The operator of a Limerick mobile coffee truck is calling for "exceptionally outdated" bylaws on casual trading to be reformed.
Hook & Ladder is a ratepayer for its five locations in Limerick.
Andrew Moloney, Hook & Ladder's operations manager, has been running a coffee van during the pandemic offering free drinks and food to frontline healthcare workers.
However, he said the business has been threatened with prosecution by the Council for allegedly breaching trading bylaws.
Mr Moloney said the business received a letter dated February 5th 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.
However, as all the items are free, Mr Moloney contends there is no trading taking place or transactions taking place at the locations.
Under the current laws, trading is only permitted with a license at three sites in Limerick city.
Speaking to Lunchtime Live this week, Mr Moloney expressed his "shock and dismay" with the Council and called for less restrictive rules to be in place for businesses during the pandemic.
"What the company is facing at the moment is quite restrictive measures from our local council," he said.
"Not only the restrictive measures which are understandable in the sense that there are current bylaws are in place, but it's also the lack of willingness from the Council to try and enact change and embrace the new post-COVID era of outdoor dining and mobile coffee and mobile food trucks."
His outlets have always offered free hot beverages to frontline staff, and when the restaurants closed last March, he thought "why don't we go to them".
He said the decision to visit five locations across Limerick offering the free drinks was "exceptionally well-received" at the time.
"As a family, we've experienced the work that our frontline staff do in the various places," Mr Moloney explained.
"We've always had an appreciation for that and when an opportunity came around, obviously with permission to go onto these sites, we thought we'll have to jump on this."
He received pre-approval from management at the hospitals where they were setting up the coffee truck, with pre-organised time slots arranged for healthcare staff to ensure COVID-19 guidelines were adhered to.
The business is now allegedly facing prosecution and Mr Moloney cannot understand "100% why".
He said the rules on setting up mobile food trucks are "understandable" but are "exceptionally outdated" and "restrictive".
To set up a coffee or food truck, vendors need to apply for 12-month casual trading licence which costs €589.68.
Mr Moloney said the application can take eight to 12 weeks to process and is dependent on an entity being replaced, so with a coffee truck, "you have to wait until another coffee provider leaves".
This can ultimately take "up to two years", he added.
Mr Moloney stated he is not advocating that anyone can arrive at any location and begin selling food and beverages from a mobile truck.
However, he wants to see more trading spots made available.
"I'm advocating the fact that Limerick city itself has such potential for, not even a mobile unit, but if the council decided in the morning there's quite a lot of pedestrianised zones, why not put in a few little huts," he said.
"The huts in turn can be used for food, beverages, it could be alcoholic beverages, make a little market of it."
Mr Moloney called for Limerick Council to be more adaptable and allow for more mobile vendors, rather than continuing with its current "iron fist" approach.
He has been in contact with his local Councillor who said they will look into the matter, although it could take "up to a year" for progress to be made.
A Council spokesman told Lunchtime Live: “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”.
Speaking on the same programme, Limerick Councillor Elisa O'Donovan said this wasn't an issue unique to the city.
"We're going to have to adapt our approach to retail, hospitality, everything, in our cities," she said.
"I was really delighted to see these food trucks and coffee vans set up in areas in Limerick city and it was a really creative solution to address the need for more mobile, outdoor, hospitality during COVID."
Councillor O'Donovan brought a motion to the Council on Monday suggesting an extension of casual trading laws to look at accommodating mobile coffee vans as the pandemic continues.
Another suggestion she put forward was for existing ratepayers in the city to have the option of obtaining mobile licenses.
"I think we do have to be flexible during this time and I would support Andrew and other mobile coffee operators in trying to see how we can adapt our bylaws," she added.