National News

As your local Senator I have been working hard to represent the people of Cork in Seanad Éireann. In recent years we have moved from economic uncertainty to stability, the maintenance of which requires continual work.

Some of the national issues I will be prioritising are tourism, job creation and public infrastructure, of housing, roads and amenities, in order to sustain such growth.

Extension of invalidity pension to self-employed

 

Extension of the Invalidity Pension to the self-employed is a great support to small businesses owners and will help to create jobs locally.

Cork Senator, Tim Lombard, said: “My Fine Gael colleague, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty, has announced the Government is extending the Invalidity Pension scheme to self-employed workers for the first time ever.

“Invalidity Pension is a pension payment for people who cannot work because of a long-term illness or disability, so the extension of this right is a real leap forward in terms of the rights of the self-employed and business owners who will, for the first time ever, be able to apply for this safety net on the same basis as employees. The change will also apply to farmers, tradespeople, freelancers, contractors and professionals, so lots of people are set to benefit here in Cork once the scheme is extended on December 1st.

“This is just the latest Fine Gael measure designed to improve the lot of small business owners and other self-employed people in Cork, something we have prioritised since entering Government in 2011 as part of the Action Plan for Jobs which has seen the unemployment rate reduce from a high of 15.1% in 2012 to 6% this year.

“It is part of our policy of making work pay and encouraging self-employment and entrepreneurship. Improving the safety net for the self-employed and improving the benefits they receive under the PRSI scheme means they are on more of a stable footing to create more jobs.

“In March of this year, the self-employed were given access to the Treatment Benefit Scheme which includes free eye tests, dental examinations and contributions towards the cost of hearing aids, with additional dental and optical benefits being provided from October 2017 for both the self-employed and employees.

“We have also completed significant steps along the road to the equalisation of income tax credits between self-employed people and PAYE workers. We are two thirds of the way there, addressing what was an unfair treatment of self-employed people in this country. The change in the recent Budget in this regard means that self-employed people will pay €200 less per year in tax from 2018, following our decision to extend the earned-income tax credit to €1,150.

“I am pleased that the Government has been able to extend the Invalidity Pension without increasing the rate of PRSI paid by employees, employers and the self-employed.

“It is important for self-employed people to know that the Invalidity Pension will be based solely on their PRSI contributions. It is not means assessed and any savings or assets they have will not affect their payment.

“Similarly, if their partner is working, that income will not affect the payment of the Invalidity Pension.

“Minister Doherty has also confirmed that it is also open to self-employed who are currently out of work through illness to claim the Invalidity Pension if they have the relevant PRSI contributions on their social insurance record.

“A public awareness campaign on the extension of the Invalidity Pension to the self-employed will run over the next 10 days starting on Monday, 20th November via print, broadcast and digital media.

“Fine Gael will continue its focus on creating even more employment opportunities for people in Cork and throughout the country. Small and family businesses will play a significant role in this jobs success and it is important we continue to support them. More jobs mean increased tax revenue with which we can invest in improved public services to ensure a better quality of life for all.”

 

20 November 2017

Extension of Optical and Dental Treatment Benefits

Extended Optical and Dental services are now available to qualified PRSI contributors, including employees and the self-employed, and their dependent spouses/partners.

Senator Lombard said: “This is great news for our workforce here in Cork. It means they can now avail of free teeth cleaning and free glasses when they need them. This will encourage more working people to take better care of their health, which should drive down their health expenses in the long run.

“Restoring benefits to PRSI contributors was a key commitment of Fine Gael heading into the last election and I’m delighted that we are now in a position to deliver.

“The Optical scheme will now cover the provision of glasses, either free or subsidised if an upgraded design is chosen, or provide a contribution towards contact lenses. Repairs to glasses are also covered under the extended scheme, in addition to the free eye examination announced earlier in 2017.

“The Dental scheme will now include a contribution to cleanings, either an annual scale and polish or more extensive periodontal treatment if clinically required.  These treatments will be available in addition to the free annual dental examination also announced in March this year.

“The cleanings will require a co-payment from the patient if the cost of the treatment charged by the dentist is in excess of the fee payable by the Department. For the simpler scale and polish treatment this additional co-payment is capped at a maximum of €15,” Senator Lombard clarified.

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty said: “I am pleased to announce these new optical and dental treatment benefits. Currently over 2.5m qualified contributors, including 450,000 self-employed, may have an entitlement based on their PRSI contributions to claim Treatment Benefits, and this benefit is available to both themselves and their dependent spouse or partner.

“Treatment benefits are an important support for those who contribute each week to social insurance fund and our commitment to these extended benefits demonstrate a Government committed to supporting  people at work, be they employed or self-employed.”

31 October 2017

Designation of ladies finals as free-to-air an important step

Seanad spokesperson on Communications, Senator Tim Lombard, said the designation of these events is an acknowledgment of the valuable contribution that the representative associations make to women’s sport throughout Ireland.

Cork-based Senator Lombard said: “The ladies’ senior finals deserve this special recognition that is already afforded to the men’s senior finals.

“The designation of these events is an acknowledgment of the valuable contribution that the representative associations make to women’s sport throughout Ireland.

“Ladies football and camogie players are hugely valuable role models for girls around the country who they inspire to get involved in their local clubs.

“In some cases but definitely in hurling, the camogie and ladies football championships have been far more entertaining than the men’s championships.  As a result, both attendance and viewing figures continue to increase for these events.

“This year alone as many as 46,286 people attended the senior and intermediate ladies football finals in Croke Park. This is an increase of approximately 13,000 on the 2016 final and makes it the best attended female sporting event in Europe this year.

“Not only that, attendance at the event was on a par with a number of other top sporting occasions this year such as the Munster senior hurling final, which had an attendance of over 45,000 or the PRO12 final between Munster and Scarlets that had an attendance of 44,000 people.

“A draft order designating these events was referred to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

“The committee fully supported the designation of these events.  Earlier this week, Dáil Éireann passed this motion recognising the importance of the senior ladies finals, and now it has been passed by the Seanad this week.

“This is a good news story.  Participation in women’s sports has to be a priority for the Government.

“It is positive and ground-breaking to have these important finals designated as free-to-air.

“In my part of the world, both sports have great following.  This year, in particular, we had great success in camogie but traditionally, the ladies football final would be a great source of pride in Cork.

“This is an acknowledgement of the progress these sports have made and of where the recognition of female sports has to go.  This is an important step and we have to push the boundaries in other parts of the country and the world.”

20 October 2017

Learning Resource Centre proposed for CIT

A new building planned for the Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) campus will drive local and regional development, Fine Gael Senator, Tim Lombard, has said. The proposed project is the construction of a Learning Resource Centre which would accommodate learning, study, exhibition, engagement and entrepreneurial space. It would allow CIT to increase capacity across STEM, business and humanities subjects.

The project was announced by the Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton and the Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor and is set to be included in the Department of Education and Skills’ latest Public Private Partnership (PPP) Programme.

Senator Lombard said: “This announcement fulfils a key commitment in the Action Plan for Education, which aims to make the Irish education and training service the best in Europe within a decade, and is one of 11 new projects announced at different third level institutions across Ireland.

“It will see enhanced opportunities for students to reach their potential in areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

“This development in Cork will help drive regional development and meet many of the skills needs that have been identified by the National Skills Council and the regional skills forum, which was established earlier this year by Minister Bruton.

“Over €200 million is being invested nationally which will create over 8,000 new student places.

“This PPP Programme is being rolled-out alongside €367 million in funding from the Department of Education and Skills for national investment in higher education over the period 2018-2021. Minister Bruton and Minister Mitchell O’Connor secured €257 million of this additional funding in the Budget last week following the mid-term review of the Capital Plan.

Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton said: “Institutes of Technology have been disproportionately affected by the fall-off in capital investment in higher education over the past decade. And yet they have still shown a level of flexibility and innovation that rivals any other sector.

“In recent times the infrastructure hasn’t evolved or improved quickly enough to match their dynamism. We’re starting the process of changing that with this announcement.

“This investment will help cater for new approaches that promote innovation and make use of the latest technologies.”

16 October 2017

Additional Incentives for Electric Cars

Budget 2018 has allocated €17 million towards incentivizing the uptake of electric vehicles and the roll-out of the renewable heat incentive.

Cork Senator, Tim Lombard, said: “As a member of the joint Oireachtas committee for Communications, Climate Action, and the Environment I was delighted that Budget 2018 is addressing climate change through a number of positive, environmentally driven policies and funding of energy efficiency programmes.

“One such programme the Government is very supportive of is the transition of our car fleet to zero emissions technology, especially electric vehicles. It is encouraging to see strides being made towards this ambition, with such substantial funding allocated towards alleviating the cost of purchasing electric cars.

“Even as the cost of ownership of electric cars goes down, many still choose traditional diesel or petrol engines because they are believed to be more economical. This new funding will help offset this cost and allow more people to access a sustainable, and more cost-effective, method of transportation.

Test driving an electric vehicle at the Soceity of the Irish Motor Industry pre-budget breifing 2017

“While there are current grants offered through the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) and reduced VRT (to a maximum of €5,000), additional funding was made available through introducing a proposed 0% rate of benefit-in-kind (BIK) in 2018.

“This scheme is to run for a year to encourage organizations to switch to zero emission fleet.

“To meet the required reduction in CO2 levels as agreed to with the EU and the Paris Agreement more people need to use environmentally friendly methods of transportation such as the electric car. Electric cars allow drivers the freedom that they are familiar with along with the environmental benefits of a zero emission vehicle.

“Ireland has already begun to develop infrastructure to support the further demand of electric cars. The Electricity Supply Board (ESB) has over 1,200 free public charging stations across Ireland allowing for freedom of movement without fear of access to areas to recharge. This network of charging stations allows electric car owners to travel the country with ease.

“As a local I am pleased that Cork has begun to set the tone for a more sustainable Ireland by encouraging pursuit of zero emission transportation. Drive4Zero is one group with a pilot program based in Cork that provides additional incentives for transitioning to an electric car, such as free parking and reduced tolls.

“This additional funding allocated for the promotion of election cars will be instrumental in helping to develop a zero emission Ireland.

“I applaud my Fine Gael colleague Minister of Finance, Paschal Donohoe, for including such a policy to help promote a more sustainable Ireland, and I look forward to seeing additional legislation continuing to support this goal in the future.”

16 October 2017

Lombard: 9% VAT for tourism and services sector retained

Cork based Fine Gael Senator, Tim Lombard, has been advocating the need to maintain the 9% VAT rate for the tourism and services sector and is delighted that Budget 2018 has confirmed its retention.

After today’s announcement Senator Lombard said: “I am pleased that the significance of maintaining the special 9% VAT rate for our hospitality sector has been recognised in Budget 2018.

Senator Lombard supporting pre-budget submissions regardinng 9% VAT retention

“55,188 jobs have been created in Ireland as a result of the 2011 reduction of tourism and services VAT; 37,800 directly in the restaurant and tourism industry and a further 17,388 related jobs elsewhere in the economy.

“This increase in employment has resulted in savings to the exchequer of an estimated €756 million from the Social Welfare bill. Additionally, the restaurant sector contributes at least €4 billion to the Irish economy each year.

“These are only a few examples of the economic benefits associated to a lower hospitality VAT rate. While an increase would result in a direct increase of revenue, the knock-on effect and wider implications would be extensively disadvantageous to the Irish economy.

Speaking about the VAT rate during today’s Budget 2018 announcement, Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe, said: “While I note that prices in Dublin continue to rise, I have said before that VAT policy cannot be decided on the basis of one location only but in the context of the national interest. Accordingly, I have decided not to change the VAT rate on the tourism and services sector.”

Senator Lombard agreed, adding: “This is incredibly important for tourism in rural Ireland in particular as they do not receive the same influx of people as our urban centers, thus there is a need to ensure affordability to attract patrons and secure return business.

“Given the uncertainty surrounding the economic impact of Brexit and the increasing costs of doing business in Ireland, retention of the 9% VAT allows our hospitality industry to remain competitive.”

10 October 2017

€300m for SME’s under new Brexit Loan Scheme

Cork Senator, Tim Lombard, is welcoming today’s Budget 2018 announcement that €300 million has been allocated to a Brexit Loan Scheme for small and medium business enterprises (SMEs).

Senator Lombard said: “The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in conjunction with the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation have formulated a Brexit Loan Scheme to assist SMEs across the country.

“Under this new scheme there is funding up to €300m available at a competitive 4% interest rate to SMEs, including food businesses, to assist with short-term working capital needs.

“I am delighted to see the expansion of the low interest loans initiative. The previous budget financed a similar Agriculture Cashflow Support Loan Scheme, the success of which was immense. Barely any of this fund remains indicating that there is a great appetite out there for low interest loans.

“I know from talking to local business owners that cashflow difficulties are a real concern after recent changes in the sterling exchange rate and commodity prices in certain sectors.

“SME’s are the backbone of our economy, critical to local communities as a source of employment and commerce. They are a major driving force of our rural economies and require support to mitigate against the uncertainty of Brexit.

“The Brexit Loan Scheme will help stimulate and stabilise economy and job creation for SME’s, enabling growth of more stable employment for Ireland as well as the long-term sustainability of our economy.”

10 October 2017

National strategy required for solar farm developments

Cork based Fine Gael Senator, Tim Lombard, is continuing to fight for national guidelines regarding the development of solar farms.

Senator Lombard said: “The last few years have seen huge increases in applications to build solar farms here in Ireland. It is worrying that no national strategy currently exists to ensure this industry develops in a sustainable manner.

“I have brought this issue to the attention of Seanad Eireann, and to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Denis Naughten TD, and his Department a number of times.

“Last week I again brought a debate forward about creating a national strategy for solar farms, as I have been disappointed with the lack of progress towards what I believe is a very real concern.

Senator Lombard, Seanad Debate: national planning guidelines required for solar farm development

“At the moment solar farm applications are being approved for sites next to substations due to proximity. This however is not taking into account other necessary factors and logistics.

“Issue such as proximity to housing, gradient of the site pertaining to water runoff, and appropriate elevation of the site regarding visual aesthetics, all affect the environment surrounding solar farms. These issues and more need to be assessed and accounted for in a national strategy that would guide appropriate planning and ensure the sustainability of the environment as well as the developing industry.

“Because there is no nation-wide focus to the development of this industry, we have an ad-hoc approach currently in place where each separate local authority makes different decisions based on their own geographical area.

“Developing solar farms is a national issue. There needs to be guidelines in place that enable a co-ordinated and sustainable, nation-wide development of this industry.

“When wind farms were first proposed in Ireland there was no framework to guide local authorities in planning their development, and the Government recognised the need to provide in this manner. The situation was assessed, guidelines designed and implemented, and now under review.

“Solar farms present the same challenge. Lacking a standard means that the industry will develop in a disorganised and unsustainable manner. I am hopeful that the need for national solar farm guidelines is soon recognised, assessed, and a strategy implemented.”

02 October 2017

Government supported website provides incredible photographs from the past

More than 10,000 historic pictures from Ireland’s past, including many from Cork, have been added to a folklore website, Fine Gael Senator, Tim Lombard, has said.

“The new redesigned duchas.ie website and Photographic Collection was launched in Dublin last night (Tuesday). Roughly 10,000 photographs from the Collection have been digitized, catalogued and made available for the first time on the site.

“This is an incredible new resource for Cork and indeed wider Ireland. A large number of the photographs date from the early 20th century, providing a fascinating insight into our past.

Image from The Photographic Collection at Duchas.ie: The dwelling house, Rockchapel, Co. Cork

“The Collection contains photographs taken by professional photographers and by collectors working with the National Folklore Commission, amongst others, and are classified under 14 different topics including: festivals; holy wells; settlement; folklore collection; and games and pastimes.

Image from The Photographic Collection at Duchas.ie: farm implements, Knockadoon, Co. Cork

“Although it’s fair to say that there is a particular emphasis on country life, towns and cities were not neglected. The majority of urban photographs relate to Dublin, in particular to the folklore collection initiative which took place at the start of the 1980s, and contains an interesting record of the various aspects of life in the capital city.”

In addition to this, material from each of the 26 counties that took part in the Schools’ Scheme in 1937-39 is also available on the website. Meitheal Duchas.ie, a transcription project, began in Spring 2015 and is one of the most successful crowdsourced projects of its kind in the world. Some members of the Meitheal from Ireland, Canada and the United States were in attendance at the event yesterday.

Senator Lombard added: “Fine Gael places enormous importance on our national history and heritage and on the preservation of all our folklore and historic photographs. Putting all these resources online will allow people from Cork, to Donegal, to the Irish diaspora overseas to witness our past from their laptops and mobile devices.”

“This new version of the website will provide an additional perspective on Ireland’s rich and varied heritage with thousands of photographs from different times and places made easily available via the browsing facilities.

“This new collection will add to the value of duchas.ie as a digital heritage resource. For specialist researchers in the fields of folkloristics, local history, archaeology, genealogy, linguistics, and a range of other disciplines, the site offers considerable research potential.”

 

Notes:

The Dúchas project is the result of a partnership, beginning in 2012, between the National Folklore Collection in UCD, one of the largest folklore collections in the world, UCD Digital Library and Fiontar & Scoil na Gaeilge, the Irish-medium teaching and research unit in DCU.

The objective of the project is to digitise the National Folklore Collection and make it available to the public online. The project is co-funded by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, with support from the National Lottery and by University College Dublin. The project has also benefitted from the financial support of the National Folklore Foundation.

27 September 2017

€1million for Cork’s Local Improvement Schemes

Cork Senator, Tim Lombard, is pleased to announce the allocation of €1million for Local Improvement Schemes (LIS) here in Cork.

“LIS funding provides for the repair and improvement of small roads and laneways leading to local people’s homes and businesses that are not under the normal maintenance of the Local Authorities. The scheme will also support improvements in private roads that lead to public amenities such as beaches or lakes.

“I have been communicating with my Ministerial colleagues on the importance of the Local Improvement Schemes for people who live in rural Ireland in particular.

“The Government hasn’t been in a position to adequately fund the LIS’s for the last number of years, but we made a commitment in the Programme for a Partnership Government that we would reinstate the scheme.

“I am delighted to now be in a positon to honour that commitment. The scheme will be funded by the Department of Rural and Community Development and delivered through the Local Authority.

“For people who live in rural areas, like many here in Cork, road connectivity is hugely important.

“The ability of people to access their own premises, a farmyard or a neighbour’s house is compromised when roads are in a bad state of repair.  For emergency services, too, bad road surfaces can lead to delays in accessing sites and can damage their vehicles.

“An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar along with Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring have announced the Government is providing a total of €10 million to fund this scheme across the country.

“This will be combined with a small contribution from householders (10-15% of total costs) and Local Authorities, and will allow for the maintenance and improvement of many local roads all over Ireland.

“The re-introduction of the LIS is an important part of the delivery of the Government’s Action Plan for Rural Development.  One of the Pillars of the Action Plan focuses on improving rural infrastructure and connectivity.

“The Government’s vision for rural Ireland is very simple when it comes down to it – We want rural Ireland to be a better place in which to live and work by creating new opportunities, improving connectivity between rural and urban areas, and by protecting and enhancing services in the community.

“We want to offer the opportunity for young people to have access to good-quality jobs so that they can continue to live in rural Ireland if they so choose.  And the Action Plan for Rural Development provides the framework to achieve this.”

22 September 2017