City coun­cil ‘com­plicit in traders’ in­abil­ity to pay rates’

■ Car ban on Cork’s St Pa­trick’s St is ‘the last straw’ ■ Busi­nesses in court for rates ar­rears of up to €74,000

Irish Examiner - - Front Page - Eoin English

Cork City Coun­cil is “com­plicit” in busi­nesses not be­ing able to pay their rates as a re­sult of the daily af­ter­noon car ban.

That was the ar­gu­ment put for­ward by one busi­ness­woman who was among a num­ber of traders in court yes­ter­day for rates ar­rears — some as much as €74,000 — and she blamed the car ban on the city’s main street as “the last straw”.

Su­san Ryan, a re­spected beauty ther­a­pist and beauty ed­u­ca­tor who runs a salon on South Main St, told Judge Con O’Leary yes­ter­day that the coun­cil, which rein­tro­duced time-reg­u­lated bus lanes on St Pa­trick’s St on Au­gust 9, is “com­plicit” in her in­abil­ity to pay.

“The pres­sure they are putting on small busi­nesses like me is unac­cept­able. They need to lis­ten.”

Her com­ments come amid re­ports that up to 50 city traders are poised to set up a new busi­ness group in frus­tra­tion over the im­pact of the daily 3pm to 6.30pm car ban on the city’s main street.

Ms Ryan said her trade is vir­tu­ally nonex­is­tent from 3pm and said she felt com­pelled to speak out for other small, in­de­pen­dent traders.

Judge O’Leary heard sev­eral ar­rears cases through­out the day, with amounts rang­ing from €1,000 to €74,000. He was told Ms Ryan was is­sued with a sum­mons for €9,747.40 ear­lier this year and has pre­vi­ous de­crees for just over €26,000 in ar­rears.

She told the judge she did not dis­pute the amounts and is not ig­nor­ing the is­sue. “I did com­mit to pay it off, and I am pay­ing €500 a month. But I can’t magic it out of thin air. We came through the tough times, but they put bike lanes out­side my premises, and now the car ban on St Pa­trick’s St.

“I am in busi­ness for 38 years. I have five peo­ple work­ing full-time for me. They have mort­gages.

“But I have zero busi­ness from 2pm or 3pm. I do be­lieve that the city coun­cil is com­plicit in my in­abil­ity to pay.”

Judge O’Leary said he couldn’t dis­cuss how the city is be­ing run and asked Ms Ryan if she had con­tacted pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

“You have to twist their arm,” he said, be­fore ad­journ­ing her case un­til Fe­bru­ary.

Speak­ing af­ter­wards, an emo­tional Ms Ryan said self-em­ployed traders like her are “very proud, very self-re­liant, and just get on with it”.

“But the city coun­cil de­pends on us shut­ting up and say­ing noth­ing. I’m hop­ing that if I speak out, oth­ers will pop their heads up,” she said.

Ms Ryan has been in the beauty busi­ness since 1981, and has run her dis­abled-friendly salon on South Main St for the last 18 years.

She said her pri­or­ity dur­ing the down­turn was to pay PAYE, Vat, USC, rent, and ser­vice charges and her busi­ness sur­vived, de­spite no rates re­duc­tion. She said she was laughed at when she asked City Hall for a re­duc­tion.

“So I knuck­led down and did the best I could. I just got on top of the bill when the coun­cil moved the goal­posts and re­stricted traf­fic into the city. The fi­nal nail was when the coun­cil re­stricted cars through the city,” she said.

“Many of my clients are old and in­firm so those try­ing to get to me from the edges of the city are find­ing it al­most im­pos­si­ble to get to me. Th­ese clients de­pend on a driver who has nowhere to stop and wait. My busi­ness has been re­duced by at least a third. I ac­tu­ally could close at 3.30pm any af­ter­noon.

“I’ve done all things right, hon­est, and to the best of my abil­ity. I’ve had a busi­ness in Cork city since 1981, start­ing with one room with­out any help or fund­ing from the coun­cil and built it to what it is now. I can do no more than I’m do­ing. I’m al­most 60, I love my work, de­pen­dent on no­body, con­trib­ute a huge amount to the econ­omy, have staff with mort­gages, and I’m the one in court.”

The coun­cil has said that sum­mons are only is­sued if, af­ter ex­plor­ing a num­ber of av­enues, the busi­ness owner is still not pay­ing their ar­rears.

Coun­cil fig­ures show foot­fall on St Pa­trick’s St has re­mained steady since Au­gust. Bus Éire­ann said pas­sen­ger jour­neys in Cork were up 8% last month com­pared to Oc­to­ber 2017, and that it has seen im­prove­ments in trip times and av­er­age speeds for bus ser­vices op­er­at­ing through St Pa­trick’s St.

Com­mer­cial rates ac­count for just over 40% of the coun­cil’s in­come. The 2019 rate will be set next Thurs­day. The rate was in­creased by 1.25% in 2016, the first in­crease in eight years.

The car ban is ex­pected to be dis­cussed at Mon­day’s city coun­cil meet­ing.

Pic­ture: De­nis Mini­hane

Su­san Ryan, of Su­san Ryan Beauty Clinic, South Main St, Cork, says the city coun­cil is putting unac­cept­able pres­sure on small busi­nesses.

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