The Restaurant Association of Ireland (RAI) has strongly criticised Government’s decision to exclude restaurants, cafés and pubs in Wexford from its €10 million support scheme to help businesses in areas with large numbers of rooms in local hotels and B&Bs being used for humanitarian purposes, such as the housing of Ukrainian refugees.
The RAI said that, while it fully supports the Government’s humanitarian effort to house refugees, it does not make sense for some tourism and hospitality businesses to be supported with others being ignored.
As part of Budget 2024, Tourism Minister Catherine Martin announced that a €10 million fund would be made available to support downstream businesses in areas with high levels of tourism bed stock displacement as a result of the Government’s humanitarian efforts.
However, since then, correspondence received by the RAI from the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media and, separately, from Fáilte Ireland has confirmed that only tourism activities and attractions businesses will be eligible for support.
Fáilte Ireland – which has been tasked by the Department to come up with a plan for how the scheme may operate, with its report due imminently – told the RAI in a letter from the organisation’s Interim Chair, Tom Coughlan, that “Restaurants, cafes and gastropubs are not within the scope of the ministerial request and as such will not be included.”
Meanwhile, the Department has pointed towards the Increased Cost of Business (ICOB) scheme that was also announced by the Government as part of Budget 2024 as a scheme that will support local restaurants and cafés. However, with approximately 130,000 businesses eligible for the scheme, the funds received by each business will not be enough to keep the doors of many restaurants and cafés open.
The €10 million scheme to support businesses in areas with large numbers of tourist beds unavailable provided a good opportunity for the Government to address specific challenges being faced by food-led hospitality businesses in local communities, but instead it has decided to ignore large swathes of the industry.
Commenting on the decision, CEO of the Restaurants Association, Adrian Cummins, said:
“Restaurants, cafés and gastropubs across the country have encountered the same challenges and difficulties as other tourism businesses resulting from the reduced custom and footfall caused by large numbers of tourist beds having been taken out of supply.
“We are calling on the Government to reverse its decision and to include all businesses – including restaurants, cafés and gastropubs – in its scheme to support these areas that have witnessed significant reductions in tourism and custom.
“Our worry is that by including certain businesses and excluding others, the Government will create division and toxicity within local communities in counties such as Wexford, with tensions inevitably arising around which businesses received funding and which did not.”