Finance minister Paschal Donohoe told his colleagues yesterday that over 500,000 people in Ireland were in receipt of the Unemployment Benefit, almost 10,000 in receipt of illness benefit, and almost 40,000 businesses registered with Revenue for the Wage Subsidy Scheme.
The total additional health spend, including the further funding required for the Covid-19 National Action Plan, will amount to up to €2bn.
Tax revenues in the previous month were nearly €1bn lower than in March last year, a decline of over 20%. VAT receipts in March of this year were half the level they were last year, and aggregate State spending was €1.1bn ahead of profile.
The Cabinet heard that although the impact on the public finances will be significant, the State will be able to fund the increased deficit.
Mr Donohoe also asked the Government to approve an amendment to the Insurance (Amendment) Act 1978 to remove an ambiguity about the ability of the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (the SBCI) to offer guarantees to finance providers.
The SBCI is operating both the Covid-19 Loan Scheme as well as the Credit Guarantee Scheme which are helping smaller businesses to deal with the crisis.
The SBCI facilitates State-backed loan schemes, meaning the banks offer loans that are guaranteed by the SBCI, and then counter-guaranteed by the European Investment Bank Group, ensuring that banks only take a small proportion of the risk and are therefore more willing to lend to small and medium-sized enterprises.
The Government said the amendment required will only need to make a change to one section of the act.
Cabinet briefings are now held between two separate rooms, keeping Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney apart, ensuring one of the two will be able to lead the country should the other become ill, with some Cabinet members located across the two rooms, and the remaining members joining the meetings via video conference.
The Government approved an emergency contribution of €15m towards the costs of operating certain passenger ferry services for three months. The routes — Dublin/Cherbourg and Rosslare/Fishguard, Pembroke, Cherbourg, and Bilbao — are operated by Irish Ferries, Stena Line, and Brittany Ferries.
The support package will be restricted to the five designated routes, and will be targeted at “compensating the gap between specified costs and revenues generated on the services”. Transport companies will continue to pay shipping companies for the services on these routes as usual.
In education, universities, and colleges will not be holding written, oral, or practical assessments in examination centres during the pandemic.
Higher education institutions have finalised alternative assessment arrangements, with options including online exams, written assignments, or rescheduling, with new arrangements being communicated to all students.
Higher education minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor has asked all institutions to focus on those about to graduate.
“I can reassure students and their parents that high standards are being maintained and a clear pathway to qualification is still available,” she said.