Déanaim comhbhrón leis an gCathaoirleach agus lena chomhghleacaí, an Leas-Chathaoirleach, an Seanadóir Coghlan. Is olc linn bhur mbris. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha.
I want to follow on from issues raised by Senators McFadden and Gallagher, in that what I have to say touches on both the issue of vacant premises and the pressures on businesses. Since the recent local elections, new councillors have been having their first meetings within their municipal districts. It is a shame that there is one issue they will be unable to consider properly. It is one of the most burning issues facing local communities within their remit, that is to say, the issue of commercial rates.
One of the provisions of the Local Government (Rates) Bill 2018 is to allow councillors at municipal level to vary commercial rates by business type or geographical area. The Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Phelan, told the Seanad last December that a rates consolidation Bill would be introduced this year. The Bill I have just mentioned was introduced in the Dáil in January and passed Second Stage there on 30 January. Unfortunately, it has not progressed any further since then.
We are all concerned about the state of some of our rural towns and we are all well aware of the threats faced by small retail businesses in towns, small and large, throughout the country. They are facing the dual pressures of having large multiples located outside the towns and of online selling. Many of these small business must grapple with issues such as red tape, regulations, tax returns, managing the rights and entitlements of their employees and so forth in a way that large multiples simply do not. Large multiples do not have the same difficulty because they have the resources to deal easily with these issues. Of course online retailers do not have to deal with many of these issues at all.
We know that despite the economic recovery, a great many towns have considerable vacant shop space on their main streets. During one of our recent debates on gambling and gambling addiction, I observed that the only type of business that seemed to be thriving on every main street in Ireland was the betting shop. In recent days I spoke to two different business owners. One, who was in Ballinasloe, spoke about the hefty bill of €12,000 for rates. He pointed across the road to a small business that had recently closed down. It was another vacant premises. The closure was partly because of the pressure of the inability to meet, among other things, the rates.
Another business in the midlands with which I spoke is facing a similar bill. The owners said they afforded it but they objected on principle and were going to fight it. They pointed to their business, which has oodles of potential. With a hefty rates bill they simply will not have the resources to develop it the way they want and provide employment, which in the end would benefit the Exchequer so much more. The Bill could give authorities at municipal level the power to apply lower rates to smaller family-owned businesses on a town's main street, perhaps to be balanced by a higher rate for large multiples based in retail parks at the edge of towns. That kind of localised assessment of needs and localised response would allow smaller businesses based in the centres of towns the breathing space they need to survive, let alone to grow. If the Leader agrees, I request for the Local Government (Rates) Bill 2018 to be progressed as a matter of urgency to allow new municipal councillors to consider this issue in their areas. Perhaps the Leader could kindly enquire of the Minister what is delaying the Bill. It has been said many times recently that the Dáil is not overburdened with legislation, so it is strange to me that such a worthwhile measure should languish with no progress for seven months.