Ireland will have ‘rocky road’ to economic recovery, Tánaiste says

Varadkar says re-opening ‘cannot be false dawn’ and Ireland ‘must avoid fourth wave’

Deserted streets in  Temple Bar  in March, 2020. File photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Reuters

Deserted streets in Temple Bar in March, 2020. File photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Reuters

 

The Tánaiste has warned that the announcement of the re-opening of the economy “cannot be a false dawn”.

Leo Varadkar said “we must avoid a fourth wave of hospitalisations and deaths this side of autumn/winter 2021, if not entirely”.

He also said that Ireland will have a “rocky road” to economic recovery but is much better placed to recover quickly compared to the “great recession” 10 years ago.

“If we stay on track, I believe we can recover all the jobs lost during the pandemic by 2023.”

Mr Varadkar was giving his first address to the 26th Seanad during a debate on business and the Covid-19 pandemic.

He told Senators that “this time, we want to see construction, retail, hospitality and tourism reopen and stay open” because people had sacrificed too much and waited too long.

He said the economy would re-open based on four tests, including stable or falling cases with a reproductive number at or below 1; conditions and capacity in hospitals and ICUs (intensive care units); progress of the vaccine programme; and concerns about new variants.

The Tánaiste said the Government “has certainly not got everything right, but there is much to be proud of in Ireland’s collective response to the pandemic. Our much-criticised health service has stood up to scrutiny, our front-line workers have excelled and our businesses adapted overnight.”

He said the Government’s financial supports for both workers and businesses “has not been found wanting”. He again re-iterated no cliff edge in cuts but warned however that it was borrowed money and would have to be refinanced “but not yet”.

“I’m under no illusions how difficult the coming months will be for businesses. Some are barely hanging on and simply won’t survive into 2022,” he said.

“Last week’s announcement by KBC and Carphone Warehouse were another reminder of the serious difficulties we are facing in the months ahead.

“The change in how we shop and bank wasn’t caused by the pandemic but it has been accelerated. When it comes to the twin transition, digital and green, there will be jobs lost as well as gained. For our part, the Government will be doing everything possible to help the retail sector adapt and to help employees re-skill.”

The Government plans to publish its National Economic Recovery Plan, this time next month. “It will present our vision for what the post-Covid economy will look like and how we plan to support businesses and employees in the months ahead.”

He said “the announcement on the re-opening of the economy provides a pathway out of this incredibly difficult period”. But pointing to the crisis in India he said its terrible second wave was a reminder of the need to proceed with caution.

“It’s also a reminder that this is a global fight against a highly infectious disease. Nobody is safe until everybody is safe.”

He said ensuring all the world is vaccinated is a mammoth task. “Where capacity exists, companies that have developed vaccines should license their production, especially in the global south.”

He said “we must be honest with ourselves that it is the rich countries that will vaccinate first” but “we must re-double our efforts to help less well-off countries catch up and, in the meantime, we must do everything we can to send help to India. And we are.”

Independent Senator Michael McDowell called for an independent audit of the State’s handling of the pandemic and where things went right and wrong.

He said it should not be carried out by Nphet and should not be self-examination. “We have many lessons to learn and it is essential that the people who made the decisions are not the judges of the correctness, incorrectness or efficacy of those decisions. Other people have to put their mind to assessing those issues.”

Fianna Fail Senator Ollie Crowe called for equity in the treatment of the hospitality sector between hotels and pubs. He said that as a compromise hotels would not serve alcohol in indoor areas and that indoor dining would be up to a certain period of time such as 8 pm or 9 pm.

His party colleague Pat Casey whose family run a hotel, acknowledged the inequity and said “we will be allowed to offer indoor dining for a full week before outdoor dining actually opens up”.

Labour Senator Mark Wall called for the Government to provide local authorities with funding to provide extra bins and public toilets in towns, villages and scenic areas, which he said is urgently needed. Councils have said they “have no money to provide this service or the hours it would take to clean up these situations by paying staff”.

Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne called for the abolition of commercial rates and said it was “completely unfair that a shop on our main street”is asked to pay commercial rates while online competitors are not.