More than 15,000 closed or restricted businesses are seeking €110 million in aid under a Covid support scheme launched following October's budget, according to Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe.
The Minister said on Thursday that the Government would adjust existing pandemic supports for workers and businesses according to how the economy and jobs market perform next year.
He cautioned that a €9 billion spending boost, predicted for next year by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) as consumers tap cash hoarded through the crisis, would depend on Irish people’s confidence about their jobs.
Mr Donohoe confirmed that businesses had sought €110 million in aid from the Revenue Commissioners under the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) since its launch.
“That represents 15,300 closed premises or premises that have a very low level of trade,” Mr Donohoe told reporters.
Through the scheme, Revenue pays up to a maximum of €5,000 a week to businesses forced to close, or which have had to severely cut back operations, while the Republic is under Level 3, 4 or 5 pandemic restrictions.
The Minister added that the demand for the scheme reflected the importance of the supports that the exchequer was giving businesses during the pandemic.
“That combination of the Employment Wage Support Scheme and CRSS means that we have far greater targeting of supports to businesses that need them the most,” Mr Donohoe said.
He was cautious about predicting when any recovery next year would allow the Government to begin cutting back the supports, and the pandemic unemployment payment, worth up to €350 a week to some workers.
“It will depend on where we are in relation to opening up the economy and in relation to employment growth,” Mr Donohoe said.
Speaking to a press conference via video link, while Taoiseach Micheál Martin awaited the result of a Covid-19 test, Mr Donohoe said a return to normal was tied to consumer confidence and the speed at which vaccines were distributed.
He confirmed that he and his Government colleagues would be vaccinated, but stressed that there were large groups, including the vulnerable and frontline health workers, who would take priority over the Cabinet.
Addressing possible resistance to vaccines, Mr Donohoe said he had spoken to individuals with first-hand knowledge of the work that regulators had done on ensuring the treatment’s safety. “I have full confidence in the regulatory process that’s under way at European level,” he stressed.
The Minister said he did not believe the Government would impose any extra pension levy on public servants over the life of the newly agreed pay deal, if union members ratify it.
The deal promises public servants an annual 1 per cent pay increase over two years and replaces an agreement due to expire this month. Despite a report showing public service pension liabilities have risen to €150 billion from €114 billion, Mr Donohoe said it was unlikely the Government would seek an extra levy.