We know your name

Revel in Clonakilty is one of a number of cafes and restaurants in West Cork who have come together to start a national campaign to get the government to sit up and take notice of the challenges facing small business owners around the country and lower the VAT rate for the hospitality sector to nine per cent. Aisling O’Leary of Revel shares how the campaign got off the ground and why it’s so critical that the government listen, not just for businesses who are struggling to stay open, but for the communities they serve.

We know your name. We know your coffee order. We know you’re wearing a new pair of glasses. We know you’re expecting your first child or that you’re struggling with your teenager. We know you’re excited about your upcoming vacation, you’re working your arse off building your own home, you’re dealing with health issues. We know you’re struggling with your new job. That you’re allergic to dairy, you’re visiting your daughter overseas. We know you’re fed up. We know you’re sneaking in for a quiet coffee before school pickups. We know you’re after burying a loved one. We know. And we care. Now imagine your ‘local’ being replaced with a chain such as Starbucks when all they see is stars in their eyes as they make big bucks. 

Forbes and I opened our doors March 2020, excited to become a part of the Clonakilty community. There is an indescribable warmth in West Cork which we have felt from the get-go. The support has been constant and steadfast. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same for the Government. While efforts of support were made during Covid, the current situation is daunting, to say the least. The VAT rate for the hospitality industry has been returned to 13.5 per cent which has become crippling to small businesses such as our own. One might understand the VAT rate being increased to 13.5 per cent, however the Government has failed to consider the fact that all costs have been increased in recent times: Wages, PRSI, electricity, rates, insurance and a considerable nationwide inflation.

While having a heart-to-heart with another local business owner, we collectively agreed that the increase in VAT was breaking us. We came to the conclusion that action needed to be taken. Voices needed to be heard. Government needed to be reached. A small WhatsApp group chat was created and with that; the movement began. Liam from Wazzy Woo, Ryan and Anne Marie from Pike Deli, Peter and Elaine from The Fishbasket, Gavin from Monk’s Lane, Jamie from Budd’s, Vic and Deborah from Camus Farm Field Kitchen and Revel joined arms. Standing alone would mean we all fall. Pulling together means there is hope, albeit sometimes it feels like only a sliver. While countless politicians have publicly stated their support, it would seem that our future lies within the hands of Michael McGrath, Minister of Finance. Supposedly, returning the VAT to nine per cent is a “big job”, but tell me, what would the Irish economy look like without all the small businesses? While we might be ‘small’, collectively we create a large impact. If we were all to fall, would the local economy fall with it? There’s a domino effect that would see the market tumble. 

Aside from the negative impact all these closures will have on the economy, can we take a moment to consider the effect it will have on the community? Where is the last place you met your friend for a catch up, to share how your life has been lately. Was it at a coffee shop? What about the people that ordinarily wouldn’t meet someone from one end of the day to the other? For some, popping down town is their only social interaction. Loneliness can be crippling and a breaking point for mental health. Other than the economic support small businesses offer, we also provide great support to the local community. Forbes and I have always said we want everyone who walks through our doors to feel welcomed and appreciated. All our customers bring something to the table and we love each and every one of them for it. We all lift each other up. Now let’s see that same level of support from our very own Government. 

“As small business owners we’re used to working all day every day, it’s what we signed up for, and we absolutely love it. But when there’s no money left in the pot at the end of the week, it can be very disheartening. Reinstating the nine per cent VAT rate will give us some breathing room, and allow us to continue to re-investing into our business and community.”
Liam O’Leary, Wazzy Woo, Clonakilty.

“The Field Kitchen Restaurant, Clonakilty opened in 2020 offering an authentic field-to-table experience with most of the food served produced on Camus Farm. Whilst we are open for nine months of the year, the business is very seasonal with most of the service taking place in Summer, providing employment for over 20 staff in the Restaurant and on the Farm.
 Now in our fourth year of trading, the rising costs over the last year, particularly VAT, power and wages, have had significant impact on the profitability of the business. This combination of elements is threatening the survival of many of our independent coffee shops, cafes and restaurants. To date, we have absorbed these cost increases but, if nothing changes, we will have to increase our prices for this Summer.
 The Government is complacent to this situation and appears prepared to see many more small businesses close. Camus Farm Field Kitchen supports the campaign to reduce the VAT rate to nine per cent to help our independent coffee shops, cafes and restaurants to weather this storm.”
Vic Sprake and Deborah Ni Chaoimhe of Camus Farm Field Kitchen

WCP Staff

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