who had appointments cancelled due to Covid 19 are being prioritised in the first instance. Initially, only those who are frontline healthcare workers will be deemed eligible for an urgent test slot. This approach for prioritising customers will be kept under review as the RSA moves through the service resumption.

My Department is remaining in close contact with the RSA who are examining ways of increasing the number of tests within the current health constraints. One option is the employment of additional testers, something which has been done in the past to address backlogs. However, I would like to stress, many of the issues impacting on the delivery of service are concerned with the throughput of centres themselves in light of the restrictions, rather than on the availability of staff.

In the meantime, my Department has give approval to the RSA to retain 18 driver testers on temporary contracts due to expire in October and November, and to rehire up to 19 testers whose contracts expired in May.

While I regret the inconvenience caused by the necessity to adhere to the restrictions imposed on us by NPHET and other experts, the safety of the public, whether through contracting Covid or through deaths or injuries on our roads, must be of paramount importance.

Legislative Measures

Ceisteanna (257)

Maurice Quinlivan

Ceist:

257. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Transport his plans to proceed with the legislation necessary for protecting communities from the ongoing antisocial use of scramblers and quad bikes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27292/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Transport)

The legislation under my remit in relation to the regulation of scrambler bikes, quad bikes and other similar small vehicles, falls under Road Traffic legislation, and relates solely to their use in a public place. It does not extend to private property, or to public parks which are under the jurisdiction of local authorities.

The user of a scrambler motorbike, a quad bike or similar vehicle, in a public place must have insurance, road tax and a driving licence, and must also wear a helmet, with severe penalties under the road traffic laws (including fixed charge notices, penalty points, fines and possible seizure of the vehicle) for not being in compliance with these requirements. It is also, incidentally, and offence to supply a mechanically propelled vehicle to a minor.

For the purposes of the Road Traffic Acts, a “public place” means any public road, and any street, road or other place to which the public have access with vehicles whether as of right or by permission and whether subject to or free of charge. Road traffic law does not extend to the use of mechanically propelled vehicles on private property. Certain places, such as parks under the control of local authorities, can be subject to bye-laws, which those authorities have the power to introduce, to prohibit the use of vehicles. Gardai can also prosecute scrambler and quad bike users in these areas under public order laws.

In April 2018, the Department of Justice convened a task force comprising representatives from an Garda Síochána, the Department of Justice, my Department, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the local authorities and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, to examine the current legislative provisions in place and to examine whether further laws need to be enacted to deal with the problem of quads and scramblers.

The taskforce concluded that there is a already a wide suite of legislation available to an Garda Siochana, including road traffic legislation (for using these vehicles illegally in a public place), and public order legislation (for using them on public land). There is no jurisdiction for using quads or scramblers on private land. Consideration was given to whether an extension of the concept of 'public place' in the Road Traffic Acts to cover parks would assist in this area. However, it was concluded following legal advice that the extension of such a fundamental concept in road traffic law in an attempt to address one particular issue would have wide-ranging unintended consequences, and would not be a viable solution.

The Task Force has since met to consider other more precise legal avenues, and will be meeting again shortly to follow up on the options being considered. Any solution will need to involve a combination of legislation - whether new or existing,- enforcement, public awareness campaigns, and approaches to local youth groups, to educate teens on the dangers of using such vehicles. I will be happy to consider any recommendations resulting from this process which fall within my remit.

I would add that, whatever the legislation and whether we are talking of a 'public place' or a park, there remains a major difficulty of enforcement. A Garda giving chase to a youth on a scrambler must be mindful of the safety of other members of the public in the area, and this makes it more difficult to detain the scrambler drivers, whatever the legislation in place.

Driver Licences

Ceisteanna (258)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

258. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Transport the way in which applicants for driver's licence renewal who are non-nationals awaiting naturalisation documents with residency permits can be facilitated in having their applications processed when their required identifying documentation and Irish residence permit, IRP, is held up in the Department of Foreign Affairs due to delays caused by Covid-19 measures and in view of the fact that this can cause serious problems in travel and work through no fault of their own; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27340/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Transport)

Covid-19 has had a profound effect on many services and has caused considerable backlogs in many areas. To renew a driving licence the Road Safety Authority (RSA) requires a person to produce certain documentation. As the IRP is subject to delays in the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Deputy may wish to raise this matter directly with that Department.

Departmental Staff

Ceisteanna (259)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

259. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Transport the number of requests on hand from his Department and from State agencies under the aegis of his Department for approval to increase staff levels; the number of public and civil servants in total involved in these requests; the method by which decisions are made on the requests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26474/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Transport)

My Department uses workforce planning processes to identify the critical resource needs required to deliver its business goals.  Workforce planning is a key tool in enabling my Department to forecast its current and future staffing needs (subject to the limits of the annual estimates process, the usual budgetary constraints and approvals by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform). The Workforce Plan aims to ensure a long-term, proactive and strategic plan by which my Department aims to have the right people, with the right levels of talent and skills, in each location and Division, doing the right thing at the right time. 

My Department operates in a rapidly changing environment and its structure must facilitate the flexibility to deploy resources to priority work, as the need arises.  As business needs arise, staff are allocated to support organisational priorities within my Department.  Overall staffing levels within Divisions are continually monitored and staff transfer in and out of Divisions as the workload demands.  Where skills gaps have been are identified, the HR Division reviews these requests on a quarterly basis and approves staff assignments on the basis of business cases made by Divisions.  One such iteration of this process has just been completed, so no requests are currently on hand for consideration from within the Department.   

The question of staffing levels in the State Agencies under the aegis of my Department is an operational matter, generally delegated to the Agencies themselves and I will ask the Agencies to respond directly to the Deputy on this matter.  However, I am aware of one request for additional staff resources, related to Brexit.

Wage Subsidy Scheme

Ceisteanna (260, 286)

Carol Nolan

Ceist:

260. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Finance the reason employers in a catering business must demonstrate that turnover has fallen 30% before they receive a flat-rate subsidy under the employment wage support scheme. [26370/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

286. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Finance further to Parliamentary Question No. 109 of 9 September 2020, if he will provide further clarification on matters raised in follow-up correspondence (details supplied) regarding the employment wage subsidy scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26936/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 260 and 286 together.

The Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) operated from 26 March 2020 to 31 August 2020 and supported over 66,000 employers in respect of almost 664,000 employees that were negatively impacted by the necessary Covid-19 related restrictions, at a cost to the Exchequer of over €2.8 billion.

The Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) replaced the TWSS from 1 September 2020 as the Government’s focus has shifted from an employee income support paid via the employer that maintained the existing employee/employer relationship insofar as was possible, to a direct employer subsidy to help support viable firms and encourage employment, including prospective employment of new hires and seasonal workers. Its design reflects the changing environment around the COVID-19 pandemic which has shifted from crisis mode to one of living alongside the virus, in line with the recently announced Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19.

I am advised by Revenue that, as of 25 September 2020, there were 36,746 employers registered for the EWSS which is considered a strong level of participation so far and, notably, over 82% of the employers availing of the TWSS when it finished at the end of August.

The EWSS “turnover test” has been specifically designed so as to target the subsidy at otherwise viable employers whose businesses continue to be adversely impacted by COVID-19 by requiring a comparison of the firm’s pre-pandemic operations with their current operations. The legislation provides that the employer must be able to demonstrate that they are operating at no more than 70% in either the turnover of the employer’s business or the customer orders received by the employer by reference to the period from July to December 2020 compared with the same period in 2019.

There is additional flexibility in the application of the turnover test to allow employers to take account of potentially sudden changes in turnover on a month-to-month “opt-in/opt-out” basis. Under the legislation, an employer is required to carry out a review of their turnover each month and confirm that they are still eligible for the scheme. At the same time, there is no cut-off deadline for access to the scheme, so if there is a reduction in turnover later in 2020 because of an unexpected reduction in business activity or a sudden change in business circumstances the employer may be entitled to make a claim for that future period.

The EWSS has broader application than the TWSS, for example to include employees that were not previously eligible, such as seasonal workers and newly hired personnel. The EWSS will also be in place for longer than the TWSS. The trade-off is that it has been necessary to narrow some other criteria to ensure the EWSS is sustainable in terms of cost.

I would note that the strictest public health measures that were in place in April and May have been eased and so it is reasonable to expect that businesses are able to shoulder more of the economic burden of their businesses. At the same time, the retention of a wage subsidy scheme is to recognise that economic outputs are unlikely to return to normal for many businesses for some time to come because of the continued need to observe public health requirements such as social distancing.

All the conditions of the turnover test have been carefully calibrated in that regard and there are no plans at present to re-visit the core eligibility criteria for the EWSS.

I will continue to closely monitor the administration of the EWSS as well as the uptake and utilisation of this important economy-wide employment measure in the weeks and months ahead to with a view to ensuring that it achieves its objective of supporting viable enterprises and employers. In fact, the relevant legislation obliges me to monitor and superintend the administration of the scheme and empowers me to make certain adjustments across the whole scheme where I determine that these are necessary.

Brexit Preparations

Question No. 262 answered with Question No. 46.

Ceisteanna (261)

Neale Richmond

Ceist:

261. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Finance the number of businesses who have applied for economic operator and registration identification, EORI, numbers in order to trade with the UK post-Brexit; if there has been a campaign to encourage businesses to apply; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26408/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I am advised by Revenue that in 2020 to date there have been 4,693 registrations for customs and that since the introduction of the EORI (Economic Operators Registration Identification) number in 2009, 68,856 businesses have registered for customs with Revenue.  93% of the import trade with the UK in 2019 was carried out by businesses who now have an EORI number, with 97% of the 2019 export trade with the UK being carried out by businesses who now have an EORI number.

Revenue has intensified its trade engagement activities to support businesses in their preparations for Customs formalities from 1 January 2021.

In July, Revenue wrote to 57,000 businesses who traded in goods with the UK since 2019 and who, at that time, were not registered for customs and therefore did not have an EORI number and outlined a range of steps to be taken to get Brexit ready. To assist that registration process Revenue has provided on its website a helpful step by step guidance video for businesses. 

At the start of September, Revenue wrote to some 90,000 businesses, both those with an EORI and those without an EORI, who traded in goods with the UK at any time in 2019 or in the first half of 2020. These are businesses who if they continue trade, either by way of imports or exports or both with Great Britain after I January will need to be Brexit ready in less than just 100 days from now. The  business concerned must be able to complete the necessary customs formalities from that date in order to be able to move goods to and through Great Britain. For trade with Northern Ireland only, customs formalities will not apply. 

Revenue is now undertaking, as part of this intensified engagement, follow-up telephone calls with some 14,000 businesses of the 90,000 that it has written to, who Revenue identified as likely to be the most significantly impacted by Brexit.

In addition to the letters and follow up telephone contacts, a further initiative under Revenue's trade engagement programme, is a two-day series of live streamed Brexit information sessions which will take place on the 5th and 6th of October 2020. Revenue will provide important information to help businesses to get ready for trading with Great Britain from 1 January 2021. Full details of each session and a link to participate can be found on www.revenue.ie/brexit.

The work being undertaken by Revenue to support businesses and trade to get Brexit ready is hugely important. The message for trade and business that will be impacted by Brexit is very clear. Its time to get ready and its essential to be ready for 1 January.

Question No. 262 answered with Question No. 46.

Insurance Costs

Ceisteanna (263)

Joe Carey

Ceist:

263. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Finance his plans to deal with spiralling insurance costs that are crippling the equestrian industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26956/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

Let me say at the outset that I am very much aware of the problems faced by many businesses, including those in the equestrian industry, in relation to the availability and affordability of public liability insurance.  However, as this is a commercial matter, neither I, nor the Central Bank of Ireland, can direct the pricing of insurance products, and neither can we compel any insurer operating in the Irish market to provide cover.  This position is reinforced by the EU Single Market framework for insurance (the Solvency II Directive) which expressly prohibits Member States from doing so.

As the Deputy will appreciate, there is no single policy or legislative fix to remedy the cost and availability of insurance issue.  The Programme for Government identifies a range of issues that the Government will prioritise so as to benefit consumers and businesses and work will advance on this matter through the Cabinet Committee on Economic Recovery and Investment.

In terms of addressing the affordability and accessibility of public liability insurance, a necessary step is to bring the levels of personal injury damages awarded in this country more in line with those awarded in other jurisdictions. The establishment of the Judicial Council in December is very important in this regard, and it is expected that the Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee will submit draft Guidelines to the executive board of the Judicial Council shortly. While the adoption of those Guidelines will be a matter for the Judicial Council, it is desirable that the Guidelines could play a role in the lowering of award levels and also could lead to a more consistent application of making awards in courts.  Insurance Ireland has indicated that if award levels come down so will premiums charged by its members.  I believe that this is a very important statement and this Government intends holding the insurance industry to this commitment.

In conclusion, I wish to emphasise that prioritising delivery on the commitments to insurance reform remains a priority for the Government and this is reflected in the Programme for Government. 

Primary Medical Certificates

Ceisteanna (264, 266)

Noel Grealish

Ceist:

264. Deputy Noel Grealish asked the Minister for Finance if primary medical certificate applications are still being accepted and processed; if not, the reason therefor; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27203/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Noel Grealish

Ceist:

266. Deputy Noel Grealish asked the Minister for Finance if primary medical certificate applications are still being accepted and processed; if not, the reason therefor; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27329/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 264 and 266 together.

Primary Medical Certificate (PMC) assessments are undertaken by Senior Area Medical Officers of the HSE and, in relation to appeals, by the Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal. I  have requested that these assessments temporarily cease pending consideration of, and a policy and/or legislative response to, a recent Supreme Court decision which has created uncertainty as to the current legal basis for conducting PMC assessments.   

A Supreme Court decision of 18th June found in favour of two appellants against the Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal's refusal to grant them a PMC. The judgement found that the medical criteria set out in the Regulations did not align with the regulation making mandate provided in the primary legislation to further define criteria for ‘severely and permanently disabled’ persons.

The Supreme Court decision has raised complex legal and policy issues which require careful consideration. My officials are currently examining the judgement, in conjunction with the Attorney General’s Office, and will bring forward any policy and/or legislative proposals, as necessary, for my consideration in due course.

Property Tax

Question No. 266 answered with Question No. 264.

Ceisteanna (265)

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Ceist:

265. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Minister for Finance if he will provide the number of units built since 2013 which are not subject to property tax broken down by local authority, in tabular form; and the estimated yield to the relevant local authority if the property tax was applied to post-2013 units. [27213/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I am advised by Revenue that residential properties built after the current valuation date (1 May 2013) remain outside the charge to Local Property Tax (LPT). As the properties are not liable to LPT, there is no obligation on owners to register them for the tax or complete the relevant returns. As such, the LPT Register does not contain valuation details in respect of these properties and liabilities cannot be accurately estimated for them.

 

However, based on information compiled from other sources, including Stamp Duty data, housing construction data, and data provided by the Central Statistics office (CSO), it is estimated that approximately 80,000 units that were constructed post-2013 will become liable to LPT for the next ‘valuation period’.  

 

Were these properties made liable to LPT, based on their valuations at 1 May 2013, it is estimated that the yield would be in the region of €25 million per annum. A breakdown of these estimates on a Local Authority basis is not available.

Question No. 266 answered with Question No. 264.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Ceisteanna (267)

Noel Grealish

Ceist:

267. Deputy Noel Grealish asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to data from the Central Bank showing total savings of €120 billion held by households; his plans to introduce stimulus measures to help release this money into local economies to help the retail and hospitality sectors which have been acutely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26280/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

As the Deputy noted, total deposits held by households in Irish banks rose to approximately €120 billion in July, marking a continuation of the upward trend in savings seen since the outbreak of the pandemic.

This surge in household savings is both voluntary and involuntary. While many households suffered a fall in income in the second quarter of the year, Government schemes such as the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme and the Pandemic Unemployment Payment offset some of this shock. However, the reduction in spending was much larger than the fall in household disposable income. On one hand the sale of goods and services was restricted due to containment measures. On the other hand, households responded to the uncertain economic environment by building up precautionary savings. While some easing of savings may be expected next year, savings will likely remain elevated relative to historic levels in the face of continued uncertainty surrounding the path of the virus.

The Government has acted decisively to counteract the worst effects of the COVID-19 induced economic shock by providing supports with a total value of around €24.5 billion to date, mostly in the form of labour supports, investment in the health service and through direct supports to businesses. The July Stimulus package, when combined with previously announced measures, represents unprecedented levels of Government intervention in the economy. It is centred on the twin objectives of assisting business and getting as many people back to work as quickly as possible. The measures announced in the July Stimulus Package include a ‘stay and spend’ initiative to support the hospitality sector, loss relief measures for self-employed individuals and other businesses, and a temporary reduction in the standard rate of VAT from 23 per cent to 21 per cent.  All of these measures will be beneficial to the retail and hospitality sectors, which have suffered greatly during the crisis.

Due to prudent management of the public finances in recent years, we entered this crisis from a position of strength and resilience and we are now able to run budget deficits in order to provide counter cyclical support to the economy and to promote the retention and creation of jobs. While I cannot announce the contents of Budget 2021 in advance, the Budget will provide support for those sectors most in need in the short-term.  As set out in the Programme for Government, a ‘Recovery Fund’ will be established as a further support and Minster McGrath and I will provide more details of this on Budget day.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Ceisteanna (268)

Noel Grealish

Ceist:

268. Deputy Noel Grealish asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether a stimulus package targeted at the retail and hospitality sectors is required; his further views on a proposal from business representative groups to give each adult over 18 years of age a gift card of a predetermined monetary value in order to boost consumer spending to reboot the economy; his views on such a proposal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26281/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

The July Stimulus measures are a significant part of our response to the COVID-19 crisis and will help ensure Ireland’s Tourism and Hospitality businesses get back on their feet and as many people as possible can return to work, when it is safe to do so. These measures were in addition to other Government supports already in place. They provide supports for businesses to retain existing jobs and to create new ones, and they will help build confidence in consumers and communities all over Ireland.

The Tourism Recovery Taskforce is expected to publish its Final Recovery Plan in the coming weeks and Minister Catherine Martin will consider its recommendations at that stage.  In the context of the Budget and the development of the National Economic Plan, the Government will review and refine existing supports, and consider any further necessary measures as we adjust to managing COVID-19.

Other specific policy matters  in relation to the retail and hospitality sectors are matters, in the first instance, for an Tánaiste, for the Minister for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht and for the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

With regards to a gift card/voucher system, the Stay and Spend Incentive (SASI) was introduced earlier this year. The purpose of the SASI is to incentivise taxpayers to support registered/accredited providers of accommodation and/or food during the off-season, thus providing support to a particularly vulnerable sector that will continue to be constrained by public health limitations. All food service providers and Fáilte Ireland registered or listed providers of accommodation are eligible to take part in the scheme.

The SASI will provide a maximum of €125 in income tax credits to tax-payers who spend up to €625 in restaurants, pubs, hotels, B&Bs etc. in the period from October 2020 to the end of April 2021. Where an individual or jointly assessed tax-payer has insufficient income tax liability to fully benefit from the measure, they may still avail of the relief against their USC contributions.

It was decided not to implement a gift card/voucher system for the following reasons:

- A voucher system would be slow to implement, as well as costly to administer

- There may be the potential for unlawful use of any vouchers, including for fraud and money laundering

- The SASI was designed to incentivise consumers to spend more. By covering a proportion of the eligible spend (20%) rather than its entirety, it was designed to leverage money people may have saved over recent months and get them to spend not just €125 but €625. 

Wage Subsidy Scheme

Ceisteanna (269)

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

269. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Finance the estimated cost of extending the employment wage subsidy scheme until 31 March 2021. [26336/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I am advised by Revenue that, as of 25 September 2020, there were 36,746 employers registered for the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) which is considered a strong level of participation so far and, notably, over 82% of the employers availing of the TWSS when it finished at the end of August.

As set out in the July Stimulus Package, it is expected that the EWSS will support around 350,000 jobs into the beginning of 2021. 

On this basis, it is estimated that the EWSS will cost €2.25 billion (€1.35 billion in 2020 inclusive of seasonal workers and €0.9 billion in 2021). 

However, the scheme is demand led and a significant surge in claims may require a policy review and re-evaluation of the terms of the scheme.  These cost predictions are therefore subject to review and for every additional 50,000 qualifying employments, the cost increases by €0.25 billion.

The operation of the EWSS and its effectiveness will be kept under close review over the coming months.  In fact, the relevant legislation obliges me to monitor and superintend the administration of the scheme and empowers me to make certain adjustments across the whole scheme where I determine that these are necessary.

Wage Subsidy Scheme

Questions Nos. 271 to 273, inclusive, answered with Question No. 33.

Ceisteanna (270)

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

270. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Finance if he has finalised and submitted an application to the European Commission in order to access the support to mitigate unemployment risks in an emergency, SURE, initiative; if it is still planned to use funds granted from the scheme solely for the temporary wage subsidy scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26338/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

As outlined to Deputy Murphy in PQ 22738/20 the SURE instrument is intended primarily to support Member States with efforts to protect workers and jobs (such as short-term work schemes), and also support some health-related measures. The European Commission will borrow on financial markets to finance loans to Member States, allowing Member States benefit from the EU’s strong credit rating (AAA) and low borrowing costs.

Following detailed discussion with the Commission it was determined that Ireland would be eligible to recoup the substantial majority of expenditure already accrued under the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) from SURE. The TWSS has been the main scheme implemented in Ireland to date that meets the application criteria for this European response mechanism.

The Commission intends going to the market in final quarter of 2020 to start procuring the funding for the first tranche. This is expected to take a number of months and is expected to be paid to Member States over coming months, meaning that it could be the early/mid part of 2021 before the full draw-down is paid to all requesting Member States.

A decision to make a formal application to the SURE loan scheme will be taken by Government shortly and the necessary information is being prepared at present. The Commission are aware of our intention to submit an application for funding.

Questions Nos. 271 to 273, inclusive, answered with Question No. 33.

Insurance Industry

Ceisteanna (274)

Alan Dillon

Ceist:

274. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Finance the steps he and the Central Bank plan to take to address insurance companies that are refusing to honour policyholders with outstanding business interruption claims in view of the judgment by the UK High Court in the business interruption insurance test case taken by the Financial Conduct Authority on behalf of policyholders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26528/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I am in full understanding of the concerns expressed about how the insurance industry is responding to the needs of its business policyholders in these difficult times, including honouring business interruption claims.  While, this is an issue that Minister of State Fleming and I continue to follow closely, it should be noted that neither we, nor the Central Bank can direct or require that insurers cover claims, including those resulting from infectious diseases such as COVID-19, nor can we adjudicate on the validity of such claims.  

The above said, I have had a number of engagements with the insurance industry on this issue, and I have made it very clear that as a general rule insurers should not attempt to reject claims on the basis of interpreting policies to their own advantage.  They should engage with those impacted businesses honestly, fairly and professionally to honour those elements of the policies covered, in line with the Central Bank’s Consumer Protection Code.   I have also indicated to the insurance industry that adopting a “blanket” rejection of all business interruption claims, is doing the industry significant reputational damage and is not treating customers fairly.  Most recently when Minister of State Fleming and I met with Insurance Ireland to discuss the Programme for Government’s insurance reform agenda, the need for an appropriate response from insurers was once again stressed.

My officials and the Central Bank have been closely monitoring the UK Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) test case, and the Central Bank has engaged with the FCA on the issue.  I note the result of the test case, and that a number of the participating UK insurers operate in the Irish market.  In that context, I have stated previously that I would hope that those UK insurers operating here would apply any favourable findings, where applicable, from a policyholder perspective, to their Irish policyholders.  My Department will continue to engage with the Central Bank on this and other matters in relation to the insurance industry’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  ALso of note is that the appropriate channels for resolving disputes must continue to be followed by policyholders, i.e. use of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman (FSPO) or litigation.

In terms of the steps that the Central Bank is taking, the COVID-19 Business Interruption Supervisory Framework sets out the Central Bank’s expectations of insurance firms in handling related insurance claims.  The objective of the Framework is to seek early identification and resolution of issues which have the potential to cause customer harm, bringing clarity to affected businesses as quickly as possible. Significantly, in my view, where cover and related issues are disputed, the Bank expects firms to pay the reasonable costs of customer plaintiffs in agreed test case litigation. 

The Central Bank has informed me that it is currently pursuing a multi-pronged approach to this issue which it believes is the most effective way forward in terms of producing clarity for affected businesses in Ireland in circumstances where there are a variety of insurers, policy types and approaches to dealing with their customers.  The Bank has stated that it will leave all possible options open as it takes this work forward.  In the meantime, it states that it will continue its robust supervisory engagement with firms in line with the requirements set out in the Framework, which I welcome.

In conclusion, the Deputy should be assured that officials will continue to monitor the business interruption issue and engage as needs be with the Central Bank on the matter and advise Minister of State Fleming and myself as appropriate.

Tax Code

Ceisteanna (275)

Patrick Costello

Ceist:

275. Deputy Patrick Costello asked the Minister for Finance the estimated additional revenue that would be generated if the betting duty levy increased from 2% to 2.5%. [26854/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I am advised by Revenue that the pre-Budget 2021 Ready Reckoner is published at:

https://www.revenue.ie/en/corporate/documents/statistics/ready-reckoner.pdf

On page 24, it shows the estimated additional yield from increasing Betting Duty by a range of amounts, including an increase of 0.5% which is estimated as €23m in a full year.

Departmental Expenditure

Ceisteanna (276)

Paul Murphy

Ceist:

276. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Finance the cost of legal fees and other associated expenditures relating to the EU General Court appeal of a case (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16865/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

The Deputy will be aware that on 15 July 2020, the General Court of the European Union annulled the European Commission's State Aid Decision of 30 August 2016 with respect to Apple. 

Ireland has always been clear that, based on Irish law, the correct amount of Irish tax was charged to the company and that Ireland did not provide State aid to Apple.

This was the reason that Ireland appealed the Commission Decision and the judgment from the General Court vindicates Ireland’s stance and its decision to seek an annulment of the Decision.

In total, costs of approximately €8.6 million (including VAT) have been incurred across all State parties involved. This includes all legal costs, consultancy fees and other associated costs. These fees have been paid by the Department of Finance, Revenue, NTMA, Central Bank of Ireland, Attorney General's Office and Chief State Solicitor's Office.

The Commission decision in 2016 placed a binding obligation on Ireland to recover the alleged aid. Approximately €4 million of the total costs incurred related to the complex and unprecedented recovery process.

The remaining costs, approximately €4.6 million, were incurred in respect of Ireland’s legal application seeking the annulment of the Commission’s decision.

Unemployment Data

Ceisteanna (277)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

277. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Finance the projections of unemployment for the second two quarters of 2020. [17244/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

My Department’s most recent macroeconomic projections were published in April of this year as part of the Stability Programme Update 2020. The labour market outlook contained within SPU 2020 was that the unemployment rate would peak at approximately 22 per cent in the second quarter of the year, before gradually declining to rates of 13.5 per cent and 10.9 per cent in the third and fourth quarters of the year.

The unemployment projections for Q3 and Q4 2020 as contained in SPU 2020 are included in the table below:

Q3 2020

Q4 2020

Unemployment levels (‘000)

328.8

266.6

Unemployment Rate (as % of Labour Force)

13.5

10.9

The situation in the labour market has changed since the spring with the CSO’s COVID-19 Adjusted monthly unemployment rate indicating a peak rate of approximately 29 per cent in April 2020, declining to an estimated 15.4 per cent in August.

My Department will shortly issue updated macroeconomic projections ahead of Budget 2021, which will include an updated outlook for the labour market and updated projections for unemployment in 2020 and 2021.

Wage Subsidy Scheme

Ceisteanna (278, 279, 280)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

278. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Finance if he has requested that the wage subsidy supports be maintained as part of the July stimulus for artists, performers, crew and event organisers in the arts, culture, music, live entertainment and events sectors as a basic minimum income over and above which these workers would be allowed earn some additional income without losing the payment until a full or substantial recovery to normal or near normal levels of employment and income earning opportunity return; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17393/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

279. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Finance if he will report on the discussions he has had with regard to maintaining wage subsidy supports for artists, performers, crew and event organisers in the arts, culture, music, live entertainment and events sectors as a basic minimum income over and above which these workers would be allowed earn some additional income without losing the payment until a full or substantial recovery to normal or near normal levels of employment and income earning opportunity return; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17396/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

280. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Finance if he has requested of the relevant Ministers that the wage subsidy supports be maintained as part of the July stimulus for artists, performers, crew and event organisers in the arts, culture music, live entertainment and events sectors as a basic minimum income over and above which these workers would be allowed earn some additional income without losing the payment until a full or substantial recovery to normal or near normal levels of employment and income earning opportunity return; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17696/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 278 to 280, inclusive, together.

The Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) operated from 26 March 2020 to 31 August 2020 and supported over 66,000 employers in respect of almost 664,000 employees that were negatively impacted by the necessary Covid-19 related restrictions, at a cost to the Exchequer of over €2.8 billion.

The Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) replaced the TWSS from 1 September 2020 as the Government’s focus has shifted from an employee income support paid via the employer that maintained the existing employee/employer relationship insofar as was possible, to a direct employer subsidy to help support viable firms and encourage employment, including prospective employment of new hires and seasonal workers. Its design reflects the changing environment around the COVID-19 pandemic which has shifted from crisis mode to one of living alongside the virus, in line with the recently announced Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19.

I am advised by Revenue that, as of 25 September 2020, there were 36,746 employers registered for the EWSS which is considered a strong level of participation so far and, notably, over 82% of the employers availing of the TWSS when it finished at the end of August.

I am aware of the concerns that have been raised regarding the pace of recovery for some sectors of the economy and that it has been suggested that the application of the EWSS should be delineated on the basis of explicit sectoral qualification criteria.  However, I would note that the reality of COVID-19 is that our whole economy and labour market have been rapidly transformed by this unprecedented shock and nearly all sectors have been negatively impacted either directly or indirectly.  The EWSS has therefore been deliberately designed as an economy wide measure that is open to all sectors as was the case for the TWSS before it. The availability of the support by reference to a turnover test means that the scheme can be applied across the whole economy while at the same time remain targeted at employers who are considered to be most in need of support, including the sectors mentioned by the Deputy.

It is important to emphasise that the adaptation from the TWSS to the levels of support in the EWSS will allow employers to rely on the continuation of support over a longer period of up to 8 months while also ensuring such support is sustainable and affordable.

I will continue to closely monitor the administration of the EWSS as well as the uptake and utilisation of this important economy-wide employment measure in the weeks and months ahead to with a view to ensuring that it achieves its objective of supporting viable enterprises and employers. In fact, the relevant legislation obliges me to monitor and superintend the administration of the scheme and empowers me to make certain adjustments across the whole scheme where I determine that these are necessary.

For those businesses who need further support, there are a number of options open to them – including State backed loans which may be repaid using EWSS funds as well as grants.  Particular attention is drawn to the comprehensive package of business and employer supports that have been made available as part of the July Stimulus Plan - including the Credit Guarantee Scheme, the SBCI Working Capital Scheme, Sustaining Enterprise Fund, and the Covid-19 Business Loans Scheme.

Finally, in the case of the sectors highlighted by the Deputy, I would note that my colleague the Minister for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht, Ms. Catherine Martin T.D., has recently announced the establishment and membership of the Arts and Culture Recovery Task Force and funding for a Live Performance and Music Industry Support Package. 

Any other additional income supports are a matter for the Department of Social Protection.