On the 24th of March, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced that all restaurants and cafes were to limit their supply to take-away and deliveries due to the Covid-19 crisis. The new measures include an exemption from planning for restaurants who are now permitted to operate takeaway service without having to seek permission. An Taoiseach’s announcement also called on hotels to offer rooms only for essential non-social and non-tourist reasons. The Irish Hotels Federation has welcomed the government’s new Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme, the enhanced Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment and the fact that the self-employed are also covered by the updated scheme. People facing difficulties with their mortgages have also been provided for.

Commenting on the new measures, Adrian Cummins, CEO of The Restaurants Association of Ireland, said: “I fully welcome the Cabinet’s decision today, as it is the best decision right now in the interest of the health of the nation, staff welfare and the safety of our customers. The Restaurants Association of Ireland are asking all members and restaurants and cafés throughout the country to please adhere to this decision. Public safety and stopping the spread of this pandemic must come first.”

He added that it had become evident to RAI members that the only viable way of supporting the efforts to save lives and protect the health service was to close restaurants. “Maintaining safe social distancing whilst operating busy restaurants and cafés is increasingly challenging and we must act in the interests of both our staff and our customers.” The government’s announcement to increase the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Support payment for people who have been laid off due to the virus from €203 to €350 has also been welcomed. This payment will also apply to the self-employed. However, the RAI has some specific concerns in relation to the announcement of the 70% top-up of workers salary to a cap of €410 per week. “Small businesses must not be penalised due to cash flow difficulties. Further clarification is needed regarding qualification i.e., demonstration of reduction in income of at least 25% and cash flow difficulties.”

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The RAI continues to campaign for the introduction of business supports for restaurants and cafés including a reduction in the food VAT rate to 0%, the deferring of loan repayments and the availability of social welfare supports for badly affected businesses and staff. Similarly, the Irish Hotels Federation has welcomed the new measures but added that further sector specific measures will be required to ensure the recovery of tourism and other parts of the economy. “Today’s announcement is very welcome but it is not nearly enough to safeguard the future of the tourism sector,” said President of the Irish Hotels Federation, Elaina Fitzgerald Kane. The Federation has also welcomed the government’s recognition of the role that hotels play in essential non-social and non-tourist services. The President described the new measures as essential to tackling the public health crisis and at the same time providing necessary supports to those who have lost their jobs. “Current and future bookings vanished in a matter of days. Revenues plummeted by up to 100% across the sector with a catastrophic impact on cash flow. We are calling again on the government to reduce the rates of tourism VAT and employer’s PRSI to zero until we see a recovery. In addition to our call for local authority rates to be waived, we are seeking direct business supports, including finance and marketing assistance. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the financial crisis – too many jobs depend on the right decisions being made at the right time now,” she said.

NATIONAL COVID-19 INCOME SUPPORT SCHEME – THE FACTS  

  • A temporary wage subsidy of 70% of take home pay up to a maximum weekly tax free amount of €410 per week has been introduced to help affected companies keep paying their employees. This is the equivalent of €500 per week before tax
  • Workers who have lost their jobs due to the crisis will receive an enhanced emergency Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment of €350 per week (an increase from €203)
  • The Covid-19 illness payment will also be increased to €350 per week
  • Self-employed will be eligible for the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment of €350 directly from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (rather than the Revenue scheme)
  • Enhanced protections for people facing difficulties with their mortgages, rent or utility bills
  • The employer is expected to make best efforts to maintain as close to 100% of normal income as possible for the subsidised period. Revenue will provide further guidance on operation of the scheme
  • Employers must self-declare to Revenue that they have experienced significant negative economic disruption due to Covid-19, with a minimum of 25% decline in turnover, and an inability to pay normal wages and other outgoings, in accordance with guidance to be issued by Revenue
  • This scheme is open to impacted employers in all sectors. This recognises the impact that Covid-19 is having across all parts of the economy. The employee must have been on the payroll in February 2020
  • Self-employed who qualify will be paid the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment of €350 rather than through the Revenue scheme. They will be eligible on a similar basis as the Revenue scheme for employees.