Independent TD Peter Fitzpatrick says the government must do more in providing both financial and practical supports to businesses that are attempting to return navigate the post-Covid 19 landscape, while warning that a return to austerity could not be countenanced.
The Deputy spoke in the Dáil Éireann’s temporary home in the Convention Centre auditorium on Tuesday afternoon, as the members debated whether to sanction €483 million in new funding to help businesses reopen and kickstart the economy.
“We are in unprecedented times that call for unprecedented action. During the banking crisis, austerity was the approach taken. Although I was a member of that Government and voted in line with its policies at the time, it is clear in hindsight that that approach was wrong and inflicted far too much pain on the working people of Ireland,” the TD stated.
“We must never return to austerity measures and I ask the incoming Government to state on the record that austerity measures will not form any part of the economic rescue plan.”
Additionally, Mr Fitzpatrick claimed that an additional €250 million being made available for business restart grants did “not go far enough”, citing that small businesses were “the heartbeat of the economy.”
“I have spoken to many business owners in my home town of Dundalk and the surrounding area,” he said. “Many of them employ fewer than 15 workers. They have used their resources, which many had built up over a number of years, to keep their businesses afloat during the crisis. They have used everything they have earned in recent years to ensure that those jobs will still be there when they reopen.
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“The lesson to be learned is that we must throw the rule book out and think outside the box. The ECB has made money available at an interest rate of 0% and has been clear that this money is available to Ireland. Germany and France have decided to support this stimulus. We must take advantage of it and borrow that money. Now is the time to keep the economy stimulated.
“I urge the Government once more to confirm to the people of Ireland that austerity is not an option being considered at this time. The country could not stomach another period of austerity.
In response, Tanaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Leo Varadkar agreed that more needed to be done – pointing to the much-talked about July stimulus package which will be brought before the house in the coming weeks.
“Regarding austerity, I have been in a Government during boom and bust and have been around for both austerity and times in which we were able to provide record levels of spending,” he said.
“I know, and I hope the House knows, that austerity is never a policy choice. It is what is done when one has no choice because one either loses the confidence of the markets or of the European institutions. This country ten or 12 years ago lost the confidence of both the money markets and the European Central Bank. That is why the country at the time, and I was not in government at the time, ended up in a bailout and ended up in austerity.
“We are pursuing the right course now by increasing spending and by stimulating the economy. It is definitely the right thing to do, but that is only sustainable for as long as we maintain the confidence of the European institutions and the money markets. That is why we need to make sure we do not go too far, that we have a deficit that is in the mid range of European countries and that we do not become the country with the highest deficit and highest debt.”
Labour TD Ged Nash said the supports offered by the previous government, at the outset of the pandemic, was “tone deaf”.
“We all agree that businesses, particularly our microenterprises and our small and medium firms, which employ more than 1 million people, need urgent support. In fact, they needed it three months ago but the response of the previous Government in providing well designed, accessible liquidity supports was tone deaf.
“It appears that this Government is still hell-bent on prioritising the profits and the margins of the banks, partly-State owned banks of course, over direct cash grant-aid supports for community businesses. This strategy is akin to handing a drowning person an anchor instead of a lifebuoy; he or she will simply sink,” Deputy Nash said.