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4 May 2006 Edition

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Market rights must be saved

BY ROBBIE SMYTH

Upholding 400-year-old British laws might not seem the stuff of revolution but it is and over the last week, particularly over the bank holiday weekend literally hundreds of people in small towns around the 26 Counties have been taking to the streets in a campaign to save the right to have street markets and fairs.

Local authorities across the state have been implementing a strategy of "use or lose it" on the exercising of rarely exercised rights to set up street markets and engage in casual trading. Their power to take this action comes from the 1995 Casual Trading Act, which in 2002 was widely criticised in a Competition Authority Report, yet four years later the discredited legislation is being used to eradicate market rights and change a balance of power in Ireland's retail sector, that is already tilting hugely against the customer and small traders who want to enter into business.

The market rights granted to local authorities in Ireland in the 17th and 18th centuries were an important economic tool in extending Britain's role in Ireland as they gave local councils effective control over what was bought and sold in the local economy.

Now with the development of a full-time property-based retail sector the markets have become in many cases a fly in the ointment for the formal economy who see casual traders as a loss of potential business. While in some council areas like Dublin casual trade is allowed, it is seen as part of adding colour or a tourist asset rather than an actual part of the economy.

The 2002 Competition Authority Report found that one third of local authorities had no bye laws regarding casual trading, licence fees "often appear to be set arbitrarily", the councils placed the casual markets away from the business areas in towns, and that areas for erecting stalls were too small and that statewide guidelines should be drawn up to direct local authorities in implementing the act.

An EU report in 2000 estimated that there were over 1 million mobile traders across the then 15 member states, with up to three million people involved in the sector, and there were up to 40,000 markets across the EU.

In Ireland this week it seems that entry to the market could end up being the preserve of the wealthy powerful retailers. There are two courses of action, the first is to think about visiting and making a purchase in your local market, the second is to exercise the right to trade casually. Details of how to do this can be found at irishmarketrights.org and for more information on markets try the Irish Food Markets Traders Association at Irelandmarkets.com.

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An Phoblacht
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