The Association says that most pubs will be unable to viably operate in that timeframe and will now have to close anyway, putting tens of thousands of people out of work from this week.
The LVA also questioned how the arbitrary closing times of 5pm or 8pm were decided upon by the National Public Health Emergency Team and the Government, with no scientific explanation currently having been provided.
“Obviously we’re very disappointed about this decision as it clearly amounts to closure in camouflage,” explained LVA Chief Executive Donall O’Keeffe, “Most of our members will now take the decision to shut their doors as they simply won’t be able to afford operating in these conditions.
“Many pubs have been expressing the view that they would rather be asked to close than have to accept an arbitrary curfew of 5pm or 8pm.
“Obviously though that would then represent an official Lockdown of our sector and for some reason neither NPHET nor the Government are willing to be upfront about what this means.
“Instead they get a bargain basement Lockdown, where it’s the employees, the pubs, the restaurants and all their various suppliers that will really pay the price. We need immediate and comprehensive supports to now be put in place.
“We also seem to be heading towards ongoing rolling closures of hospitality for as long as the pandemic persists,” he continued, “If that’s going to be the case then the Government should be upfront and tell it straight to the industry.
“If that’s not what they want then a plan of practical measures such as ventilation standards that will allow our industry to function while Covid-19 and its many variants are still an active part of our lives has to be developed. We can’t stay closed indefinitely, yet that increasingly seems to be the Government’s approach to our sector. We need a realistic long-term plan,” he concluded.
“Blunt and ineffective tools”
The Government’s 8pm shut-off for the hospitality sector until the end of January is the final gut punch for a sector that has faced an unprecedented pummelling since the pandemic started 20 months ago according to the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland which stated that the 8pm closing time makes little sense and will lead to pubs closing their doors for the duration of restrictions.
After so many Lockdowns, along with the desperately slow reopening of the trade during the Summer and the promise of no further shut-downs, this proposal would effectively be a full Lockdown, it believes.
“Government has to move away from using hospitality to signal concern about Covid,” said VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribben, “Dr Mike Ryan from the World Health Organisation says Lockdowns don’t work so it beggar’s belief that almost two years since this emergency began we’re resorting to such blunt and ineffective tools.”
The impact of such a decision is difficult to overstate, he continued, with publicans spending the late Summer and Autumn rebuilding their businesses and sourcing staff after so many left the sector, what does this proposal say to staff, he asked.
“We’re facing another exodus from the trade as people move to what they think is more secure employment.
“There is also the fact that restricted trading hours will drive people from well-run pubs following the guidelines to unregulated parties and shebeens.
“Over 94% of the population is fully-vaccinated, the ‘booster’ programme is proceeding at pace so why are we going backwards?
“The virus looks like it will be with us for years to come so at some point we need to switch to living alongside Covid instead of living in fear. We need a clear plan but right now Government is sadly lacking a pathway out of this mess.”
Ongoing Covid plan needed
The VFI also says that unless Government reintroduces the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme for its members who now face severe restrictions in what should have been the busiest weeks of the year, many businesses will go to the wall.
“I guess the government thinks we should feel grateful for the 8pm closing given NPHET’s demand for a 5pm curfew,” he said, “The reality is this decision will decimate the trade that was already on its knees. Christmas was the one chance we had to recoup some of the losses amassed earlier in the year but we’re now in a situation where staff will lose their jobs and pubs will shut one week before Christmas as they see little point in opening under these conditions.
“While Government may see 8pm as a compromise the reality is that many pubs don’t open until 5pm so three hours trading is unworkable for them. Even for pubs that open earlier the majority of their trade takes place at night-time.
“Given the relentless public health message over the past number of weeks to avoid socialising the public had already cancelled bookings in record numbers. There was no need to further restrict trading hours as our customers are safer in regulated pubs that adhere to guidelines instead of house parties and shebeens.
“Our members are left wondering what the plan is for hospitality,” he continued, “These restrictions are meant to be lifted at the end of January but there is literally no guarantee this will happen. Publicans and their staff are trapped by the Government’s inability to plan a pathway out of the crisis that doesn’t involve Lockdowns.
“Government now has to announce a return of the CRSS for our members who’ve been pummelled by this news. It’s difficult to overstate the feeling in the trade, publicans and their staff are at the absolute limits of their endurance.”
He believes that the trade needs to see comprehensive supports introduced now.
“It’s the least the trade expects,” he said.