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Town suffers as recession takes hold

ENNIS, like all other urban areas this year, felt the pinch of the recession with many businesses struggling to stay afloat and a number closing down altogether.
Hardly a month went by without another business unit becoming vacant, both in the centre and in the retail parks around the town.
At the end of February, it was confirmed that the local department of agriculture office on the Kilrush Road was to close its doors to Clare farmers on April 16. The closure was part of the Government’s policy to centralise vital rural services. Fine Gael Deputy Pat Breen said the closure would inevitably have a detrimental impact on rural communities with people being forced to travel longer distances to access basis services. He further claimed that Clare would be the only county in Munster without an agricultural office.
The Minister for Agriculture and Food, Brendan Smith, said the rationalisation would result in a reduction of 400 in the number of staff working in the department.
“This reorganisation will yield significant savings for the exchequer and no staff will be made redundant as a result of this rationalisation. As part of this process, the Ennis local office will close on April 16 and all services will transfer to the regional office in Limerick,” he said. The office was closed as planned on April 16.
In early March, there were fears for the future of bookstore chain Hughes and Hughes, when the company went into receivership. The chain has an outlet in Bank Place, which employs over 20 people. Initially, it was feared that the shop would be closing completely but after a liquidator was appointed to the group, a lifeline was thrown to the business when a consortium made an investment in the chain, enabling the company to stay afloat.
Bank of Scotland (Ireland) also announced the closure date of its Ennis Halifax branch on High Street. The company confirmed that all 44 Halifax branches would close over two phases towards the end of June. The Ennis branch closure resulted in 20 job losses, with some redeployed to other areas of business in Bank of Scotland, while others were made redundant.
Also in March, it was confirmed by Ennis Chamber that approximately 70 business premises in Ennis town were vacant. In a speech in Dáil Éireann that week on upward only rent reviews, Deputy Joe Carey highlighted the situation in Ennis with regards vacant commercial space.
He said 70 commercial properties were available to either rent or let in our county town. “This is extremely worrying for the continued economic development of Ennis. This figure represents 10% of the total rateable commercial properties in the town presently,” he commented.
He made the case that commercial rents in Ireland are too high and with many of them struck at the height of the boom, they are not in line with current market forces.
He added, “There are 700 businesses on the rates books of Ennis Town Council. It’s a frightening reality, that 10% of the rateable commercial properties in the town of Ennis are vacant, unoccupied, having had to close down because of this recession.
CEO of Ennis Chamber, Rita McInerney also confirmed that there were in the region of 70 business premises in the town vacant.
“One of our board members did a count and that is the case. That is throughout the whole of Ennis, including the retail parks, etc outside the town. Rates and rents are a factor in this not the whole reason. Obviously the downturn in business being experienced across the board is also to blame. Obviously it does have a huge impact on the rates being collected from the town but of course, our main concern is keeping businesses open and keeping Ennis town alive,” she added.
Ennis Parish also felt the sting of the recession, with its parish development fund for 2009 making a loss of almost €20,000.
One of the reasons for this loss was that the parish’s contribution to the diocese increased by over €30,000, to €93,254. “There was a decision at diocesan level that contributions from parishes were going to increase to 18% from 12.5%, primarily because of the collapse of diocesan investments. Traditionally, in the Killaloe diocese, we relied heavily on investment income in the form of bequests and so on. But with the downturn in the economy, investments have plummeted,” Fr Tom Hogan, parish administrator explained.
Also in line with the economic downturn, there was a decline of 11% in contributions to the development fund and 17% in priests’ collection contributions. “The reality is that everyone is tightening their belt. A lot of families are struggling. In tough times, however, people have been extraordinarily generous in what they have contributing,” he explained.
One example of a local business that felt no other option but to shut up shop was Tonies Fashions on Market Street, who ceased business on October 24. Tony Molloy had owned Tonies Fashions for 21 years. He said that business has been down in the shop for three years but particularly bad in the past 18 months.
“I’ve had many sleepless nights walking the floor wondering how the hell I’d pay the next bills, or pay the taxman for VAT. My business has literally halved in recent years. The prices I’m paying wholesalers haven’t gone down at all and customers are looking for price reductions, which I completely understand, because everyone is pushed for money these days. But at the end of the day, I can’t continue to stay in business in this economic environment, because the sales just aren’t there,” he explained.
He said he was not the only local business struggling. “Others are facing exactly the same pressures as me and it’s a very difficult time for small businesses. For me, the fun was completely gone out of the business and it was all stress. It was like a pressure cooker and I know other businesses feel the same.”
In November, it emerged that the Whelan Group, one of the country’s largest suppliers of concrete products, with its headquarters in Ennis, was in serious financial difficulties.
A few weeks later the High Court made an order winding up five companies in the Whelan Group with the loss of 120 jobs.
The directors of the companies withdrew their petition for examinership. The companies has some 2000 creditors with the largest secure creditor being NAMA.

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