Another devastating blow for pub trade – VFI

Today's announcement that pubs must continue with mandatory table service while not permitting customers sit or stand at the bar counter until next February at the earliest represents a devastating blow to a sector that expected to see all restrictions removed this week, says the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland.
The decision not to ease restrictions is a direct result of Government failing to deal with the small percentage of people who remain unvaccinated and who've a disproportionate impact on hospitalisation numbers.

The decision not to ease restrictions is a direct result of Government failing to deal with the small percentage of people who remain unvaccinated and who’ve a disproportionate impact on hospitalisation numbers.

The rural publicans representative body said that maintaining restrictions will result in further pub closures as mandatory table service significantly reduces capacity in venues. Some publicans will also choose to temporarily close their businesses as they’re unable to break-even in the current environment.

The Federation says that the decision not to ease restrictions is a direct result of Government failing to deal with the small percentage of people who remain unvaccinated and who’ve a disproportionate impact on hospitalisation numbers.

“The Government decision to keep restrictions in place until February at the earliest is another devastating blow to the pub trade,” said VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribben, “Over 92% of people are vaccinated so we could have easily removed mandatory table service by limiting entry to customers with vaccine passes. Instead, Government has guaranteed the closure of more pubs over the coming months.

“The return of normal trading hours is simply a fig leaf for the fact bar counters remain off-limits. This restriction alone will mean pubs can’t operate at full capacity and will make continued trading impossible for many of our members.

“We also have to contend with the glaring anomaly of nightclubs reopening where, according to the Taoiseach, people will be permitted to dance while customers in pubs won’t be allowed sit at the bar counter.

“The pub trade has battled with uncertainty since March 2020 and today’s news will only deepen the worry for publicans and their staff,” he continued, “In a sector that’s struggling to find and retain employees these developments will only exacerbate staffing problems.

“Where do we go from here? The Taoiseach says the current restrictions will remain in place for at least a further five months while business supports are ending just as the pressure increases on our members. If a 92% vaccination rate doesn’t get our members fully open then we’re in huge trouble.

“We thought this crisis was coming to an end on Friday but now face the prospect of severely curtailed trading through the busiest period of the year. Government cannot allow the sector to limp on in this fashion and must come back with a concrete plan for the pub trade,” he concluded.

For its part, the Licensed Vintners Association is “stunned” that pubs are not to be allowed use bar counters with all customers fully-vaccinated.

Confusion now reigns over night-time hospitality with the resumption of activity less than 60 hours away, believes the Licensed Vintners Association which warned that the latest announcement from Government has left more questions than answers and will lead to problems throughout the trade.

The LVA expects several nightclubs will proceed with their expected reopening plans which are scheduled for just after midnight the day after tomorrow.

It also expressed its dismay that the Government now has no plan for the return to normal trading in hospitality, with the sector having previously been repeatedly told that they would be able to resume full service once the majority of the population was vaccinated.

Currently 92% of the adult population has been vaccinated and anyone who has not received their vaccine would have zero difficulty or wait time in sourcing one.

On the back of the “muddled announcement made by Government”, the LVA has a range of questions to which it will be seeking urgent responses from Government:

  • How does public health advice permit people to closely dance together but not allow the use of the bar counter?
  • With some night-time venues due to open in less than 60 hours, when will the Government be publishing the guidelines for that sector?
  • When will updated guidelines be available for the rest of hospitality?
  • How does the Government plan on distinguishing between traditional bars, late bars and nightclubs?
  • Is the Government aware that for many nightclubs it will not be feasible to open without access to the bar counter?
  • With the hospitality sector having been repeatedly told they must wait until a large majority of the public is vaccinated before they can fully reopen and 92% of the adult population now vaccinated, what does the Government expect to change that will permit the future return of normal trading?
  • If, as the Government said, these problems started arising two to three weeks ago, why did it wait until three days before the 22nd of October to make its latest announcement? For example could this not have been done last week? Is it fair to leave such major announcements to the last minute?
  • What actions is the Government taking to ensure there’s greater emergency capacity in the health service in the future and when will those be achieved?
  • What additional financial supports will it be providing to pubs with the sector expected to indefinitely cope with severe limitations on trading?

“We’re astonished,” confirmed LVA Chief Executive Donall O’Keeffe, reacting to the Government announcement, “They have effectively thrown out their previous plan, that normal activity would resume once the majority of the public was vaccinated. Instead we now have a ‘wait and see while hoping for the best approach’. This is not a plan and this is not what the social contract was built upon.

“All they’ve done today, indeed since last week, is sow confusion. We now have a night-time sector that will be reopening in less than 60 hours and which doesn’t know what restrictions they’ll be trading under or whether it will be viable to open in the first place.

“Permitting certain activities while preventing others also makes little sense to those who work in the hospitality sector. We’re delighted to see the return of dancing, for example, but where’s the logic that permits that activity but rules out the use of the bar counter? It’s easy to see that the Government once again failed to engage with the hospitality sector in coming forward with these measures. They’ve created more questions than answers. Their anomalous approach to restrictions will not be practical in the real world.

“With such tight restrictions now remaining in place for the licensed trade for many more months, it’s imperative the Government confirms that the Covid business supports will be extended for pubs as long as these restrictions remain in place, particularly the EWSS at current rates and the commercial rates waiver,” he concluded

Closures directly affecting mental wellbeing of population

Prior to the Government announcement, Drinks Ireland had pointed out that a global survey from YouGov, conducted between May and August this year, found that 66% of adults polled agreed that the social and mental wellbeing of the general population has been negatively impacted as a direct result of the closure of hospitality venues.

And since lockdowns began, YouGov found that 57% of adults have had a better appreciation for the contribution that the hospitality sector brings to their own social and mental wellbeing.

“Hospitality venues have been sorely missed and after a year-and-a-half of opening and closing, have been busy welcoming customers back safely, facilitating the craic and connections they’re renowned for,” said Drinks Ireland Director Patricia Callan, “The hospitality sector and wider Experience Economy is gearing up for a wider reopening on Friday and as key suppliers we believe this should be facilitated, given the huge success of Ireland’s vaccination programme.

“We’re all well aware of the economic importance of the hospitality sector and wider Experience Economy, supporting jobs, local economies and tourism. But they’re also vital for the social and mental wellbeing of many, bringing vibrancy to towns and villages across the country,” she concluded.





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