CHARGING rates on empty business premises would drive a nail through the heart of rural Ireland, Askeaton councillor Kevin Sheahan warned this week.
Speaking at Monday’s meeting of county councillors, Cllr Sheahan said the owners of unoccupied commercial premises could be charged as much as 50% of their rates bill if new legislation goes through.
“We spoke here before that closing rural Garda stations would kill off rural communities. This will certainly wipe them out,” he said and he called for unanimous support from other councillors to prevent this from happening.
“The people we represent are not at all happy that this threat is hanging over them,” he said, adding that while many small businesses in towns and villages throughout the county had closed, the hope was that, at some time in the future, these premises might reopen.
“They are part and parcel of the infrastructure and life of every small community,” he said. “If this legislation becomes the law of the law, then these premises will be converted into sitting rooms or playrooms and they will never again open.”
And he called on the Government to rethink the legislation, which he described as a measure which would kill off rural life. “It is important we as a council let them know it is driving a nail through the heart of rural Ireland,” Cllr Sheahan said.
His party colleague, Cllr Michael Collins, seconding the call for change, described the measure, in the Local Government Bill as “penal” but also as “counterproductive”. Stressing that the proposal was coming from Government and not from the council, he said it had to be opposed “for the greater good of our county”.
But Fine Gael leader in the chamber, Liam Galvin, accused the Fianna Fail councillors of being “inaccurate”. “The legislation states quite clearly the implementation of that particular charges is solely the responsibility of the local authority,” he pointed out.
Limerick City Council, as well as Dublin and Cork, already have the power to impose 50% rate charges on empty premises, finance director, Tom Gilligan told councillors. And he also pointed out that “it is seen in some ways as a stimulus”.
But Cllr Kevin Sheahan said his concern was that, given the 21/19 bias in favour of city councillors in the new Limerick local authority, the county would have no say in whether or not the 50% rule was imposed.
“The only ones that can impose it are in this chamber,” Cathaoirleach John Sheahan said but he agreed with Cllr Sheahan that imposing 50% rate charges on empty premises would not suit small county towns.
He argued however that it would be appropriate in certain other situations and he felt the best solution would be to give each local authority the power to apply the 50% charge in a discretionary way.
“It does not allow local authorities to be selective,” Cllr Kevin Sheahan responded.