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Miriam Donohoe: Home-grown businesses must fight for our cash this Christmas

Ho ho ho! There are only 28 shopping days left to Christmas and over the next four weeks we will be bombarded with appeals to support the economy and buy Irish in the run-up to the big day.

The annual campaign has already started to get us to put on the green jersey and shop with our patriotic purses as we frantically try to tick off the items on Santa's wish-list and stock up on food, drink and goodies to see us through the festive season.

Despite the fact that we are still in the economic doldrums (Santa will be bypassing a lot of ghost estates when he flies over Ireland this year and he will also discover that more than a few developers have moved from massive pads to more humble abodes) there is still more than a few bob sloshing around. And it's only right that Irish businesses and producers fight their corner in an effort to get a slice of this massive Christmas cake.

According to a Deloitte survey, Irish consumers remain the highest spenders in Europe at Christmas. Despite cutting back for the third year in a row the average household is set to part with nearly €1,000 this season – way ahead of the European average of €590. The money will be spent on food, drink, socialising and presents for family and friends.

One of the first out of the traps to appeal for the green euro this season was the Crafts Council of Ireland which unveiled its giveirishcraft.com campaign last week. Chief executive Karen Hennessy stressed that the craft sector is worth almost half a billion euro to the economy and employs 5,700.

"Each purchase of Irish craft supports jobs throughout the country and keeps money in the Irish economy," she said.

Then we had Guaranteed Irish launching a strong radio campaign, appealing to people to 'shop for Ireland' this year. They say an extra spend of €4 a week per household on guaranteed Irish goods or services could create 6,000 new jobs.

And ISME, the Irish Small & Medium Enterprises Association, went a step further and appealed to people to not only buy Irish, but to buy local also. Chief Executive Mark Fielding said for every €10 spent locally there is a further €24 benefit to the local economy.

"If that €10 is spent outside the locality it undermines the viability of businesses in the area and in turn threatens the livelihoods of those who rely on local businesses and suppliers," he said.

"If every consumer switched just one tenth of their 'imported shopping' to Irish produced goods it would go a long way to sustaining Irish jobs, after what has been a very difficult year."

The CSO tells us that Irish consumers spent almost €5bn on imported food in 2011. Incredibly, given our background as a farming nation, €473m of this was on dairy products. Just think if we switched even 1pc of our spend from imported to local food this would add €50m to the Irish economy. Food for thought indeed.

It is a very tough marketplace out there and convincing consumers to consider the Irish alternative ahead of the often cheaper, mass-produced import is a big challenge.

During the boom, money was no object and many Irish businesses, shops and service providers got complacent as tills rang merrily. We splurged and behaved as if the good times would never end.

Ireland developed a global reputation for being a "rip-off" nation, and became one of the most expensive countries in Europe to visit. Prices in hotels and restaurants went through the roof as we took several weekend breaks a year and ate out at the drop of a hat without giving much consideration to the cost. In the midst of this spending frenzy that important word "service" was often forgotten by so many businesses.

We didn't question the price or source of goods, as we do now, and in fact it was often a great boast to our friends that something had cost an exorbitant amount. The more expensive and the further afield it came from the better!

But times have changed drastically and with the recession has come a welcome reality check. We are all working harder to make things happen and to survive. We may be broke but our entrepreneurial spirit is flourishing and it is great to see hundreds of new small businesses starting up all over Ireland.

For many artisan food producers, craft makers and shops, this is 'make or break' time. If it doesn't happen for them this month they face laying off staff and cutting back early in 2013. You will have the opportunity to support them at the dozens of farmers and Christmas markets you will see in our towns in the next four weeks.

So of course we should buy Irish and shop for Ireland this Christmas. But buying Irish shouldn't just be about sentiment – and the consumer should not be blackmailed into thinking that they have somehow failed the country if they choose to go the route of imported goods rather than home-made.

We have to feel we are getting quality and value – and service with more than a smile. No Irish producers should feel a sense of entitlement to corner our hard earned euro. They have to fight for it.

Irish Independent