THE clock is ticking for West Cork’s self-catering providers who fear proposed new planning rules for short-term lettings which could be passed by March, will mean it’s ‘curtains’ for their businesses.
The Irish Self Catering Federation (ISCF), chaired by West Cork’s Máire ní Mhurchú, has warned that government reforms to short-term letting laws will kill thousands of tourism jobs across rural Ireland, while also putting thousands of small accommodation providers out of business.
Last December, the government announced the short-term rental sector had to apply for planning permission when it was applying to be on a new register. Without registering, they wouldn’t be seen on typical booking sites or listings.
‘The ISCF has been calling for a register since 2017, but we feel that the government will ensure planning permission will be refused. So this means we’re stuck in a vicious loop going nowhere,’ said Máire.
The ISCF has invited stakeholders, including B&B representatives, online travel agents (including booking.com, Airbnb and Vrbo) to roundtable discussions.
‘We’ve also been told that we can make submissions to the Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sports, and Media committee dealing with this, but we want to be able to meet them,’ said Maire who heads up an organisation representing 150 members and 6,000 units.
She said policy makers were looking at this from a Dublin-centric point of view where Airbnb dominates the market.
‘It’s different in rural Ireland,’ she said.
She said that a recent committee hearing had showed a great degree of understanding by Oireachtas members of the importance of short term letting to Ireland’s tourism economy.
‘The ISCF welcomes that very much. But the simple fact is that there is absolutely zero clarity on what impact the registration system will have on tourism operators.
‘It was extremely worrying to watch even the most basic questions by TDs and senators as to the content of any planning rules, either not being answered, or given vague and unclear responses,’ she said.
The sector has been assured that any changes will not impact this season, but Maire said that’s not good enough.
‘This is part of our family or farm income, our retirement plan, or the college fees for our children. There are many women in Ireland on family farms who do not have other income and depend on this for an independent income. We want regulation which is proportionate, balanced and based on firm evidence. The proposals do not deal with planning issues in rent pressure zones of the country, despite proposals being sent to the Department of Housing months ago.’
Richard Murphy of Dunworley Cottage, in Lislevane outside Bandon said their livelihood is solely renting out to tourists, mainly Americans.
His situation is compounded as his address is in a rent pressure zone.
‘We have been doing holiday lettings here since we bought the property 23 years ago, long before Airbnb, Booking.com and other rental platforms were in existence. We bought here with this plan when we took out mortgages over the years to facilitate this.
‘We have guests who come back to us every year and they greatly support all local businesses in the area. Where does the government propose tourists are to stay in this area? Do they want to just kill off tourism?’ he asked.
Agreeing with Máire, and as a member of the ISCF, he said he is in favour of a register for short term lettings, as it will quantify the number of houses and allow for expansion of the industry. ‘But not the way the present register has been introduced,’ he said.