Paschal Donohoe admits not all businesses will survive the crisis, writes Fionnán Sheahan
His teenage son is cutting his hair and he's running the economy from the upstairs spare room in his red-brick terraced house in Phibsborough.
Paschal Donohoe has adjusted to life in lockdown, like every other parent in the country.
The Finance Minister has had changes made to his office in the Department of Finance. The Tricolour and EU flags have been placed behind his desk and a video-conferencing monitor is out front as he participates in EU finance ministers' meetings.
However, he has taken his work home by converting the spare room into an office.
"To look after my own health, and respect the health of all who I work with, you know, I'm now working from my spare bedroom a few days every week, and my department put in place the technology that I need to do that securely quite a few weeks ago. So I'm able to do all of that. Which means that all the contact that I now have with the department, in many cases, is now done electronically.
"We've significantly reduced the amount of contact even that I would have with other people. Because in the jobs that I do, I meet lots of people all of the time. So, for example, in my government departments now, I'm mainly only engaged with the secretaries general, whereas how I would have done it beforehand, is I would have engaged with their teams all of the time. Now, we haven't done that, because we have to be careful of everyone's health. And then I'm working in the way anybody who's trying to keep the company afloat is working."
Donohoe lives in the northside Dublin suburb with his wife, Justine, and children, Oscar (14) and Lucy (12). Family life is similar to many others.
"The kids are doing the Zoom calls with school. I'm sitting in my spare bedroom, doing my work. Then I can hear my kids do schoolwork in the house. When I'm doing 'Morning Ireland' and 'Newstalk Breakfast', the family are all making sure as I'm doing it that the country can't hear, you know, the normal hurly-burly of family life when I'm doing it from the spare room. And then when I'm participating in conferences, which I now do and do public events on it, again, kind of taking that, you know, as I'm doing it, homework isn't printing out on the printer or all the other stuff that any other working parent is dealing with. It's the same."
His teenage son is also acting as his barber during the shutdown.
"At the moment, my son is cutting my hair," he says.
"I know there's lots of dads at the moment that are looking at their son's haircuts, their scissors and their appreciation and desire to emulate Cillian Murphy and looking at that in a new way.
"For the record, when my hair is done, I bear no resemblance to Cillian Murphy, but at least I hope my hair is a bit more in control."
Donohoe does have a word for the hairdressers and barbers around the country who are currently closed. He says there are two reasons why they will bounce back.
"The first one is that it's a need that's growing - literally. The second one is that we will work with our public health experts and find a way in which it can be safely done. That will happen. There are lots of things that we're going to take a bit of creativity in time to figure out how it can be done," he says.
From lockdown, Donohoe has been holding conference calls with ordinary small business people in various different sectors across the country, to get a feel for their views on the future of the economy and their business.
Over the weekend, he announced €6.5bn worth of financial measures to help reboot the economy.
The package includes:
:: a €10,000 restart grant for micro and small businesses based on a rates/waiver rebate from 2019;
:: a three-month commercial rates waiver for affected businesses;
:: a €2bn Pandemic Stabilisation and Recovery Fund within the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), which will make capital available to medium and large enterprises on commercial terms;
:: a €2bn Covid-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme to support lending to SMEs for terms ranging from three months to six years, which will be below market interest rates;
:: the 'warehousing' of tax liabilities for 12 months after recommencement of trading during which time there will be no debt enforcement action taken by Revenue and no interest charge accruing;
:: a commitment to local authorities to make up the rates shortfall, so that local authorities can continue to provide full services to the public.
The plan is to bring some certainty for business owners.
He says: "And this is all the Government is saying to those smaller employers, we know, because you're now understanding that the reopening of the economy is going to take a bit of time, that across to next week, you're going to be making big decisions. And we want to say these are the supports that will be available to you."
Nonetheless, Donohoe admits some businesses will not make it through as a result of the shutdown or the changes to follow.
"Yeah, I accept that. There are companies that because of the economic strain that they are under and because of the new life that we will have to become accustomed to as we deal with Covid-19, that they might not be able to work their way through the period that's ahead," he adds.
The object now is to reduce the number of business owners who are going out of business and assisting those businesses and entrepreneurs who want to diversify or set up new businesses.
Donohoe has been widely reported as one of the dissenting Cabinet members in favour of easing restrictions. He says public health has to come first and controlling the pandemic will mean less disturbance to the economy in the longer run.
"I really feel, as we move through this phase by phase, the sequencing of the opening up of our economy will, over time, be a price worth bearing, if that allows us to contain the risk of the disease surging again."
Coming under fire over the response of the insurance industry, Donohoe accepts there is a "lot more work to do". He admits the cash value of the rebate for car insurance premium holders is small, but regards it as an important indicator. However, there is an ongoing battle with the insurers over their treatment of businesses affected by the lockdown.
"I'm going to have to continue to work with the insurance industry to drive home the point now that the advice that the Government gave there a number of weeks ago about companies closing, you know, on public health grounds was in effect the same as a mandate being issued to do it," he says.
"This point I will continue to have to emphasise with the insurance industry, because from the point of view of insurance, if they don't have a viable, vibrant SME sector here in our country in a year's time, they're not going to have clients."
As the cost of the economic package continues to grow, Donohoe also flags big decisions coming next month on whether to continue with the current income supports, the wage subsidy or so-called Covid dole.
"My message to those people who are concerned about the future of those payments, is that we will manage this very carefully. And we want to try to manage the future of the scheme that is integrated in terms of the people's ability to get back to work. And this is going to be a matter of judgment. But I know, for example, that the pandemic payment at the moment is making a very big difference to people who never thought they'd lose their job. And if you look at that pandemic payment, it is very close to what somebody would be earning if they were on jobseeker's with an adult dependent," he says.
Such decisions will need a new government in place to pass laws and approve spending, with the caretaker administration being powerless to act by the end of June at the latest.
"That road will run out. My main concern is the future of the Irish economy and making decisions that give that economy that fighting chance that it absolutely deserves," he adds.