The Chair of ICOS Marts Committee, Liam Williams, has written to Business Enterprise and Innovation Minister Heather Humphreys, T.D., seeking three measures to be implemented, specific to the marts sector, in addition to other Government supports for the general business community.
“Government support for businesses is welcome, and most particularly for SMEs in an economy where unemployment has now leaped from 4.8% in February to a current projected rate of 16% which will continue to rise towards June.
“The recent COVID-19 restrictions on everyone in Irish business are proving challenging and many businesses across Ireland will struggle to remain viable both during and after the pandemic has passed,” said Williams.
“After initially being closed, the co-operative livestock marts were provided with a derogation by the Government for a limited range of services they could offer to farmers to facilitate their livestock transactions, but these stop-gap services are all loss making to any livestock mart and are simply a service provision to the wider rural community rather than representing any long term business strategy.
“As the COVID-19 restrictions have occurred within the usual peak trading and income generation period for livestock marts it will take a significant period of time to replace the lost income and to mitigate the balance sheet damage for many of these co-operatives.
“Livestock marts are a very low margin business and, as the majority of livestock marts are co-operatives, they simply provide a service for their shareholder farmer members with little profit generated. Co-operative marts also play a crucial role in stimulating open and transparent competition in the trade of livestock. The major costs for all marts are labour, rates and insurance (which is inordinate) and, with these in mind, ICOS is calling on the Minister to introduce the following measures to re-energise this sector and to ensure that as many marts as possible can continue in business after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.”
- Local authority rates amnesty for 12 months to be implemented immediately.
- National Government Insurance underwriting of a proportion of mart business.
- Grant aid provision for investment in IT and online trading developments in marts.
Liam Williams concluded by saying, “ICOS is all too aware of the demands on national exchequer funds at this time but marts form an integral part of rural life and living. They are centrally located in most county towns of Ireland and any investment made here is dispersed throughout rural communities who have been deeply and adversely affected by the pandemic.”
Mr. Williams asked for a meeting with the Minister and her officials to discuss the ICOS proposals in more detail and which would be held by phone or video link.