The worst fears of the business owners and the tens of thousands of people they employed in cafes and the pubs and restaurants and retailers were realised as the shutters came down 10 days ago.
The Government’s new plan for an income-support or subsidy scheme is designed to help many more employers from shedding many more thousands of jobs in the coming weeks. The next few days will show whether the wave of job losses has been stemmed.
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe estimated the cost of the latest measures, including its centrepiece, an income-support scheme that will extend for 12 weeks, at €3.7bn.
The price tag was much more than the proposal trade unions had submitted to officials last week but the Government’’s scheme appears to have learned from a major misstep mad by Boris Johnson’s government last Friday when it unveiled an income-support scheme with little consideration taken for the UK’s self-employed.
Mr Donohoe said the Irish scheme was as a temporary income subsidy under which the Government has pledged to cover 70% of take home pay for workers at risk of losing their jobs.
The purpose of the scheme is to encourage employers to keep staff on the payroll as their revenues have collapsed.
The most vulnerable firms, including food, hospitality, retail and tourism, were the first in the frontline as shops have been forced to shut but the collapse in demand has already spread across the economy.
The package was broadly welcomed by employer and trade union groups, who had done much last week to shape the scheme in submissions they made to officials.
Ibec said the supports were “crucial and important” to keep companies going and “protecting the income of individuals”.
Patricia King, general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, said the plan will help the economy to build again when the crisis ends.
Tom McDonnell, co-director at the think tank, Nevin Economic Research Institute, or Neri, which helped write the proposals for trade unions submitted officials, said that the income-support plan was “the right thing to do”.
There will, however, be major issues as the scheme is probed in the coming days. Brian Keegan, director of public affairs at Chartered Accountants Ireland, said the Government did not want to make the same mistake as the British government.
“The situation for employees is welcome. The situation for self-employed is less so and will come clearer in the next few days. The UK did not look after the self-employed is their proposals,” Mr Keegan said.
And Neil McDonnell, head of business group Isme, said small firms required ultra-low or even negative interest rates loans to survive the crisis.