Rural Ireland is in danger of becoming a retail wasteland because of the growing number of shop closures, according to the chief executive of the Convenience Stores' and Newsagents' Association (CSNA), Vincent Jennings.

He told a parliamentary committee in Dublin last week that more than 600 stores will have closed by the end of this year, with the loss of 7,000 jobs. The closure rate was running at a dozen shops a week, he claimed, with wages, rates and high energy costs, combined with the recession, the main causes.

Jennings singled out for special criticism the National Consumer Agency over its claim that price was all-important. "We are rapidly approaching a retail wasteland, where villages, communities and small towns will be without any choice. People will be able to buy products at a price the agency considers appropriate, but they will have to travel up to 20 miles to do so," he said.

Committee chairman Willie Penrose, whose family runs a rural grocery, accused government of strangling small retailers through regulation and bureaucracy. The committee is preparing a report on the retail sector for Trade Minister Mary Coughlan.