’This is our time to stand up and deliver for small struggling businesses right across County Galway.’’ The words of Fine Gael councillor Jimmy McClearn who spoke passionately on behalf of the local business community at Monday’s meeting of the Galway county council.
Councillors sent out a strong message of support to businesses, unanimously passing a motion that all parking on-street and at council owned car-parks in Ballinasloe, Loughrea, Gort, Tuam, Athenry and Clifden will be free from 11am from December 1 to 31. There was unprecedented support from councillors for the move as it was agreed that businesses badly needed the income boost from Christmas shoppers and everything possible must be done to encourage customers into their local town.
Councillor Jimmy McClearn hushed the chamber with a rousing speech on the issue. ‘’We need to send out a clear message that this council supports business in the county. We have to recognise the dire state some of them are in. There is no reason why people cannot do their Christmas shopping in their locality. There is nothing sadder than to visit a quiet town at Christmas where everybody has travelled into the city. We need to prevent that happening. As a county council we are fighting back, we are saying to people who are struggling to pay us rates- ‘we are giving you some relief’ - his move will be closely monitored to see if business is up during this period of free parking.’’
Independent councillor Michael Connolly said it was important that businesses were given this break. ‘’They need to be afforded the opportunity to bring in extra income over the Christmas period so they will be able to pay their rates. It is extremely important that we show the businesses we support them. We should put our money where our mouths are and put some lifeblood back into our towns.’’ Fianna Fáil councillor Martina Kinnane added that three businesses on the main street in Athenry have informed her that if they do not have a good Christmas they will close and therefore not be able to pay rates. Ardrahan based Independent councillor Michael Fahy outlined his complete agreement with the words of Jimmy McClearn and said ‘’this is our day to make a stand for the rural people of County Galway and support this measure.’’
There was opposition to the proposal from county council officials, and head of finance Ger Mullarkey pointed out that this initiative goes way beyond any parking reduction that the council has offered in the past. He reminded councillors that no allocation had been made to allow for this move and it would cost a significant amount of money.
"The money generated from 9am until 11am would be minimal, we are effectively wiping out one twelfth of our parking income,’’ he said. Mr Mullarkey outlined how some €900,000 is taken in annually from parking fees. The director of services for the environment, Jim Cullen, said he understood it was important there was a concession to benefit businesses but believed there was a real danger of free on-street parking clogging up spaces. ‘’Free parking all day will certainly reduce turnover of spaces, I would be concerned what councillors are trying to do will not yield the desired result."
However every councillor in the chamber was in agreement that this was a positive move for business and the motion was passed with unanimous support. Meanwhile, South Galway Fianna Fáil councillor Gerry Finnerty outlined how he was putting down a separate motion to investigate the on-going pay parking issue in the New Year. He is proposing that there will be consultation with businesses in every town in the county and he believes the council could explore the option of sanctioning a two hour free parking period on a daily basis.