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UPDATE 1-Ireland to offer firms loans, grants to pay energy bills, deputy PM says

·2 min read

(Adds finance minister comments on tax warehousing)

DUBLIN, Sept 14 (Reuters) - A package of measures to help businesses contend with soaring energy prices will likely include low-cost loans and grants targeted at the sectors most affected, Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Wednesday.

Varadkar said last week that the bulk of Ireland's budget surplus, expected to reach up to 5 billion euros ($4.99 billion) or around 2% of national income, should be spent on one-off measures to help consumers and businesses with rising prices.

He said on Wednesday the package for companies would probably contain three elements: low cost, low interest loans, a grant system targeted at manufacturers and exporters with very high energy costs and "something more general" for sectors facing high energy bills such as retail and hospitality.

"We haven't got it all firmed up yet, we need to see what happens at a European level, but it's certainly assistance in a matter of weeks," Varadkar told national broadcaster RTE ahead of a final announcement in the Sept. 27 budget.

"We didn't do all that we did during the pandemic to save jobs and businesses only to allow viable businesses to go to the wall now during the energy crisis," he added.

Ireland introduced a number of measures to keep businesses afloat during a series of COVID-19 lockdowns that ended early this year, including a tax warehousing scheme where firms could defer paying liabilities until March 2023.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said on Wednesday that while he had not received any advice that the energy crisis had created added difficulty in settling those bills, Ireland's Office of the Revenue Commissioners would collect the money "in a way that respects the viability of those companies."

Some 78,000 operators still owed 2.7 billion euros worth of tax - down from 100,900 firms at the start of the year when the unpaid bills totalled 2.9 billion euros, Donohoe told a parliamentary committee. ($1 = 1.0016 euros) (Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Jonathan Oatis)