Publicans have been stunned by the “unexpected decision, given the first three phases of exiting lockdown proceeded as planned including the re-opening of restaurants and the wider hospitality sector.
“This is a shocking decision not to proceed with the planned reopening of pubs and will be a hammer blow to thousands of pubs and their local communities around the country,” said VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribben, “The vast majority of these pubs are small rural outlets run by families who are on first-name terms with their customers and far removed from the crowded venues that concern the National Public Health Emergency Team. As controlled venues we believe these pubs should be allowed open as they’re far safer than the likes of uncontrolled house parties and pose little threat to public health.
“We’re in a situation where restaurants and pubs already open are having to cope with larger crowds. Opening all pubs would allow for better social distancing and reduce the risk of infection.
“Publicans are reeling from this news,” he continued, “They did everything asked of them by remaining shut for over four months and our members had a reasonable expectation the sector would re-open next Monday. All other phases went smoothly so to now tell publicans they can’t open like the rest of the hospitality sector makes little sense. This is a decision made by politicians who appear divorced from reality about life in rural Ireland.”
Both the VFI and the Licensed Vintners Association are seeking urgent engagement with Government to press the case for a major support package for pubs that will have been closed for five months by the time they are allowed recommence trading.
“You can’t expect small businesses to survive a five-month closure,” continued Padraig Cribben, “The Government will need to announce a series of measures to support our members, including significant grants valued between €20,000- €50,000 based on a pub’s licence band.”
“Compensation and support now essential”
The LVA pointed out that these businesses will now have gone 40% of the year without trading.
“Compensation and support is now essential if the Government wants the sector to survive,” it stated.
As pubs are being treated differently from other sectors, the LVA believes specific financial supports for the sector are now required and has called for immediate discussions with the Government on how it plans to protect the future of the industry.
Despite an early commitment to protecting the public health through closure of pubs on the 15th of March, the pub sector has been in the final phase of the Reopening Roadmap throughout this crisis, repeatedly separated from other aspects of Irish hospitality and tourism, it pointed out.
There is deep concern in the industry that should there be a second wave or further spikes in the infection rate then pubs will be asked to close again or the re-opening will be further delayed.
Despite some food pubs re-opening on the 29th of June during Phase 3, the majority of pubs across the country remained closed in expectation they’d be allowed open and trade from the 20th of July.
The LVA also criticised the delay in making this decision, highlighting the difficult position it has put pubs and staff in who’d been expecting to open next Monday. It has called for guidelines to be published immediately to allow pubs time to adequately prepare for the proposed re-opening date of the 10th of August.
“From the outset of this crisis, pubs have put public health considerations first,” said LVA Chief Executive Donall O’Keeffe, “We’ve repeatedly acknowledged the gravity of the Covid-19 crisis and as an industry we have respected the need to act for the wider good of Irish society during this pandemic. This is a crushing blow for the sector but we will continue to respect the public health advice.
“This is a hammer blow for our industry. It does appear that pubs are being singled out. Pubs were first closed and last to re-open. No other part of the domestic economy is still shut. We’ve continually been placed in the last phase of the Reopening Roadmap. It has to be acknowledged that the pubs who’re closed were not responsible for the growing levels of infection reported by NPHET over the last week. Yet it is those same pubs who are being asked to take a further financial hit.”
These pubs, who’ve done nothing wrong, who’ve acted responsibly and who’ve obediently followed the guidelines are now being asked to do more. They’re being told to delay re-opening because of a spike that happened while they were still closed, he pointed out.
“A mature, detailed conversation is now needed about the State’s plans for the pub sector,” believed Donall O’Keeffe, “All we want is an opportunity to trade, but we can’t continue with this uncertainty. What happens if there are further spikes in the level of infection or even a second wave?” he asked, “We did not create this crisis but as an industry we’re taking a disproportionate level of economic responsibility for how it is being addressed.
“If the public health requirements involve the Government treating pubs as a special case, then we’re also going to need special treatment. Our doors are closed by Government mandate. They’re restricting us from earning a living. If that is what’s required, then the Government should pay compensation to pubs who must stay closed. The Government made this decision, so the onus is on them to help – if they want an industry which includes 7,000 businesses and employs 50,000 people to survive.
“Specifically, there must be immediate additional grant-aid for pubs based on their licence band. When these pubs re-open, the Wage Subsidy Scheme must remain in place for as long as social restrictions apply. There must be a cut on the VAT rate on on-trade alcohol until year-end to allow the businesses boost their margins and have some chance of viability. Commercial rates must be abolished for 2020 in light of this extended closure.
“From an economic perspective, a massive burden is being placed on our sector. It’s incredibly hard on publicans, their families and staff. Most of these pubs are small businesses. They were gearing up to re-open next week and now, with just minimal notice, their doors will now have to remain shut. By the 10th of August they’ll have gone without income for almost five months.
“This is extremely disappointing for the pubs who were getting ready to open next week. The rug has been pulled out from under them with only a few days’ notice. Surely this is not the way any sector of an economy should be treated, even during a crisis. To avoid any similar problems the guidelines must now be urgently published to allow pubs and staff to make the necessary public safety adjustments in sufficient time.
“The very future of the pub trade in this country is now at stake. Pubs have and will continue to play their part in protecting public health but Government must now play its part too. They must take immediate action to ensure the survival of the trade, which is so integral to the recovery of the social and business life of villages, towns and cities right across the country. Some 7,000 pubs and 50,000 jobs are now dependent of a meaningful and urgent response from the new Government,” he concluded.