The Irish government announced its Economic Recovery Plan on 1 June 2021, focusing on a return to economic growth and jobs creation post-pandemic.
And as Ireland moves into the summer months, the vaccination rollout gathers pace with more than three million doses of coronavirus vaccines administered by early June.
This article outlines the key points of the Economic Recovery Plan that are relevant to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), including reopening timelines for customer-facing businesses. It will also explain the financial supports available to SMEs, including new schemes and existing supports that have been extended and enhanced.
And as the coronavirus situation is ever-changing, at the end of June 2021, a few changes to the reopening timeline and government supports were announced. We highlight them below.
Here’s what we cover:
Reopening timeline [updated]
Updates to government supports [updated]
What is the Economic Recovery Plan?
Under the Economic Recovery Plan, more than €3.5bn in supports, including €915m under the European Union’s Recovery and Resilience Fund, have been allocated to creating jobs, supporting sustainable enterprises, ensuring a balanced recovery and maintaining stability in public finances.
In the plan, the government sets out its ambitious goal of increasing the workforce to more than 2.5 million by 2024 with a focus on growing green and sustainable companies.
The following reopening timeline will have particular relevance if your business operates in the tourism, hospitality, entertainment or leisure sectors.
Further easing of restrictions will be considered following assessment of progress in vaccination roll-out and cases.
A number of large pilot outdoor music and sporting events are planned for June and July, which will inform the government on future strategies.
Since 2 June
- Hotels and self-catering reopen. Food and drink services for overnight guests only.
Since 7 June
- Restaurants, pubs and hotels can resume outdoor service. The mandatory €9 meal no longer applies. However, customers and businesses will need to comply with public health measures.
- Cinemas and theatres can reopen as well as drive-in cinema and bingo.
- Gyms, swimming pools and leisure centres can reopen for individual training.
- Outdoor theme parks and amusements can reopen.
- Organised outdoor events will have a limit of 100, with a 200-person limit for larger venues with minimum capacity of 5,000.
- The number of guests attending a wedding celebration or reception increases to 25.
- Outdoor sports events return with pilot events in Dublin and Cork due to take place over the summer months.
From 5 July
- Outdoor sporting events can have 200 people or 500 for 5,000+ capacity venues.
- Wedding reception guests increases to 50 people.
- Indoor activities – “organised events, return of service in bars and restaurants, group training, exercise and dance” – were due to open up from 5 July but this has been delayed. The government is working on implementing a system that verifies if people have been vaccinated. An implementation plan is due on 19 July 2021.
From 19 July
- International travel resumes with Ireland signed up to the EU Digital Covid Certificate (DCC) which will allow travel for fully vaccinated people, those who have a recent negative PCR test or have recently recovered from COVID-19.
- Sporting events can allow up to 500 spectators or in larger venues of 5,000-capacity up to 25% of capacity.
- Weddings and other private events can have up to 100 guests.
Updates to government supports
Pandemic Unemployment Payment
To avoid a cliff-edge in income for self-employed and freelance contractors receiving the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, phased reductions will start on 7 September 2021 with a €50 reduction in the maximum weekly amount of €350 – and further €50 cuts in November 2021 and February 2022.
Rates are linked to earnings in 2018 or 2019, with self-employed recipients allowed to earn up to €960 over eight weeks without losing their payment.
Following an announcement at the end of June, the scheme will now be open to new applicants until 7 July 2021 (previously it was 30 June 2021).
Enterprise Support Grant
This scheme is aimed at self-employed sole traders leaving the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and returning to work. Those eligible for the payment can apply for a grant of €1,000 to meet restart costs.
Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme
This scheme, which supports employers whose businesses have been adversely affected by pandemic restrictions, has been extended until 31 December 2021.
Levels of support – four-tier payments based on employee’s previous earnings – and reduced rate of employers’ PRSI will remain unchanged until the end of September 2021, with details on parameters for the year’s final quarter to be announced towards the end of the summer.
Businesses must have a valid tax clearance certificate and have had a fall in turnover of at least 30% due to the pandemic.
COVID-19 Restrictions Support Scheme
The Covid-19 Restrictions Support Scheme has been extended until 31 December 2021.
Eligible businesses will receive a weekly payment in the form of an advanced tax credit against trading expenses.
As businesses reopen and leave the scheme, they can avail of an enhanced restart payment of three weeks at double the rate to meet costs of reopening up to a maximum weekly payment of €10,000 and a maximum total of €30,000.
For further details and how to claim under the scheme, visit the relevant section on the Revenue website.
Small Business Assistance Scheme for COVID
A new round of applications is open for this scheme, which was introduced in March 2021, for small companies ineligible for the Covid-19 Restrictions Support Scheme and other sector-specific funding.
As part of the Economic Recovery Plan, eligibility for the scheme has been extended to support more businesses.
The payment amount is based on turnover with grants of up to €4,000 available and applicants for Phase 1 can make a second application.
To find out more about this scheme, visit the Revenue website.
Outdoor Dining Scheme
Under the Outdoor Dining Scheme – which opened in April 2021 – food service businesses in the tourism and hospitality sectors can apply for grants of up to €4,000 to convert or upgrade their outdoor space to facilitate reopening under health guidelines.
Funding is available for outdoor seating and accessories, including tables, chairs, umbrellas, outdoor heaters and screens.
Funding applications should be made through your local authority.
- VAT rate: The lower 9% rate for the tourism and hospitality sectors has been extended until 1 September 2022.
- Rates waiver: The waiver of commercial rates for businesses most affected by the pandemic restrictions will remain in place until the end of September 2021.
- Tax warehousing: Warehousing of VAT and employers’ income tax debt has been extended until 31 December 2021, with an interest-free period during 2022. Coronavirus-related liabilities will fall due from 1 January 2023 and overpayments of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme are now included in the scheme.
- COVID-19 Illness Benefit: The current enhanced COVID-19 Illness Benefit of €350 weekly payment remains for those with a diagnosis or self-isolating due to being a close contact of a confirmed case. You will need a MyGovID account to apply online.
Further financial supports
Sustaining Enterprise Fund
This Enterprise Ireland scheme has two funding options for companies engaged in manufacturing and internationally traded services.
The first is for companies with 10 or more employees that have experienced at least a 15% reduction in actual or projected turnover with supports up to €800,000 available.
The second part is for small enterprises with funding between €25,000 and €50,000 of repayable and non-repayable short-term working capital.
To find out how you can access it, contact your development adviser at Enterprise Ireland or the COVID-19 Business Response Unit.
Future Growth Loan Scheme
The Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) scheme provides long-term, low-cost loans to viable SMEs and small mid-cap enterprises or SMEs involved in agriculture or fishing.
It’s worth noting that five of the original lenders have been fully subscribed. However, Close Brothers is still accepting applications for the scheme.
You must confirm your eligibility with the SBCI before submitting your application.
Brexit Impact Loan Scheme
This new €330m scheme, which was announced in May 2021, is due to launch in the coming weeks.
Loans from €25,000 to €1.5m, and terms of one to six years will be available for SME applicants in the food industry, agriculture and fisheries.
Organic Processing Investment Grant Scheme
The first tranche of the scheme was launched on 1 June 2021 and runs until 31 July 2021.
The €1.2m scheme will assist organic processors to invest in developing facilities to process, prepare, grade, pack, and store organic products.
Grants are available for off-farm projects and amounts of up to €700,000. The second tranche of funding opens from 1 August 2021.
Climate Enterprise Action Fund
This fund supports Irish companies to become more sustainable and transition to low carbon business models. The fund includes a €1,800 Climate Action Voucher for consultancy services and €5,000 for GreenStart to measure your company’s carbon footprint and identify areas where reductions in emissions can be made.
Pandemic Stabilisation and Recovery Fund
This €2bn scheme operated by the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF) is aimed at medium and large companies.
Priority is given to enterprises with more than 250 employees or an annual turnover of €50m or more. Businesses must have been viable and profitable in 2019. All sectors will be considered.
Additional financial supports
Grants and further supports are available through your Local Enterprise Office, Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, and InterTradeIreland. Microfinance Ireland provides low-cost loans packages to SMEs affected by pandemic restrictions.
New schemes to be launched soon
Business Resumption Scheme
This new scheme will be introduced in September for ‘vulnerable but viable’ businesses in sectors that were particularly affected by pandemic restrictions.
To be eligible, businesses must have had a 75% fall in turnover between 1 September 2020 and 31 August 2021, compared with 2019.
The Revenue-administered scheme will operate in a similar way to the Covid-19 Restrictions Support Scheme.
Entertainment, events and artists supports
- A new Music and Entertainment Business Assistance Scheme will be introduced to support the live entertainment sector. This follows the Live Performance Support Scheme, which is now fully subscribed.
- A new events sector support scheme to address a gap in supports for SMEs for those that don’t qualify for the Covid-19 Restrictions Support Scheme will be launched shortly.
- A pilot scheme to provide a guaranteed basic income for artists is also being considered.
Travel and aviation
As non-essential travel returns from 19 July 2021, Ireland will be participating in the EU Digital Covid Certificate, as mentioned above.
The Economic Recovery Plan includes provisions for additional support for the aviation sector to be announced at a later date. The government previously agreed to an €80m funding package for 2021.
Conclusion on the Economic Recovery Plan
As Ireland continues to recover from the pandemic, the Economic Recovery Plan will ensure continued support for businesses facing challenges due to restrictions imposed due to coronavirus.
A wide range of general and sector-specific financial supports and schemes announced in the Plan will assist SMEs as they rebuild in the coming years.
Editor’s note: This article was first published on 17 June 2021 and has been updated for relevance.