The Government is considering extending the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) and opening it up to people who have not been covered by it, such as seasonal workers.

Taking Leaders' Questions in the Dáil, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the tourism sector was hit first and hardest in the pandemic and will probably be affected the longest.

He was answering questions from Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Pearse Doherty, who said a specific stimulus plan was needed for the tourism sector and made comparisons to other countries.

Mr Varadkar responded that Northern Ireland is ending the wage subsidy scheme in October and that the Government here is not doing that; it might decide to extend the scheme beyond October and that "the most effective way to keep people in work" is the TWSS.

He said he did not want to speculate on the July stimulus, which will be published early next week, but he said the "kind of things we are considering is whether the commercial rates waver should be continued for a longer period of time".

"Whether the wage subsidy scheme should be continued and opened up to groups of workers that are not currently covered, those who weren't on the payroll back in February, like seasonal workers."

Deputy Doherty said demand needed to be stimulated due to the lack of foreign tourists coming, and that Sinn Féin's voucher scheme would do that.

Independent TD Michael Lowry has told the Dáil that almost 200 travel agents across the country "face extinction" unless they receive urgent State support.

He said that if people cancel package holidays, travel agents are responsible for the refund of the entire package which is not financially stable.

"We have a ludicrous situation that, under an EU directive, the travel agent is responsible for the refund of the entire package. This is simply not financially stable. It is a travesty and incredibly unfair to expect travel agents to shoulder the burden of this financial outlay. It will force them in to liquidation."

In response, the Tánaiste said about 3,000 people across the country work in travel agents and tour operators which are often locally and family owned.

"We want to make sure that they survive and that they are able to do well again when we get past this pandemic," he said. 

Mr Varadkar said they would all benefit from the TWSS and the waiving of commercial fees and he said some are entitled to the restart grant.

Additional reporting Mary Regan

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