SOBERING READING Ciarán Ferriter pictured with his energy bills at The Bowers gastropub in Ballinrobe.
Local businessman predicts redundancies and closures by Christmas if Government support is not forthcoming
“I’d compare Covid to Croagh Patrick and this to Everest.” Ciarán Ferriter, the owner of Ballinrobe gastropub The Bowers, could not have laid out the situation facing Irish hospitality in starker terms.
He describes his business’s recent gas and electricity bills as ‘eye-watering’, and he is now bracing himself for a truly unprecedented crisis.
For the past two years, Irish hospitality has been battered by Covid-19 restrictions and a chronic staff shortage, forcing many businesses to close or reduce their trading hours.
Now, the oil and gas shortage, inflamed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, has sent energy bills skyrocketing in homes and businesses across Europe.
The impending energy crisis could be the thing that finally breaks many small businesses like these, says to Ciarán Ferriter. “We’re going from 20 cent a unit from the 12th of September to 60 cent a unit. That’s times three. Our bill is going to be €6,000 a month, €1,500 a week in electricity,” he tells The Mayo News.
“The gas is going to be much the same. Basically, our energy costs will be €3,000 a week if all those increases come to pass… you can divide that by six, that’s €500 a day. That’s no exaggeration. We’ve gone from 20 cent, to 50 cent, to 60 cent a unit, and the gas, we don’t even know where that is going to stop [rising].”
For weeks, various representative bodies have been sounding alarm bells about the consequences of soaring energy bills for businesses. This has prompted calls for the Government to introduce supports similar to the multi-billion-euro schemes that steered many businesses through the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ferriter, who has run his business on Ballinrobe’s Abbey Street since 2019, says the current situation is ‘far more serious’ than the pandemic.
“I’d compare Covid to Croagh Patrick and this to Everest. The figures for energy costs are eye-watering. You’d nearly want to take Valium now before you open your energy bill,” he says frankly.
Within a month of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ferriter’s electricity bill almost doubled from €3,700 to an average of €6,600.
As of yesterday (Monday), he will be paying 60 cent a unit for electricity, a five-fold unit rate increase from earlier on in the year. His last gas bill was €5,040 for two months, but that is now set to triple.
Excluding wages, it will soon costing him in the region of €12,000 a month just to keep the lights switched on and the food cooking in The Bowers, which also has an outdoor dining area and five bedrooms.
While he is not considering closing, Ferriter says that he could be forced to scale back menus and opening hours ‘unless something radically changes’.
Ferriter points out that no business is being spared by these unprecedented energy hikes.
“There’s no escaping this thing. Everyone is in the same boat,” he says. “I can guarantee you, if people don’t sit up and take notice, they’ll fall like little pawns on a chessboard. And the king and the queen are the energy companies, and they are going to be the only ones left on the board.”
Ferriter believes that unless action is taken now, the country’s finances will be hit by waves of redundancies and business closures in the coming months.
“If the Government don’t support now, come Christmas time there will be no restaurant open, there will be no bar open,” he says.
“There’s no way in the wide world businesses like ours can sustain this.
“There’s collateral damage coming down the line. There’s no way we can stay going the way we are; it’s just not sustainable,” he adds.
“The Government are going to have a real problem on their hands if they don’t sit up and act, because they’re going to have people on the dole, they’re going to lose VAT, they are going to lose all those incomes that they generate from the likes of ourselves.
“There’s a huge well going to dry up. If they think they have a drought now with water, wait until they see what’s coming down the line.”