Leitrim's rural publicans are facing an uncertain future

Leonie McKiernan

Reporter:

Leonie McKiernan

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Publicans have seen a dramatic fall in business in recent months.

Rural publicans are facing an uncertain future and many will not survive without significant intervention.
Cllr Felim Gurn, whose family have run a pub in Manorhamilton for generations, said that his business has “taken a huge hit” since the stricter drink driving laws came into force late last year.
“It's shocking what's happened. We've been through the smoking ban, we're seeing increased costs and now this,” he said.
“In 2006, before I even entered politics I tried to meet with the minister to get VRT back (on vehicles such as large family carriers), so publicans could provide transport for customers, but I wasn't even entertained.
“My business is down 30-40% in January and February. That's how much this is impacting me and other publicans are feeling it too.”
Cathaoirleach, Cllr Sean McGowan and Cllr Caroline Mulvey, both raised concerns over the future of many rural pubs at the March meeting of the local authority.
Cllr McGowan sought support for publicans in the form of a VAT rebate or VRT exemption of vehicles used in connection with the business.
He said that many publicans were prepared to use their own vehicle to bring customers to and from their business but were concerned that they did not have appropriate insurance to do so.
“That sort of insurance could be very costly for publicans who are already facing serious financial difficulties,” he said.
“None of us are supporting drink driving, but the reality is that pubs are really suffering. Pubs are more than just places to go for a pint. They are places to socialise and for many people they are their only chance to get out and meet others.
“If we could get the relevant ministers in government to make these sort of changes, to try and address some of the problems facing publicans, it would make a huge difference,” he said.
“Rural Leitrim does not have public transport and taxi alternatives for those who want to go to their local pub. The government has to recognise the unique socially inclusive role played by pubs in rural communities,” he said.
Cllr Mulvey also put forward a motion noting that the drink driving changes were “having a profound effect on rural areas.
“I propose we, as a council, ask that Local Link expand their services to include night time services for the local rural pubs and restaurants,” she said.
“We don't have any alternatives when it comes to transport. That is the problem. There is a suggestion that uber could fill this need but you need to have a taxi licence and we just don't have the taxis here. I think at the moment there is only one taxi serving Ballinamore and that is a big town.”
Cllr Des Guckian said he had spoken with Local Link to see whether services could be added, especially at weekends, to serve local pubs and restaurants.
“The reply I got at Christmas was that they are reviewing all Local Link services. That will take too long. Something has to be done now,” he said.
Cllr Gurn concluded saying “My business has gone down so much in the last few years. If something isn't done then more and more pubs will be closing their doors. It won't be until the government sees that their VAT receipts (from the sale of drink and food in pubs) isn't coming in - they'll act then but it may be too late.”