Kildare is a commuter county, but it has a large rural population, with many employed in the agri-food sector, and the new lockdown of the county has shaken everybody here.
The panicked, knee-jerk announcement by Government to close down the fitness, hotel and hospitality sectors in Kildare and limit public movement will cause further needless hardship on an already beleaguered SME community, which will lead to an economic meltdown for the region.
Our many hotels, resorts, restaurants and pubs that serve food had spent tens of thousands of euro on food stocks for the weekend and had to cancel bookings and events; this puts their operational viability in jeopardy.
These bizarre rules were imposed with absolutely no engagement or consultation from NPHET, the HSE or Government.
The Government can go a long way to sorting out the problems of Covid infection — which is not widespread in the community here.
The first is to for once and for all sort out the meat factories. There was no need to shut these enterprises — which employ hundreds of people — with contracts to fulfil and exports to send.
The simple template has been set in Germany and we could easily copy it: instal extra ventilation, test employees daily and ban sub-contracting staff — this has already been enacted in the health sector.
Equally, the problems caused by house parties fuelled by cheap alcohol could be solved very simply: the price of off-trade alcohol needs to be at least doubled, while our pubs need to re-open under stringent rules.
Other sectors of societies have been allowed to re-open and while infection numbers are increasing, rural pubs are not at fault. They’re one of the most regulated sector as it is and provide a valuable social outlet in rural Ireland.
Few rural pubs are ever packed to the rafters. They should be given the opportunity to prove they can be self-regulating.
An unforeseen consequence of closed rural pubs is that there are no toilets available for travelling staycationers. Farmers with road-fronted land in west Kerry are having to move their animals due to toilet paper, tissues and excrement from passing tourists jumping the gates to go to the toilet.
Kildare Chamber has been lobbying hard for financial support for local businesses. Senior Government ministers and opposition TDs including Dara Calleary, Michael McGrath, Martin Heydon, James Lawless and Pearse Doherty have been in contact to hear our concerns and consider our financial support solutions such as the return of rebates based on past tax returns.
Government needs to lead sensibly, and our business leaders can help them. We need ongoing constructive daily dialogue with Government to ensure we exit this lockdown as quickly as possible.
Public health will always be the number one focus. The economy must be a key focus also.
Brian Purcell is a Co Kildare Chamber of Commerce Board member