The Government will consider more targeted measures to support the tourism sector but Catherine Martin cautioned that she could not give specific dates for reopening the industry.
The Minister for Tourism also warned it was “vital not to raise hopes about a quick return to international tourism”.
Ms Martin was speaking in a Seanad debate during which Senators highlighted the frustration of the industry and a “break in compliance, confidence and trust” between the sector and Government.
Fianna Fáil Senator Shane Cassells said the trust was already breaking down. He cited restaurateurs like Paul Treyvaud in Killarney indicating a reopening in July "come hell or high water".
The Meath Senator said the sector wanted a doubling of the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme, an enhanced restart scheme, extension of tax warehousing, commitment to keep the 9 per cent VAT rate and continuation of rates waivers. The sector is looking for a definitive roadmap to reopen, he said.
Ms Martin acknowledged that overseas visitors account for 75 per cent of Ireland’s tourism revenue.
She welcomed the European Commission’s proposal for a digital green certificate to allow free travel within the EU for persons with proof either that they have been vaccinated against Covid-19, received a negative test result or recovered from the virus.
But she insisted they could not raise hopes of a speedy return of overseas tourists. Ms Martin stressed that “most EU member states are still working hard on their domestic messaging to encourage citizens to stay the course with restrictive measures”.
Those measures “will remain necessary pending the rollout of vaccination programmes”. And she stressed that “the priority in Ireland is on regaining and maintain control over the disease and preventing a further wave of infection later in the year” until vaccination provides widespread immunity.
The Minister said the Government is committed to developing a “clear roadmap for return” and would meet in advance of April 5th to review restriction levels and to “open as soon as it’s safe to do so”.
Stressing there would be no “cliff-edge” ending to supports, Ms Martin said “survival is the first part of the Government’s response for tourism. Recovery must come next and I will continue to keep all options open” for supporting that recovery.
The Minister outlined to Independent Senator Sharon Keogan the level of supports already in place. They include: the €55 million business continuity scheme; the reduction of the VAT rate to 9 per cent; two separate funds of €10 million for coach tourism operators and the Ireland-based inbound agents business continuity scheme; an €8 million restart grant; €5 million for upskilling; and a €26 million adaptation fund.
She said there are also supports such as the Covid restrictions support scheme, employment wage subsidy scheme and rates waivers worth millions of euro to the broader tourism and hospitality sectors.
Ms Martin added that she had asked Cabinet colleagues to review the “stay and spend” scheme. This encouraged people to spend money across the hospitality sector with a promise of receiving 20 per cent of what they spent between October and April in the form of income-tax credits.
Few people availed of the scheme because of repeated lockdowns and claims had been made only in relation to €6.8 million of spending, when initial estimates suggested €1 billion might be spent.