Nama receivers putting towns at risk, says Ring
JUNIOR Tourism Minister Michael Ring has warned that Ireland's town centres are at risk of becoming little more than "deserted villages" following the actions of receivers appointed by Nama in his and Taoiseach Enda Kenny's Mayo constituency.
The minister of state's intervention comes in the wake of controversy over the closure of the landmark Westport bar and restaurant, The Asgard. The hugely successful business which employed 12 people was forced to close after its lease expired.
The Asgard's owner, local man Kevin Joyce, wanted to keep his business open.
Mr Joyce subsequently claimed he had tried to "engage with and be reasonable'' with Nama "about not closing the building and letting it fall into a poor state of repair, which as an old building, it will very quickly''.
However, he claimed "the discussions with the receivers went nowhere and there was no meaningful reasoning from them on what I was proposing, and the situation very quickly became a matter for solicitors''.
Mr Ring said the toxic loan agency's determination to gain "vacant possession" of commercial premises before offering them for sale is costing valuable jobs and damaging the economy of the country's high streets.
He warned that if Nama were to apply the same tactic across the countryside it would "damage the economic recovery and harm the efforts of businesses and communities to build thriving town centres''.
Mr Ring said: "Across the country there are thousands employed by Nama hotels and the consensus is that they need to be kept operating as a going concern until a buyer is found for them.
"Why can't this [policy] apply to the multitude of smaller businesses occupying properties which are also in Nama?'' he asked, before adding: "I would have grave concern that successful businesses will have to shut down as a result of this policy."
He added: "As Minister for Tourism, one of the huge problems we have is that town centres with shops and businesses are closing down. Communities such as Westport have done huge work in allowing town centres to breathe and it would be astonishing if the actions of one arm of the State, Nama, would be allowed harm the objectives of another arm."
Mr Ring said that if businesses had to close, he feared that the sale of the properties in which they had been operating would be hampered leading to a situation where Ireland's town centres would become little more than "deserted villages ''.
A spokesman for Nama declined to make any comment when asked by the Sunday Independent to respond to the minister's concerns.
Meanwhile, Retail Excellence Ireland chief executive David Fitzsimons was highly critical of the guidelines he said Nama has to follow before it can allow struggling businesses to seek reductions in the rents they have to pay to landlords whose loans are on the agency's books.
He told the Sunday Independent: "With the guidelines Nama has to follow, your business literally has to be 'dead' before you can look for a rent reduction.
You can't have a single cent in your bank account if you want to have Nama engage properly. And Nama cannot compel a landlord to act. It would be unfair to criticise the personalities in there. They're simply working within the confines of the legislation."