Monday, 30 April 2007

Campaign begins to protect retail sector in small towns

THE WEST of Ireland will be faced with a situation where its smaller towns will be reduced to virtual ghost towns if the current trend of business closures is not reversed.
This was the bleak picture painted by speakers at a meeting in Kiltimagh last Thursday night when business people, community activists and interested members of the public gathered to discuss the future of the retail sector in small towns. The meeting heard a variety of views with some accusing the shopkeepers for failing to remain competitive while others pointed the finger of blame at the multi-nationals who are establishing a monopolistic stranglehold on the retail sector.
The meeting was organised by IRD Kiltimagh and chaired by John Coll, Director of Community and Enterprise, Mayo Co Council. It was attended by a number of candidates in the General Election as well as local councillors, some of whom are in business.
Mr Joe Kelly, CEO, IRD Kiltimagh, said a campaign called Communities Under Threat had been launched in East Mayo in the 1990s but the problem of shop closures had escalated significantly since then.
“Contrary to beliefs, the silent cancer of the decline of the retail sector is not just affecting the small towns in rural Ireland, though they are the most vulnerable and show the effects in a more dramatic fashion. It is also evident in the larger towns as the Irishowned traditional retailers close as a result of the predatory effects of the multi-national.”
Mr Kelly said the success of multinationals like Tesco, Aldi and Lidl were having a devastating effect on the traditional retail sector. The problem was to be seen in Kiltimagh where three businesses had closed since the beginning of the year. The knock-on effects of these closures were enormous.
“This problem is not just killing jobs in the retail sectors and local economies. It goes much further than that. Jobs are being lost in manufacturing and production, including in agriculture as a result, as more and more produce is being imported from the cheaper Third World economies so as to compete with Irish produce. Irish jobs are being lost as a result.”
Mr Kelly said people believed they were getting value-for-money in supermarkets but they were really only making themselves hostages to fortune.
“The multinationals have taken over our lives, our areas and our livelihoods. We don’t understand that when they have delivered their lethal blow and achieved their Tesco town status we are at their mercy. They can do what they want and charge what they like. They will have no competition and no controls will be able to be placed upon them.”
Cllr Gerry Murray said the burden of responsibility ultimately fell on the Government which had done nothing to stop the decline of the retail sector in
our small towns. He said the most obvious step that should be taken to help the shopkeepers was a re-evaluation of the rates system which was “unfair and outlandish”. Tax incentive schemes could also be provided in our smaller towns while there was no reason why the corporate tax rate of 12.5 per cent could not be adopted for the retail sector.
It was resolved to hold another meeting after the General Election to further advance the campaign to protect the retail sector in the West’s smaller towns. The promoters of the venture - IRD Kiltimagh - say they are very determined to ensure that the matter remains uppermost in the minds of the public in the months ahead. There is a feeling that a crisis point has been reached and the thorny nettle of shop closures has to be grasped once and for all.
James Laffey
© Mayo News

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