Westport at the crossroads

PROBLEMS NEED TO BE ADDRESSEDWestport’s renowned charm was created by its people. This is now being aggressively threatened by the lure of quick money.Photo: Amayo Photography

De facto
Liamy MacNally

For our family reunion, a group of Yanks were quoted €5,000 to rent a house in Westport for two weeks, as well as €7,000 for a seven-seater automatic for three weeks. Put the flight prices on top and it soon adds up!
Aer Lingus flights to Dublin were much cheaper than to Shannon. With the ongoing mess at Dublin Airport, one wonders why someone hasn’t added two and two and made Shannon a more viable option!
Did anyone take advantage of it? These pages have given many columns to people concerned about the number of dedicated Airbnb premises in Westport. (It’s neither the fault of Airbnb, which is actively challenging the government to implement legislation to protect residential housing stock, nor the people who share rooms in their homes for Airbnb).
Among the problems is the purchase of properties in Westport by “wealthy” people, which even pushes the bottom of the property ladder up a few extra steps for many young local couples starting out. The biggest problem is the destruction of the community caused by too many dedicated Airbnb properties. While many wealthy “outsiders” and some locals see Westport as a great place to make money, the legacy of their business decisions is slowly destroying the fabric of the local community, all that the people of Westport cherish.
The sense of community is priceless. It’s priceless. How do we value the sense of local community? Stripping local communities of properties to use exclusively for Airbnb creates a recipe for community disaster. If this continues, Westport will become a playground for the rich.
Surveys of visitors to Westport have highlighted the importance of meeting and interacting with local people. This will not be possible if the current trend continues. While other parts of the country have various rental controls, the same must be applied in other cities and towns. We have already been through a poorly thought out resort scheme, which again favored people with money over local couples trying to buy their first home.

Urgent checks
Controls around Airbnb use in places like Westport are urgently needed. We cannot allow the essence of local communities to be subsumed for a dollar or two. The absence of a town council in Westport only adds to this debacle. Putting the issue on the agenda of local county council meetings can cause unnecessary frustration because the crux of the matter does not affect all councillors. Westport’s problems don’t have to match the concerns of Achill’s or Belmullet’s advisers, as we all know too well.
Westport’s charm has been created by its people – locals, business people, employees, politicians and visitors working together, creating a successful balance of life. This is now threatened by the lure of quick money.
Another “abuse” is the combined profits of major energy companies of nearly $100 billion in the first quarter of this year. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said: “It is unethical that oil and gas companies are making record profits out of this energy crisis on the backs of the poorest people and communities and at a huge cost to the climate. He urged governments to tax these windfalls to support those most in need.
The public finances of the Irish Treasury recorded a surplus of 5 billion euros at the end of July. (There was a deficit of 5.7 billion euros at the end of July 2021!) The taxpayer paid higher tax returns and more VAT on items like fuel – the more expensive the fuel, the more the government has silver ! Is it a form of gouging?
When does quality of life take precedence or become as important as earning money? What will we value at Westport in twenty years? Will we have dedicated Airbnb property streets? Will there be a lot of people from Westport – Covies? Will businesses be “high street” like other cities, owned by large corporations or multinationals?
These questions are for local residents and business people to chew on. At the end of the day, we get what we choose. It’s a great little country! Westport is the best place to live! Watch this place.

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