‘Essential’ businesses in deserted city centre excluded from State support

Turnover down more than 75% but some businesses are being denied CRSS supports

A group representing Dublin city-centre businesses wants criteria widened for income supports for businesses affected by the pandemic. It says some businesses whose turnover has been decimated are being refused payouts because they are classed as “essential” and theoretically can open, even if they have little trade.

The Covid Recovery Supports Scheme (CRSS), which pays businesses affected by lockdowns up to €5,000 per week if their turnover falls least 75 per cent, is failing city centre businesses, according to Dublin Town, a traders' group.

Footfall in the city is down by more than 70 per cent due to the 5km rule and the absence of most office workers. Yet many businesses in the area deemed “essential” have been told by Revenue that they are ineligible for CRSS, even if they meet all the other criteria for the scheme such as the 75 per cent rule.

Essential businesses, such as retailers selling food or businesses licensed by the Central Bank, are assessed on the basis of the market segment in which they operate, rather than location.

Disqualified businesses

"It is not just about what you sell. It is where you sell," said Richard Guiney, chief executive of Dublin Town. "In the city, there are no tourists anymore. Office workers are a huge part of the city centre. The city centre has many businesses that are technically allowed to open but it is not worth their while."

He is calling on the State to give disqualified businesses that meet all other eligibility criteria the same practical supports.

Tom Lynch, who operates the Foreign Currency Exchange International on Dublin's O'Connell Street, has been refused CRSS, even though its turnover is down by 90 per cent. Revenue refused him, he says, because he is licensed by the Central Bank for a money transfer service which, he says, is only 5 per cent of his business.

“The city centre is dying and they don’t care,” said Mr Lynch. “I did €100 in trade the other day. My business works hand in hand with tourism, but there are no tourists."

Mr Lynch says he has lobbied State officials, including Catherine Martin, the Minister for Tourism, but to no avail: "I have €120,000 in rent that still has to be paid as I'm open. We are very much in the red zone."

Because his business is also not considered a tourism business, it does not qualify for other supports available for those in that sector that fall outside CRSS.

Pierce Moloney jnr operates a Bus Stop newsagents at the top of Grafton Street, opposite the entrance to St Stephen's Green. It is allowed to open because it sells food items, meaning it is too is ineligible for CRSS even though the area is largely deserted.

“If any business is down 75 per cent or more, it is in difficulty. Revenue need to be more flexible in how they apply the rules,” he said.

Revenue said it does not set the rules and applies the criteria it is given by the Department of Finance.

CRSS was announced in Budget 2021 by Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe. It applies during Level 3, 4 and 5 restrictions. The State's total outlay is estimated at about €40 million per week in Level 3 and €80 million in Level 5, which will prevail until April at least.

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is Business Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Caveat column