When you recognise a problem, there are two ways to address it: A – have a good moan or B – try to do something constructive to address it. Option A is the easier and I’m prone to it as much as the next man, but this time, I decided to do something about it. This is the story of how I got on, how one politician went up in my estimation and how 10 others…well you’ll get the idea soon enough.
In a nutshell, here’s the problem. Everybody knows that travel agents and the travel trade have been decimated, that’s old news now. But unlike other industries, we can’t just open up on a set date and start earning again – people book in advance and until their trip is completed, you can’t count the “profit” as income. In the case of Camino Groups, given that Camino travel is seasonal, it will be April 2022 before the first post-Covid pay check can be processed.
This presents a dilemma; the industry needs ongoing support but supports can’t be indefinite – as the political expression goes “Money doesn’t grow on tress unless you borrow it at zero interest”. So how do you square that circle? I came up with an idea that I though (and still do think) would work, at zero net cost to the Government. I’ll summarise the idea at the end of this piece if you haven’t fallen asleep by then, but here’s what happened when I contacted 10-11 politicians on April 30th (5 weeks ago) with my suggestion.
As the 4 elected representatives of my constituency, I contacted all the Clare TDs (Michael McNamara (Ind), Cathal Crowe (FF), Violet-Anne Wynne (SF) and Joe Carey (FG)). While I was at it, I also included the 3 senators from Clare (Timmy Dooley (FF), Roisin Garvey (GP) and Martin Conway (FG). Add in the two ministers whose departments would be relevant: Eamon Ryan, the Minister for Transport and Paschal Donohoe, the Minister for Finance. Just to keep all of the main parties in the loop, I also contacted Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats as I think she’s their Transport Spokesperson (It’s hard to tell from their website) and finally, I tried to do the same for Kevin Humphreys, the Labour Part equivalent. Unfortunately, his emails weren’t functioning, so my 11 contacts quickly became 10!
So this was the Fellowship, a motley crew of 10 political warriors.
I’ll start with the one who impressed me. Cathal Crowe replied to me on the same day, let me know that my suggestion “merited further discussion” and Ccd me to an email he promptly sends to Catherine Martin who is the minister with responsibility for tourism. As soon as she replied to him (3 weeks later) he immediately forwarded that to me.
Unfortunately, her reply indicated that she either didn’t understand the subject matter or that she hadn’t read the suggestion before replying to it, but that’s not Deputy Crowe’s failing – that’s on her alone! Anybody who ever wants to read her reply, just let me know. So Cathal Crowe, thank you for your prompt actions and effort on behalf of a constituent of yours and a constituent of the travel trade.
But that’s the only good news story out of the 10….
Of the remaining 9, I received acknowledgement of receipt of email replies from only 3 of them: Michael McNamara, Violet-Anne Wynne and Minister Eamon Ryan.
Minister Ryan (or his private secretary Naoise Grisewood to be precise) replies to me yesterday, 5 weeks after my submission, to state that as the matter fell under the remit of the Minister for Finance, she had forwarded it for his attention. As a travel agent, I’m disappointed in the minister as I would have hoped for more leadership from him than simply passing the buck. My criticism of his stewardship of the department isn’t a secret and the reply I received – I believe that the lack of leadership or proactive action has been the hallmark of the department’s Covid efforts to date. But I must declare my bias – my livelihood is affected by this: anyone else can form their own opinion and it’s as valid as my own.
(By the way, I never heard back from Deputies McNamara or Wynne since).
That leaves 6 of the 10 who didn’t even acknowledge the receipt of my submission: Paschal Donohoe, Joe Carey, Catherine Murphy, Timmy Dooley, Roisin Garvey and Martin Conway. So my experience of trying to be constructive and making a submission through formal channels has been…well once again, I’ll let you make up your own mind on that one!
For the record – what was my suggestion? (a quick summary)
Travel agents pay VAT under a scheme particular to them – they must include 23% VAT on any profit margin they have from a booking.
In 2019, the last “normal” year of trade, they would have paid x amount of VAT to Revenue. I’m proposing that whatever that x amount was, that it would be used as a grant to support wages until July 1st, 2022 by which time a viable travel agency will be up and running again. Just to keep the doors open for long enough that they can remain open thereafter.
To make up for that grant payment, VAT for this industry would be raised by 8% for 3 full years before reverting to the standard rate. By the end of the 3 years, VAT returns would have compensated for the support grant received.
There are more subtleties to the proposal than that of course, but that’s the summary. At a quick calculation based on my own bookings, even if the VAT increase was passed fully on to the consumer, it would mean a price hike of somewhere between 1 and 2% for the consumer. Not exactly punitive!