Longford/Westmeath TD Joe Flaherty
It has emerged that while just over 1,300 businesses from county Longford were deemed eligible for the government business restart scheme, as of last week only 450 had applied for it.
Speaking on the Financial Provisions (Covid-19) Bill 2020 in the Dáil last Wednesday, Longford / Westmeath Fianna Fáil TD Joe Flaherty outlined that the Longford County Council ‘commercial rates team has worked assiduously to roll out the business restart scheme but there are some concerns around the uptake’.
He added, “ Under the scheme a business can avail of grants of between €2,000 and €10,000 based on its rates bill from 2019. I would encourage all Longford businesses that have not yet applied to apply for it before the August 31 deadline.”
Deputy Flaherty said Covid-19 has ripped through the heart of rural Ireland and for small businesses, it could not have come at a worse time.
“Businesses were slowly emerging from the crash and seeing the semblance of some form of recovery but then it was as though they were pulled back through a time portal, which has left them facing into a period of immense uncertainty and, no doubt, worry. There is no doubt that Dublin and the large metropolitan centres will bounce back but for towns and villages such as Longford, Ballymahon and Lanesboro, the future is paved with uncertainty and deep anxiety.”
Deputy Flaherty continued, “Annually, the shift towards online shopping has been of the order of 6% but this has increased exponentially over the period of the Covid-19 crisis. This will be one of the biggest challenges facing small businesses into the future. The local enterprise offices, LEOs, provide a range of supports to assist businesses in this regard, one of which is the online trading voucher scheme.
“I spoke recently to Sharon Devlin of Cherche La Femme in Longford town. While her heart is very much on Dublin Street, thanks to the online voucher scheme her shop window is now global. Great credit is due to the LEO teams across the country for their work in this regard.
“Next week, the Government will announce the July stimulus initiative. It is critical that there are sufficient incentives and supports within it to assist as many businesses as possible. It is important to note that there are still many businesses that are wavering on the question of reopening.
“As reopening will be incredibly tough for pubs and restaurants in Dublin and the big cities, one can imagine how difficult a challenge it will be for pubs in rural Ireland. We hope that today there will be clarity on the reopening for pubs but, more importantly, we need guidelines to enable pubs that do not provide food to reopen in comfort and with certainty.
“I recently met Tommy Kirwan of the famed Greville Arms Hotel in Granard, which was the home place of the late Kitty Kiernan. Despite his best efforts and those of his staff, he knows that the road to recovery will be desperately slow. He, like so many others, is pleading for guidance, assistance and support.
“In the July stimulus, there needs to be meaningful movement on the VAT rate for the hospitality sector. For many food outlets and bars in rural Ireland, such as those in Killashee, Ennybegs, Aughnacliffe, that may be the deciding factor as to whether they can reopen for business.
“What is just as important for them and for many small businesses will be the wage subsidy scheme, which needs to be not only retained but also reinforced for a considerable period.
“Sadly, we have seen the closure of a number of local businesses in Longford, foremost among them the Nine Arches restaurant in Ballymahon. We show solidarity with such businesses and hope to see them return in another guise in the near future.
“The July stimulus is just one step on the road to recovery. It will pave the way for budget 2021 later in the year, which will set out our national economic plan. I am greatly heartened by the work that has gone into this as we seek to secure our public finances in a world in which we must live with Covid-19.
“Doubtless, the future will bring immense challenges for County Longford, which will be at the epicentre of efforts to decarbonise the economy. It is critical that budget 2021 positions the recovery fund to ensure that rural Ireland and counties such as Longford get the maximum opportunity.
“For Longford specifically, the budget will need not only to build on and copper-fasten the just transition fund, as well as to make good on the €1 million rates deficit facing Longford County Council, but also to put in place a stimulus package that can encourage a range of marquee, enterprise, tourism and hospitality ventures for the county.
“I am aware that Longford County Council has recently submitted its largest and most ambitious regeneration proposal to date under the urban regeneration and development fund, URDF, and we will, I hope, have a positive decision on this submission in October.
“If successful, it will seek to address the Great Water Street, Lower Main Street, Connolly Barracks and Church Street areas of the town. Hopefully, a significant State investment will follow on the back of a successful application. If the necessary supports and investment are subsequently included in budget 2021, I have no doubt it will trigger the private sector investment of which Longford town and county have been starved for more than 12 years.
“We are still battling Covid-19. The many who have, sadly, lost their lives should and never will be forgotten. Nevertheless, it is important that we start to look to the future, a future in which we will have to live with the challenges of Covid-19 and in which we, as legislators, will have to ensure that the people and businesses of County Longford and all of rural Ireland are afforded the same opportunities as the rest of the country.
“If the battle with Covid has taught us one lesson, it is that we leave nobody and no community behind on the road forward.”