'Sunshine tax' may hit café culture in our cities
Restaurant and café owners are concerned that a new 'sunshine tax' could undermine the booming outdoor business in Irish cities.
New centralised charges for streetside catering represent a massive hike on fees formerly charged to operators.
Whereas pubs, cafés and restaurants once paid €50 for outdoor tables and chairs as well as €10 for streetside advertising, some outlets now face a potential tenfold increase in their charges.
Under new rules, an annual fee of €125 for every table and four chairs is charged - outlets also have to pay a €635 fee for street signage. A further €100 fee is charged for licensing.
Hospitality bodies warned the spiralling charges could damage Ireland's booming 'café culture' which has helped make the country one of the most popular European destinations.
However, councils are now set to adopt a common sense approach to the new charges.
Cork City Council and County Council, for instance, are examining imposing the charges on a seasonal basis - allowing pubs, restaurants and cafés to only pay for outdoor tables and chairs for months when they are in actual streetside use.
In most cases, catering industry officials will pay a five-twelfths charge given streetside tables and chairs are normally only used May to September.
Local authorities in Dublin, Galway, Kilkenny, Waterford and Limerick are examining a similar approach to the issue.
Tourism Development Directorate official Sharon Corcoran acknowledged that promoting and supporting Ireland's 'café culture' is vital to the sector.
"Street furniture is critical," she said. "It is critical for small restaurants and it is critical for coffee shops. It is also critical for the tourism industry and we want to encourage people to stay longer (in towns and cities) and shop a little longer."
Ireland's 'café culture' has been singled out by international tourism guides as one of the main reasons why cities like Dublin, Cork and Galway are among the most recommended for holidays and city breaks.
Streetside catering has also been hailed as one of the reasons for the booming number of US tourists now opting to spend time in Irish cities and towns.
Tourism Ireland boss Niall Gibbons confirmed the North American market will be very important this year.
"The best prospects for growth next year are across North America. We will see a growth of at least 10pc in seat numbers so that offers great prospects," he said.
Ireland enjoyed growth in overall visitor numbers of 10pc in 2016 - but that is expected to fall to 1pc this year due to Brexit and other economic factors.