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Extra €2.5bn to be spent on health, business supports

The Dáil has agreed to spend at least another €2.5 billion on health and business supports due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly confirmed that an additional €2bn was required to pay for health services this year, bringing the department’s revised spending estimate for 2020 to almost €20bn.

The estimate has increased by upwards of €1.5bn on the allocation announced on Budget day.

Mr Donnelly also warned that further funding will be needed this year to pay for more personal protective equipment (PPE), acute beds and winter planning.

He said substantial additional costs have been incurred and the passing of the estimate was essential.

He also warned that further money would be required for the health budget later this year.

Sinn Féin’s health spokesperson Louise O’Reilly said there was very little clarity on where the extra money was being spent.

Meanwhile, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Business and Innovation said the plan to stimulate the economy has to be done soon because there is no time to waste.

Leo Varadkar was speaking as his department asked the Dáil to sanction €483m in extra funding to help restart businesses as the economy restarts.

The money is aimed at making the reopening businesses as easy as possible, he told TDs.

The Dáil heard that the vast majority of the funding is as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

Mr Varadkar said it is obvious that more needs to done and this would happen in the stimulus programme next month.

There would also be further measures announced in October when the Economic Recovery Plan is launched.

Mr Varadkar added that the possibility of a no-deal Brexit remained and further funding for businesses may be required in the months ahead.

He said the Government was worried about food supply chains at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis but he said they have proven to be very robust.

Sinn Féin said it supported the revised estimates.

However, party spokesperson Imelda Munster said grants and interest-free loans should be provided to small and medium sized companies (SMEs).

There will also be a revised estimate for the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation bringing its total annual funding to more than €1.4bn.

This is an increase of over €400m due to supports paid to businesses during the pandemic.

Deputy Munster criticised the level of grants provided to SMEs to deal with the fallout from the pandemic. She said they were not adequate and that clarity is needed on the further suspension of rates.

However, she said her party would support the revised estimates as entire sectors were at risk.

Fianna Fáil’s Robert Troy said the criteria for the restart grants are too restrictive and do not take some reopening costs into consideration.

Labour’s Ged Nash said the previous government had issued a “tone deaf” response to businesses, and he called for a 100% credit guarantee scheme.

Mr Varadkar said that would put 100% of the risk onto the State and the taxpayer, and that somebody would have to pay for such a guarantee.

Meanwhile, the Chair of SME Recovery Ireland, John Moran, has told the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response that the Government’s response has been “too slow, too small and too expensive” and that small and medium businesses need cash and not mountains of debt.

Mr Moran said the State is not getting ahead of the problem and does not appear to have a handle on the huge cost of the pandemic to the SME sector.

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