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Donohoe: 'The normal that we all knew weeks ago - that is a normal that we will not be returning back to'

The Finance Minister said efforts to boost the economy would only be proportionate alongside public health advice.

Image: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

MINISTER FOR FINANCE Paschal Donohoe has said a range of measures are being examined by government this week to support citizens and businesses, and said the “normal” of how the country operated a few weeks ago is not something “we will be returning to”. 

“I think the normal we all know a number of weeks ago, before the onslaught of Covid-19 into our lives,” he said. “That is a normal we will not be returning back to – if ever. In terms of how we will be engaging with each other and the shape of our economy.”

It came as business leaders called for urgent action from the government as retail faced into its “darkest day” yesterday. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said yesterday it’s expected up to 100,000 people could lose their jobs in the coming weeks over the outbreak. He also indicated that the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus could reach as high as 15,000 in the coming weeks here.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland, Donohoe said that as well as managing the public health crisis, the government’s focus was also on how the economy could recover from the challenges it currently faces.

“It’s important we emphasise the ability we do have to recover,” he said. “With the right decisions… we can respond back to and recover from this public health challenge.”

How this recovery will happen will be dependent on the pressure is managed on citizens and businesses, according to Donohoe.

To that end, he said the government hopes to make further progress on that this week including “in relationship to the management of loans and of mortgages”. 

Last week, countries such as Italy announced that mortgage payments will be suspended across that country in a bid to soften the economic impact of the virus on households.

On discussions with the banks on this matter, Donohoe said that the Taoiseach had indicated these talks were taking place in the last number of days and so had he. 

Donohoe’s segment on the radio came just after the head of Retail Excellence Ireland David Fitzsimons outlined the “hardest and most challenging day” in the retail industry’s history yesterday. 

Fitzsimons said we need to plan for the “budget of all budgets” for six to eight weeks’ time to get the economy going again. “We need shut down non-essential commerce today,” he said.

“Businesses owners… they just had to do it [close down]. We need government support to lead us through a period of great concern. Let’s stop commerce. Let’s start planning out a huge response to jolt our economy. This is desperate.

The minister said his thoughts went out to all on the strain on those in the retail sector and many parts of the economy. He wouldn’t be drawn on whether the government would cease VAT payments for businesses, however, or force non-essential business to close down. 

“What we have done is completely overhauled our sickness payment programmes,” he said. “We’ve changed the loans available to companies to keep them going.”

He also outlined changes to Revenue that were criticised at the weekend by the Irish Hotels Federation as “grossly inadequate” in addressing the problems faced by businesses. 

Donohoe said that anything done economically had to be consistent with public health guidance given the scale of the crisis at this time. 

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“The government is already planning on ways to make the recovery as sharp, quick and inclusive as possible,” he said. 

I think the normal we all know a number of weeks ago, before the onslaught of Covid-19 into our lives. That is a normal we will not be returning back to – if ever. In terms of how we will be engaging with each other and the shape of our economy. 

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Sean Murray

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