No plans to extend eligibility criteria for CRSS, says Paschal Donohoe
Opposition criticises exclusion of businesses that do not operate from fixed premises
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe: Supports have made ‘huge difference’. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has told the Dáil he has no plans to extend the Government’s Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) to businesses that do not operate from fixed premises.
Some €239 million has to date been claimed under the CRSS in respect of 20,000 business premises, while almost all of this sum has been paid out as of Wednesday morning, he said.
A Dáil motion confirmed that eligible businesses will qualify for a double payment for the three weeks beginning December 21st, December 28th and January 4th in recognition of the additional financial impact on companies that had to shut their doors during an especially busy trading period.
The scheme is aimed at businesses such as retailers and hairdressers that have been forced to restrict access to their premises as a result of health regulations.
“It simply would not be possible to amend these parameters to allow businesses excluded by these criteria to become eligible,” the Minister said.
“The Government and I continue to assess the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on businesses and the economy and I will continue to work with ministerial colleagues to ensure that appropriate supports are in place to mitigate these effects.”
Opposition TDs criticised the Government’s failure to include other businesses. Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said businesses “have fallen through the cracks” because of the eligibility criteria.
He hit out at the constraints whereby businesses do not qualify if they are losing customers because of the pandemic but still operating on skeleton staff and offering services such as takeaway, or if they are supplying goods and services to firms that qualify which are forced to close.
These “rigid and narrow criteria lock out tens of thousands” including event managers, taxi drivers, the outdoor activity industry, businesses without a fixed premises and many others”.
Mr Doherty claimed Mr Donohoe and the Tánaiste had “dithered” about expanding the scheme and it was “symptomatic of a broader sluggishness in the Government’s response”
Labour finance spokesman Ged Nash said the three-day turnaround time for processing applications was “impressive in anyone’s language”, but he added that it was an anomaly in the scheme that businesses which do not operate from a “permanent bricks and mortar premises” are excluded and he hoped the Minister would consider addressing it in some other way.
Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry pointed to the case of 17 wholesale bottlers supplying the on-trade of publicans, who employed 800 people but were excluded from the scheme. He said that “90 per cent of their customers are closed and 90 per cent of their orders are gone”. There were other supports available but “they are nowhere near enough” and only a quarter of what had been allocated for the scheme had been used.
Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said it was “really disappointing” that a pledge by the Tánaiste in December to introduce a scheme for businesses not subject to rates and that do not conduct activities from a fixed premises was not being addressed in this measure.
Replying to the debate, the Minister criticised Opposition TDs who “speak about a meagre response”. He said that the national debt and amount being borrowed was about €35 billion and that was being used to support affected businesses.
He said €12.57 billion went to support income and employers and that had made a “huge difference”. But he said they also had to take account of other costs including the pandemic unemployment payment.