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Mobile coffee truck claims it was threatened with prosecution after offering free drinks to frontline workers

Hook & Ladder has been offering free teas/coffees to frontline workers over the past year.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/Mark Nazh

THE OPERATOR OF a Limerick mobile coffee truck, which was threatened with prosecution after offering free drinks and food to frontline healthcare workers fighting Covid-19, has said more needs to be done to help businesses survive the pandemic.

Andrew Moloney, operations manager with Hook & Ladder, trading as Tin Hat Ltd, Sarsfield Street, Limerick — which operates the truck — said they received a letter, dated 5 February, from the Council that intended to bring a prosecution against the company for allegedly breaching the Casual Trading Act 1995 while operating on the grounds of University Hospital Limerick and the University Maternity Hospital Limerick.

Moloney said he contacted the Council to explain the truck had not traded on these days as they had not charged for the drinks and food, but that the Council informed him it had evidence they had been trading on the days in question.

On 15 February, a representative of Hook & Ladder received an email from a Council official which stated, “if you are giving out free coffees/teas etc to all customers then you are not in breach of the Casual Trading Act, and the Council will not be pursuing you under this legislation”.

Moloney said there is too much red tape for businesses especially under lockdown, and that the Council had jumped the gun: “We were providing a free ‘hug-in-a-mug’ to the frontline workers. We’ve been in the hospital unfortunately as a family for quite a number of years, and we have seen what they do in there, and we have seen that pre-covid they were Trojans anyway.””

“Most recently, an elderly member of my family was in (UHL), and they went in there without Covid and came out of there without Covid, and the staff are doing fantastic work.”

Hook & Ladder has been offering free teas/coffees to frontline workers over the past year from its restaurants, “so we eventually said to ourselves we have a truck and because a lot of them can’t come to us, we decided to go to them”, explained Moloney.

“We weren’t trading, and we can prove it, just ask the 600 hospital staff we served in UHL and the 300 staff we served in St John’s and the Maternity – they will all advocate that we did not charge a red cent for anything, so, we weren’t trading – yet our Council took it upon themselves to issue us with legal proceedings, in these times, which they appear to have backed down from.”

Hook & Ladder have called for greater engagement between the Council to find a way of allowing mobile businesses operate during the pandemic.

The company said it had investigated applying for a casual trading licence but that it only applies to one specific part of Limerick which is already well served by coffee operators.

A Council spokesman said: “Limerick City and County Council does not comment in public about specific dealings between the Council and a customer. The customer can clarify any questions or queries they have with the Council by contacting us.”

They added that “all businesses must apply for permission to operate on a casual basis”.

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“Currently, the only area in the city where casual trading is permitted is the area surrounding the Milk Market – Carr Street, Robert Street, Cornmarket Row, and portion of Ellen Street.

A 12-month Casual Licence for a space 3mx2m is €589.68. The Council does its best to ensure there is a sustainable mix of traders in the area.”

Independent Councillor Elisa O’Donovan has submitted a notice of motion that the Council would “extend event casual trading licenses during Covid restrictions to facilitate rate paying businesses to operate outdoor grated in specified areas”.

In light of this the Council said it had decided “to refer the notice of motion to the Economic Development, Enterprise and Planning SPC for a review”, the spokesman said.

About the author:

David Raleigh

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