Friday, November 18, 2016

FF Finance spokesman hears local issues

Deputies Fiona O'Loughlin and Michael McGrath with some of those at the Kilgowan meeting.
Lack of broadband, planners not listening to local people, and over-regulation of small businesses were all among the subjects discussed at a meeting hosted by Fianna Fail in Kilgowan yesterday afternoon, writes Brian Byrne.

Fianna Fail's Finance spokesman Michael McGrath TD was in attendance to meet with a number of local business people in advance of a public meeting in Newbridge to speak on Budget 2017 from a party perspective.

Introduced by local deputy Fiona O'Loughlin TD, Deputy McGrath said he was there to get feedback from her constituency, and to thank local activists for having elected her to Dail Eireann, 'where she has already made a huge impression'.

"It's important that those of us elected to the Dail remain connected with rural constituencies," he said, "and that we have direct evidence of what's happening on the ground around the country."

Cllr Martin Miley outlined issues specific to the area in Kildare South and in particular locally to Kilgowan. He said that the industrial investment 'loaf' has to be spread out from the capital to rural areas like south Kildare, so that the benefits of the country's recovery could 'spin off' into local communities.

"We need regeneration in our towns and villages," he noted, adding that any investment focused this way tended to generate an equal amount of extra business activity in a small community. He emphasised key areas which needed attention were education, the cost of living, the state tax elements in the cost of housing, farm produce prices and business rates.

Local business woman Teresa Wall, who had provided the venue for the meeting, said that while there had definitely been a 'bounce' in business in 2015, as reflected in the national tax returns, there were this year indications of a slowdown in the ability of businesses to meet their immediate tax liabilities. "This suggests that they are being affected by underlying costs which have gone up — insurance, financing, and labour costs," she said.

She added that the banking system which has taken the decision-making away from local bank managers has both eliminated the advantage of local personal knowledge and increased the time taken to decide on a proposal to a point which crippled the original initiative. "In banking today you deal with nameless, faceless call centre staff, and it can take six months to get an answer."

Crookstown businessman Seamus O'Reilly commented on the impact of 'over-regulation' of small and medium enterprises which costs them much in time, compliance, and extra costs. "Between our deli, the fuel station, the butcher in the shop beside us, we have inspectors in every day. We are so regulated that at some stage we have to make a mistake."

On the same theme, Teresa Wall gave an example on the regulations on free range eggs, which need to be stamped by a food authority before going for sale. "The reality is that having those eggs stamped means they can be three weeks old before they are sold," she said.

In response, Deputy McGrath said that it has become the practice in Ireland to set up 'agencies' which become authorities in themselves. "In a way, those who are elected have absolved themselves of responsibility by setting these up," he suggested. He said that such regulations were often blamed on the EU, but that was not necessarily true.

During the meeting he said that better ways of assessing rates on businesses could be found, that there was a need to better balance growth between urban and rural areas, and that it was necessary to find more innovative ways of getting finance to enterprises than through the current banking mechanism. "We need to find a way of channeling funding directly, such as through Credit Unions, where there's a lot of potential but they are currently being discouraged by the Central Bank from lending to enterprise."

Later in the evening, following the public meeting in Keadeen Hotel in Newbridge, Deputy McGrath officially opened Deputy O'Loughlin's new Athy constituency office.