In Carrick-on-Suir, 24% of retail units in the town centre are currently vacant, Labour Senator Denis Landy told the Upper House. A similar situation exists in Clonmel, Cashel, Cahir and many other towns across the country.
A number of factors are causing difficulties, the most obvious being the slowdown in the economy. Car parking in town centres is a problem, and shoppers are choosing to shop in shopping centres.
Opening a debate on a Labour Party Private Member’s motion, he said the cities of Dublin, Cork and Limerick have 17,800 free car parking spaces available to shoppers. Shoppers in small towns in rural Ireland have remained faithful to town centre shops and businesses in small towns have fought back.
“For example, the local traders in my own town of Carrick-on-Suir have reached agreement with the town council to allow 15 minutes’ free car parking in the centre of the town in order to help trade,” he said. “The local business association has organised ‘golden oldie’ shopping days, among other initiatives. However, a national response to this problem is required, such as guidance from the Government on the issue of car parking in towns. Retailers should be enabled to issue tickets to shoppers to provide more shopping time.”
Urban renewal in town centres needs to be considered, he said. The original urban renewal scheme was introduced in 1986 and lasted until 2008. Strange to say, it was availed of through all the Celtic tiger years and abandoned in 2008, when it was needed most.
“A new scheme that takes into account the lessons learned from the old scheme must be established,” he said. “The previous scheme concentrated too much on providing tax derogations rather than dealing with social issues, as was the case with the first renewal scheme. Run-down areas need to be improved and tax derogation must be linked to the provision of jobs. The question of upward-only rent review must be tackled, a topic which was debated in the House. I was accused of being absent for the debate, but I was paired that day. The business districts improvement scheme needs to be enhanced and supported at national level. It has been adopted by only two local authorities, Dublin and Dundalk, but there is great merit in the scheme, which can provide a clean and safe environment for shoppers.”
Some 90,000 people own and are employed in independent family shops in this country, he said. They generate €3.5 billion annually. The broader retail sector employs 250,000 people, amounting to 14.5% of the workforce.
Abolition of town councils will weaken small towns – O’Murchú
Cashel, which has a population of 3,000, has had a Council - a Legislature - since the 13th century, yet we are going to get rid of it, Fianna Fáil Senator Labhrás O’Murchú told the Upper House.
“Where does that leave tourism,” he asked. “How does it affect representation when seeking industry? It makes no sense whatsoever. I am certain that when the town councils are abolished and we ask whether our having abolished them has saved money, we will conclude it has not. It will certainly have weakened the structure and leadership in the towns. It will certainly have taken away a combined responsible response to the problems we face.”
If we think the economy is bad now, that the job situation is bad and that we have too much emigration, it is by looking at towns that we will realise where the real problem lies, he said.
“A statistic was presented that 98.5% of all firms are small firms and they create 650,000 jobs,” he said. “One finds such small firms in the main in small towns around the country.”Speaking during a debate on a Labour Party motion on small businesses, Senator O’Murchú said some years ago we argued that rural Ireland was the poor relation when it came to economic policies. It is not an exaggeration to say that we must closely examine towns because they now face some of the problems in a different way that rural areas faced in the past.
“We can point to specific reasons we find ourselves where we are at present,” he said. “Logic does not form part of the equation. When one goes to a supermarket one sees small units closed due to rent increases. From an economic point of view one could ask what is the sense in having the units closed if that is where the problem lies. The same problem lies with small businesses in towns. The commercial rates paid by retailers account for 28% of the income of local authorities.”
There is a lot to be said for a major national campaign, he said. “I suggest a national market day, a single day to focus on the towns. It should involve both economics and culture so people will feel comfortable coming into the towns. It should be a matter of increasing the footfall in towns through theatre, culture, sport or otherwise.”
New Forestry Bill outline to dail by minister Hayes
A new Forestry Bill which aims to promote and facilitate the growth and sustainability while at the same time having regard to protection of the environment and maintenance of the social benefits and other public goods that forests provide was outlined to the Dáil by the Minster for Forestry Tom Hayes.
“This Bill is about forestry and good forest practice,” he said.