Skibbereen Farmers' Market has launched a publicity campaign to oppose the plans, which are based on the 1995 Causal Trading Act. In its publicity, the Skibbereen market states that regulations would “create a Celtic-Tiger style market that is exclusive and monopolistic.”
Madeline McKeever of Brown Envelope Seeds is a senior committee member with Sibbereen Market. She explained the reasons stallholders are opposed to the Council's plans: “At the moment our committee is self regulating. We appoint a market manager annually who directs stalls and collects voluntary contributions. We pay for our own bins and take care of everything ourselves. As a result we have a vibrant, welcoming market at which you can find a wide range of things from delicious food to antiques, clothing, books and bric-a-brac.
“At present, people can bring occasional goods for sale. Regulation would require them to apply for an annual licence, submitting their PPS and filling out a long and detailed form. We believe that this would only benefit the larger stallholders, specialised businesses dedicated to country markets. It will hurt casual traders like local farmers who only sell seasonal produce and it will take away from the market's diversity. These regulations are against the ethos of country markets and we will resist them as best we can.”
MacDara O'Hici of Cork County Council's Western Division explained the authority's perspective:
“The casual trading bye-laws were passed as part of the Casual Trading Act 1995. They gave the County Council powers to regulate trading. They have been piloted in Bantry town and the feedback we're getting from traders is they're delighted with regulation. They know where their space will be and they know where they stand. There is a procedure set down for bringing in bye-laws and a draft of the bye-laws is available for public consultation. Anyone can make a submission on any aspect of the bye-laws.”
When told that Skibbereen Market is quite happy regulating itself he said: “Under legislation no one has authority to regulate markets. Only the local authority has that function. As regards regulation, everyone is entitled to make a submission and there's provision to take objections to the district court.” Mr O'Hici made reference to a court case in Ennis which he said has “settled the law”. This was a court case taken against Ennis Town Council, by one Mr Simmonds market trader, when regulations were introduced there in 2011. That case was settled by a High Court judgement in 2012, which found inconsistencies between Ennis's 2011 by-laws and the 1995 Act.
In concluding the Ennis case, Judge Clarke said, “it must be noted that I have not made any finding on the compatibility of the 2011 Bye-Laws with the 1995 Act and in the light of the franchise market rights held by Mr. Simmonds and Real Olive. Nor does it necessarily follow that the simple application of the 1995 Act serves, on its terms and in any substantial way, to abrogate the market rights held. [...] The question as to whether the 2011 Bye-Laws satisfy that test can only be resolved following a plenary hearing.” That case cost Ennis town Council €147,000, hardly a victory, leaving the question of whether or not the law is really settled, open.
Mr O'Hici added, “The attitude of County Council is 'lets do it right, lets consult with people involved, lets do something that is an enhancement to the area.'” Madelin McKeevor does not agree. She says: “These new bye-laws would bring with them mandatory insurance costs, licence fees and as well as forcing stall-holders to pay for their pitches. This would drive up the overall cost of having a stall, making it impossible for some traders to continue.”
We await further developments.