Charleville is braced for change but hopes for some breaks, writes
With a population just shy of 4,000 people, Charleville is the 14th largest town in Cork by population — but the rural hinterland it serves accommodates a community that accounts for multiples of that figure.
Over a month on from the All-Ireland hurling final, the green and while paraphernalia that still adorns cars and vans parked along the town’s main street tells you that this community straddles the border between Cork and Limerick — and Charleville’s location on the inter-city route is a hot topic among traders in the town.
Charleville is known as a bottleneck by many motorists who travel between Cork and Limerick. Munster Rugby, for example, previously cited the unfavourable commute as having a negative impact on both attendances and its ability to hold corporate meetings in either of its provincial bases.
But while a motorway remains on the cards, its benefits are disputed among those living and working in the town.
Along with the Vat rate for the hospitality sector and rates — the preserve of Cork County Council — word on funding for the proposed motorway was the big issue locals were discussing ahead of yesterday’s budget speech.
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe made no reference to the project in the end. A nod towards the Dunkettle interchange was the only allusion to Cork infrastructure in his speech but traders will be scouring the subsequent details for indications that the motorway project will progress in 2019.
Some look forward to reclaiming the town’s wide main street for locals; others fear a motorway will see trade bypass Charleville.
Outside of that item of specific interest, the concerns of businesses in Charleville will match those of counterparts across the country, particularly traders who want greater support measures for small and medium enterprises.
One such businessperson is Mairead O’Keeffe, who is approaching her fourth year of operating the New Leaf Health store in Charleville.
She believes the Government can give more tax incentives to small and medium businesses.
Big businesses seem to get an awful lot of breaks tax-wise, et cetera, I suppose just a little bit more of a level playing field to give us the breaks that they give to the big multinationals. We’re a small business, but, like, we’re employing three to four people locally and it would be nice to get that reflected,” she said.
She also believes businesses could be aided if rates were reduced, and that there’s a lack of appreciation among politicians for the contribution small businesses make to communities. “They definitely don’t seem to appreciate all the small little business around town, they keep the whole thing going, they keep the big businesses going as well.”
She also wants to see a more efficient use of taxpayers’ funds — particularly in the health service.
“I suppose you need to look at the budget in a human way but you need to look at it in a business way as well. You do need to get external people in there into hospitals and health and there’s no point throwing money into things, it’s a cesspit.
You need to bring someone external in and it needs to be stripped apart and put back together again to be more efficient.
“If something isn’t working why would I keep putting money into it? we need to look at a different way of doing it,” she said.
Michelle Moran’s Ladies & Childrens Wear has been trading on Charleville’s Main St for years.
Ms Moran admits that trade is tough in towns like Charleville and believes the Government could make a difference to businesses by reducing the Vat rate.
“I think dropping the Vat rate from 23% would be a big help, because trade has gone so bad. But then a lot of that is online, which is a problem,” she said.
Ms Moran said she can’t see the budget announced yesterday making much of a difference to anyone, particularly those in business.
She said she wasn’t particularly surprised or disappointed to see the Vat rate stay at 23%, given the increases in the hospitality sector which were flagged well in advance of Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe’s speech yesterday.
She believes that increase will be felt by other traders in Charleville.
In small towns, that will make a big difference, it won’t as much in the cities because they’ll do business anyway,” she said.
As with many businesspeople, the proposed M20 motorway isn’t far from her thoughts.
Ms Moran said it is difficult to predict the impact it will have on Charleville when completed.
“It’s very, very hard to know because in some towns it’s an advantage, in other towns it’s not. We would have a lot of passing trade,” she said.
“This is the kind of shop that caters for bigger sizes and older women, so I would have people coming to me for stuff they can’t get anywhere else.
“So from that point of view they will still come.”
Horizon Designs is one of the first businesses you meet in Charleville as you come into the town from Cork.
It designs and prints stationery and products for occasions such as weddings and parties, as well as selling personalised gifts and frames.
Anne-Marie Egan said she would have liked to have seen Vat and rates reduced, as well as increased benefits for the self-employed — and a simplification of access to these entitlements.
“I’m a mother, so more things for parents who are trying to work, who have their own businesses and are trying to mind their kids at the same time would be welcome,” she said.
“I’m trying to juggle all that.
I can claim sick benefit, but I’ve to pay an accountant a lot of money to work out how to do things like that.
She felt the budget was “safe” — and offered lots of small incentives to everyone without delivering anything of significance that would make a notable difference.
Ann-Marie said there was little to encourage SME growth, or employment. She said JobBridge was a scheme that helped her business; she availed of it and the intern who joined her business through the programme is now a full-time employee.
She said she would query the “hoops” SMEs will have to jump through to avail of the Future Growth Loan Scheme announced yesterday.
She also wants to see more infrastructure to bring people into the town. On the proposed Cork-Limerick motorway, she said: “For me here being at the end of the town, I do think it would be beneficial, because more local people would come into town.
“When they did roadworks a couple months back the town was deserted because you had all the passing trade trying to come through, so local people weren’t coming into town.
“So if that flow of traffic was taken out of town then people might be more enticed to come into the town.”
Gerard Guinan is the pharmacist at James Pettit Pharmacy in Main St, Charleville, Co Cork.
He said he had hoped to see a reduction on the prescription charge that is levied on each item dispensed from a pharmacy.
Yesterday, it was announced that there will be a 50c reduction in prescription charges from €2 to €1.50 for all medical card holders over the age of 70.
There was also a €10 reduction in the monthly Drugs Payment Scheme threshold from €134 to €124.
There was the time that there was no prescription charge and then they brought it up to 50c an item then to €1, then to €2, then €2.50, then €3, and up to this week it was at €2. We hoped that there’s money in the coffers to knock that back.
He said the charge may not seem like much to many, but that it is detrimental to low-income families. Mr Guinan also said there is a large settled Travelling community in the Charleville area that is impacted by the charge.
“We have a lot of psychiatric patients, very poor patients, and from the Travelling community for who, it might not sound like much, but they genuinely find it hard to pay this, so some people forgo their medicine rather than have to pay the prescription charge, and a lot of times people are just reluctant to pay it.
It’s a tax from the Government that really only hits the very poorest sectors of our community,” he said.
Mr Guinan said he would also like to see some remuneration from the State towards the cost of complying with standards when blister-packing medicines for patients, a time-consuming task that requires oversight from the pharmacist on duty.
He said handing over boxes of medicines to customers is one thing, but it is another to individually pack them into individual doses, and to ensure those balances are right — something that can only be checked by a qualified pharmacist.
Tadhg O’Connell is a publican on Charleville’s main street. He says the trade can’t take any hit on VAT or excise.
“I’m delighted they didn’t increase the excise on drink, the industry just can’t take it,” he said in O’Connell’s Bar.
“I know the hospitality sector won’t be happy with the VAT increase, but that aside I think it was a relatively good Budget, as could be expected anyway,” he said.
The VAT rates are a keen issue for Mr O’Connell, who said they are of huge importance to traders in towns like Charleville.
Businesses won’t take much more, they just can’t handle it. Maybe they can in the cities, but not in rural Ireland,” he said.
“We’re to the pin of our collars trying to keep our businesses open, and any increase like that is just going to drive customers further and further away and back to supermarkets and drinking at home. That’s our biggest problem.”
He also wants to see more funding for public transport in towns like Charleville that serve large rural areas.
“It is virtually impossible to get a taxi out of town on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday nights,” he said.
“You’ll get them at the weekend alright, but customers are not going to come to town if they can’t get home.
The Healy-Raes aren’t far wrong when they say people are being driven back into their houses. It’s a very serious concern.
“If you come around Charleville any night during the week there’s virtually nobody out because they can’t get home and the price
of drink is too much, they can go up to the supermarket, get a couple of bottles of wine and drink it at home with nobody having any idea what they’re doing,” he said.
Behind Mr O’Connell’s bar is a sign that reads “Out of one, out of all” — an initiative in the town that sees bars alert each other if someone has been barred from their premises.
“Anybody can walk into a supermarket, no matter what state they’re in, and get a bottle of vodka or anything and there’s no check.
“At least in a pub there’s a check. I personally think it will make a huge difference to our health system eventually in the next few years,” he said.
On the topic of health, Mr O’Connell said he was happy to see additional funding go to health.
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe announced that an additional €700m will go into this year’s spending by way of a supplementary estimate, and that there will be a further increase of €1.05bn in health funding for next year.
“It addressed what needed to be addressed in terms of housing and health,” Mr O’Connell said. “It did what needed to be done.”
Many in Charleville would echo the sentiment of Irish Hotels Federation president Michael Lennon who criticised the increase in the Vat rate for the hospitality sector from 9% to 13.5%.
“Have no doubt, this increase will hurt tourism across the country but businesses outside of Dublin will be hit the hardest. Regional businesses will bear the brunt, as about €300m of the €466m in additional taxes will be taken from the rural economy, which has been slower to recover from the economic crisis. This is a devastating blow for the many tourism businesses that struggle to break even or stay open outside the peak season,” Mr Lennon said.
As someone on the industry’s coalface, Monica Gilmore, business development manager at the Charleville Park Hotel, said their business would be hit by any rise.
It will be bad for any hotel, particularly outside of Dublin and outside the main hubs,” she said.
The hotel is along the main Cork-Limerick N8 road, a route notorious for accidents and delays — particularly in Charleville which can be a bottleneck at peak travel times.
With that in mind, the people and businesses in Charleville will keep a keen eye on what the Budget means funding for the proposed M20 motorway that would by-pass the town.
Ms Gilmore admits she has mixed feelings about the prospect of the motorway, given it would direct a large amount of passing trade from the hotel’s door.
“I know in Charleville there’s zoning for housing, but housing can’t be built because of the traffic volumes through the town, so I have mixed feelings about it,” she said.
Broad Street Restaurant, off Main St, serves two purposes.
While it caters for those popping in for a bite to eat or a hot beverage, it primarily serves as the catering centre for the Charleville and District Child & Family Education Centre, acommunity-based childcarefacility. Manager Elaine McCarthy has thoughtson the budget regarding hospitality and childcare.
She said she is disappointed by the increase in the Vat rate for the hospitality sector from 9% to 13.5%.
Ms McCarthy said restaurants and cafes can illafford to take the hit in the increased rate, and restaurants will have to review prices now the tax has been raised by the Government.
On childcare, she praised Minister for Children Katherine Zappone for the subventions put in placeto help families accessservices in recent years.
However, she said more could be done to help middle-income families to get childcare, and she says supports put in place have been mainly of assistance to parents on a lower income.
One suggestion shebelieves may help is greater tax reliefs for working parents availing of childcare.
Ms McCarthy said the costs in providing childcare are driven up by the overheads involved in meeting increasingly stringent regulations within the sector.
She said she was delighted with the news that theincome thresholds for the Affordable Childcare Scheme will rise next year.
She also welcomed the announcement that from November 2019 a new paid parental leave scheme will be introduced to provide two extra weeks’ leave to every parent of a child in their first year.