Dublin rules out special help for Ireland's hospitality sector as coronavirus bites

DUBLIN (Reuters) – The Irish government will not prioritize a particular part of its economy in its fiscal response to the coronavirus epidemic, the finance minister said on Wednesday after calls from the hospitality sector for help.

Ireland also recorded its first death from the outbreak on Wednesday, an elderly woman with an underlying illness, national broadcaster RTE reported.

The confirmed cases of coronavirus in Ireland rose to 34 on Tuesday from 24 a day earlier, the health department said in a daily update.

Although Ireland is in the early stages of the outbreak, the government has set aside 3 billion euros to deal with the economic fallout, primarily through boosts to sick pay.

With hotels and restaurants already reporting cancellations, the Restaurants Association of Ireland has called for a temporary cut in sales tax for the sector and a halving of social insurance contributions.

“In the coming days and weeks…we will feel and will hear many different parts of our economy indicating the acute challenge that they are going to face,” Paschal Donohoe told a news conference.

“It wouldn’t be appropriate to begin to be prioritizing a particular part of our economy given this will be an economy-wide challenge.”

A 2011 cut in the VAT rate for hotels, restaurants and other tourist businesses to 9% from 13.5% helped lift a sector reeling from Ireland’s financial crisis to a boom in recent years that continued past the resoration of the sales tax rate in 2019.

However the Restaurant Association said its members reported that 80% of their corporate booking had been canceled, and that was before all St. Patrick’s Day parades around the country – big draws for tourists each March – were called off this week.

The National Transport Authority reported a 5% dip in daily users of public transport as more workers opt to stay at home.

Jim Edwards’, the oldest restaurant in the southern tourist coastal town of Kinsale that Tuesday was the quietest non-weather related day it had experienced in March during 49 years in business.

Donohoe said the package announced on Monday were designed to support all businesses – in particular 200 million euros in liquidity support for affected firms – but that the government would keep the measures under review and see if there are others they should implement.

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