Businesses welcome ‘step change’ towards public investment

Groups call on next government to provide ongoing support to help post-Covid survival

Business groups have welcomed the “step change” towards increased investment in public infrastructure in the programme for government but warned that ongoing State assistance will be key to survival once the Covid-19 public health crisis has passed.

The programme for government, signed off by the leaders of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party on Monday, includes a range of measures designed to assist businesses as they reopen their doors and face a period of almost unprecedented economic challenge.

"The proposed programme for government represents a welcome step change in favour of investment in public transport and cycling infrastructure," said Dublin Chamber director of public and international affairs Aebhric McGibney.

“Increased investment in rail, bus, Luas and cycling infrastructure has the potential to transform quality of life in Dublin and Ireland’s other cities. This needs to be combined with an ambitious and concerted focus on the delivery on new housing to meet urban demand.


“It’s really important that the new government continues to push on with the delivery of key transport projects such as MetroLink, BusConnects and the Dart expansion scheme, which are all significantly down the planning road already.

“We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past where we’ve turned the investment tap off when the economy has taken a dip. For the long-term good of Dublin and Ireland, these are projects that need to happen.

“A good public transport system has never been more important for Dublin, particularly given the climate challenge that we face.”

The programme for government includes a “July stimulus”, which may mean the extension of the scheme by which the State subsidises the wages of workers affected by coronavirus.

It will also include the establishment of a governmental group to co-ordinate State support for SMEs, as well as a new code of conduct for commercial landlords and tenants.

Recovery fund

Elsewhere, a three-year “recovery fund” to finance infrastructure and worker retraining will be the centrepiece of a package of measures to stimulate the economy.

“In the immediate term, the July stimulus and recovery fund are an opportunity to reset the economy on a sustainable footing post-crisis through rapid investments in housing and green transport,” said Mr McGibney.

“Dublin Chamber has been arguing that the temporary wage subsidy scheme should not be suddenly withdrawn but tapered off with a clear roadmap allowing businesses to plan. So we welcome the news that a pathway will be set out for the future implementation of the subsidy.”

Chambers Ireland chief executive Ian Talbot said reference to "balanced regional development" was welcome, but noted "an absence of ambition for the regions and the millions of people who live in the hinterlands of our cities and beyond".

“The need for regional development and investment cannot be understated, but support for rural Ireland should not be conflated with support for regional development,” he said.

“Our regional towns and urban areas have specific needs in terms of investment and job creation. A much more strategic approach than what is outlined in the programme for government is required.

“However, the commitment to a town-centre-first approach to policymaking is a step in the right direction, but only if it is resourced in such a way that action can be taken to address vacancies, build active transport infrastructure and support urban living.”

Mr Talbot said the focus on the post-Covid-19 recovery is “one of the most important aspects of the document”.

“The commitment to a July stimulus package to support business, particularly SMEs, will be crucial if businesses are to have a chance of surviving the economic upheaval,” he said.

“Research and survey data published by our own organisation within the past week demonstrates that the scale of fiscal intervention needed to support business as the economy reopens is inordinate.

“Our immediate priority in engaging with a new government will be to ensure that the ambitious supports for business materialise. This must include retention of the wages subsidy scheme, expansion of the commercial rate waiver and increased grant aid for small businesses.”

‘No detail’

ISME chief executive Neil McDonnell said that while the July stimulus and recovery fund "sound good", they "are not defined".

He also said the review of restart grants and the national economic plan “sound good”, but, again, offer “no detail”.

He said there was a need for “detail and urgency” around the issue of insolvency, and called for the establishment of a public-sector pay commission similar to that in the UK.

On promises to hold referendums on the right to housing, the place of women in the home, the extension of presidential elections franchise outside the State, and water, he said they appeared to be “virtue signalling”.

“We consider the holding of these forms of referendum to be highly dubious,” he said. “Does everyone get the right to a house or apartment at 18 years? Provided by whom? The others look more like virtue signalling than serious attempts to reform the Constitution.

“No mention of electoral reform, Seanad reform, the fact that 40 per cent of TDs are elected without a quota, but we still have multi-seat constituencies.”

Dublin Town chief executive Richard Guiney said the retail sector would need assistance as it attempts to recover from the shutdown of the economy.

“These sectors having been closed for a number of months are reopening into loss-making scenarios,” he said. “Footfall last week was approximately 40 per cent of 2019 levels in Dublin city centre.

“While we anticipate that this will grow we will still be looking at trade in the region of 60-70 per cent of previous levels.

“Social distancing means that public-transport capacity will be capped at 20 per cent, meaning that half those visiting Dublin city will need to find alternative modes of transport or will be unable to visit the city. Therefore addressing wage and overhead costs, including rent, is essential.”

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter