Charter boat operators in Kilmore Quay are calling for the resignation of the Minister for Tourism, Catherine Martin TD, and the CEO of Fáilte Ireland, Paul Kelly.
Accusing Deputy Martin and Mr Kelly of ignoring their pleas for financial support, the boat owners feel they have been let down by the government since the beginning of the pandemic.
In February of this year, Eamonn Hayes described in this paper how he and his colleagues in Kilmore weren't eligible for any of the relief schemes brought in to aid small business owners.
Because they are not classed as 'brick 'n mortar' businesses the ten charter boat operators had not been able to avail of government aid. And although some skippers received a 50 per cent reduction in their rates courtesy of the Wexford County Council (WCC) that was not going to be enough, according to Eamonn, to prevent many of these boat owners from going out of business.
Now, following several pleas, all of which have gone unheard, the Chairman of the Irish Charter Skippers Association (ICSA), Donal Kennedy, has asked that Minister Martin and Mr Kelly resign from their posts with immediate effect.
'Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic... both Catherine Martin TD and Paul Kelly CEO of Fáilte Ireland have failed to engage with the ICSA in any meaningful way to resolve serious financial issues faced by our members due to the Covid-19 restrictions imposed on the charter boat sector,' he writes.
'Both just ignored our calls for support and just wanted us to go away. They don't understand that rural Ireland exists and Ireland has a marine tourism business which is not based on bricks and mortar buildings.
'Ireland's charter boat fleet is now facing ruin with an estimated 50 per cent failure in the sector which is happening on their watch. We demand that Minister for Tourism, Catherine Martin, and Fáilte Ireland CEO, Paul Kelly, be replaced immediately before they do any more damage.
'This proposal was put to a vote and carried unanimously. I cannot emphasise enough that our members are a valuable resource and a vital part of the tourism sector.
'Many thousands of anglers, sightseers and tourists depend on charter boats to go safely to sea and there are also many dependant businesses, guest houses and coastal communities.
'They will not easily forgive the government if charter skippers are driven out of business. All confidence is gone in resolving the serious issue facing us. If something isn't done, the alternative is the elimination of the charter boat business,' Mr Kennedy concluded.
On March 15, replying to correspondence from Wexford TD Paul Kehoe, Minister Martin highlighted a scheme created specifically for those within the tourism industry.
'The Tourism Business Continuity Fund was specifically allocated by Government to support strategic tourism businesses that are not receiving the required support through the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS),' she wrote.
'The focus of this financial support is to support those strategic tourism business to offset fixed costs incurred in 2020 and support them to continue operating through 2021.'
However, in order to qualify for Phase 1 of this scheme, which is run by Fáilte Ireland, business owners must have 'a minimum annual turnover of €50,000' - thereby excluding charter boat operators.
Furthermore, the closing date for that scheme has now passed and did so, according to local councillor Jim Moore, before any 'consultation took place with operators and Fáilte Ireland'.
Determined to fight the corner of the Kilmore skippers, Cllr Moore tabled a motion at yesterday's County Council meeting in which he asked that 'WCC calls on the Minister of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, as a matter of urgency to instruct Fáilte Ireland to remove/reduce the annual turnover threshold of €50,000 for business operators as applied in the Business Continuity Scheme and reintroduce this essential Covid support.
'This is required to support and acknowledge these strategic tourism businesses in rural and coastal communities who are significant contributors to our tourism economy.'
And the councillor said this loophole was penalising small business owners unfairly. 'I believe this is a hallmark of what goes on in tourism industry where it's run on behalf of the big players and the small operators aren't given a fair crack of the whip.
'We are over 12 months since Covid began and the "big operators" have received several supports in this period. This scheme is ignoring the coastal communities, a sector which brings huge benefits to their areas.'