While welcoming the range of measures to support businesses in Budget 2021, Retail Ireland said keeping retail open and trading over the coming months is now an immediate priority. 

Retail Ireland Director Arnold Dillon said many retail businesses continue to rely on government employment and liquidity supports. He said the extension of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme beyond March will help viable businesses and underpin many thousands of retail jobs, although the eligibility criteria remains too rigid. 

"The extension of the commercial rates waiver, the debt warehousing scheme and a new €30 million fund targeted at SMEs, will also make a big difference to many businesses," Mr Dillon said.

"The range of supports available to companies impacted by Covid provide significant relief, but the focus must be on keeping retail open. Many costly disputes on commercial rents remain unresolved, another lockdown would only exacerbate this and many other problems."

The business group said retail can make a major positive contribution to the recovery, but Covid and Brexit are unprecedented challenges. 

Retail Excellence said today's Budget had delivered some reassurance to concerned retailers, but sounded a note of caution, warning that these measures will be of little use, if the country is moved to Level 4 and non-essential retail is forced to close.

"Whilst we acknowledge there are considerable benefits to businesses in this budget," Retail Excellence said in a statement, "we are disappointed that the standard rate of VAT is not being extended past February as we have one of the highest VAT rates in Europe. 

"Furthermore, there is no mention of supports to assist retailers in expanding their online presence. With over €10 billion spent online in Ireland this year, continued support for Irish businesses to gain a slice of this spend would be welcome."