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Social distancing markings at Portmarnock beach in Dublin recently. Sam Boal
social distancing

Ibec urges government to change social distancing requirement to one metre

Business group representatives have met the Oireachtas Covid-19 Committee today.

LAST UPDATE | 9 Jun 2020

THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD change the two-metre social distancing requirements to one metre in order to help businesses function, business lobby group Ibec has said.

The CEO of the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (Ibec), Danny McCoy, has also asked the government to remove the 14-day quarantine in place for people entering the country from abroad. 

McCoy said “significant measures” are required to protect the livelihoods of people in Ireland. 

The Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response has today heard from a number of key speakers, including Enterprise Ireland and Chief executive of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (ISME), Neil McDonnell.

McDonnell said that SMEs have been a “blindspot” for the government as it has been “fixated” on multinational companies. 

SMEs (small to medium enterprises) make up almost half of all business revenue in Ireland, while also accounting for 40% of employment.

McDonnell accused the government of being fixated with multinational companies, and said that small to medium businesses, “continue to be a blindspot for government”.

“Their perception is that big business is good, small business is bad,” he said. 

This is not merely anecdotal. I have personally heard it said to me by a senior trade union official and by a senior civil servant, that the lower tax credit available to the self-employed, and the USC surcharge imposed on high-income self-employed are justified by their ability to fiddle expenses.

“This is baseless and unsustainable, and we set out below a means to rectify these issues while repairing the State finances.”

McDonnell was pressed on this quote by Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane today. McDonnell repeated that he was told about this perception of ‘fiddling’ expenses by a senior trade union official and a senior official in a government department. 

During the committee meeting, Danny McCoy of Ibec also said the €350 Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment can be a “disincentive” for people to return to work. 

Dr Orlaigh Quinn, Secretary-General of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation is expected to also tell the Covid-19 committee that GDP is projected to decline by over 10% in 2020 and that Brexit could exacerbate the financial situation.

An estimated 220,000 jobs will be lost with the unemployment rate exceeding 25% in the second quarter of the year before falling in the latter half of the year.

“Consumer spending is estimated to contract by some 14% in 2020 with exports of goods and services set to fall by just under 8% this year. The heightened risk of a hard Brexit at the end of 2020 could exacerbate the difficulties facing the economy and recovery prospects,” she will tell the committee.

The food and accommodation sector has been the hardest hit, with over 90% of those in employment now receiving either the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) or the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS).

The Wholesale and Retail sector, despite large elements continuing to trade, has some 58% of employees either on the PUP or TWSS.

Personal services, construction and administrative and support services have also been heavily impacted. The manufacturing sector, FDI and globally traded sectors have had less severe impacts to date, she is expected to say.

Around €13 billion has been spent by the Irish government to date to support citizens, businesses, and the economy.

- With reporting by Orla Dwyer

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