Publicans demand action over closure of rural pubs

Friday, November 18th, 2011

RURAL PUBLICANS have marched on the Dáil in protest at conditions that they claim are forcing at least one pub a day to close.

Hundreds of publican members of the Vintners Federation of Ireland walked to the Dáil yesterday and laid out demands to help save jobs. Vintners predict 5,000 jobs will be lost in the industry next year. Photograph: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

According to the members of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland, 5,000 jobs will be lost in the mainly family-run businesses next year, many of them in areas where there is little chance of other employment.

Meeting TDs and Senators yesterday, the publicans outlined a series of steps that they said needed to be taken urgently to prevent job losses “on the scale of five Avivas” in 2012.

Gerry Mellet, a publican from Co Carlow, said the trade had experienced its worst October in more than two decades, and “after years of decline, we need urgent action”.

Liam Fitzpatrick of Fitzpatrick’s pub in Rathnew, Co Wicklow, said publicans had faced an onslaught of negative changes in the driving and smoking laws, lifestyle habits and competition from below-cost sales of alcohol in supermarkets. “Every village in Ireland,” he said, had seen pub closures, which were now running at more than one a day.

Tom Dunbar of Ferns, Co Wexford, said his business had been in his family for five generations, but he found it difficult to see how another generation could survive. He said publicans were increasingly resorting to driving their customers home in the early hours of the morning, and not reaching their own beds until as late as 5am.

“There are no Luas or Darts in the country,” he added.

Paul Fox of Dalystown, near Mullingar, Co Westmeath, who runs Wallace’s pub, said many publicans were driving 15 to 20 miles after work to bring people home. He said changes to the value added tax (VAT) rate on people-carriers would be a big help.

Carmel Reddy’s family in Carlow has been in the pub business since the late 1700s. She believes the Government could save €20 million a year by protecting jobs in the licensed trade.

Besides legal changes regarding driving and smoking, Ms Reddy said many pubs were in towns and villages that had been bypassed by new roads, meaning the passing trade for food had disappeared.

The publicans have drawn up a list of “actions” they say are urgently needed in the budget, including:

– An amendment to the Rates Valuation Bill to allow an appeal of local authority rates based on a change in economic circumstances;

– An exemption from VAT and Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT) for all new seven and nine-seater vehicles “to reflect the reality that publicans are acting as taxi drivers in rural Ireland”;

– An increase in the current VAT exemption threshold from €75,000 to €100,000;

– A “reasonable” reduction in excise duty;

– A radical overhaul of the regulatory burden on small and medium sized businesses.

Speaking to the publicans outside the Dáil, Pádraig Cribben, vintners’ federation chief executive, said Taoiseach Enda Kenny had promised to “address the issue of cheap alcohol in supermarkets by way of minimum pricing”. But he said there were other issues that needed urgent attention.

“Initially we need to have a change to allow for rates to be appealed based on one’s ability to pay. There needs to be an overall reduction in the cost of local government so that the rates burden can be reduced by 15 per cent per year over the next three to four years,” he said.

Source: Tim O’Brien, irishtimes.com

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