The two organisations believe that the Government should announce plans for the reopening of hospitality in six weeks’ time with outdoor service for all venues.
This should be followed by a return to indoor service for all pubs and restaurants shortly afterwards, aligned with the reopening of hotels across the country.
Northern Ireland will allow all hospitality to reopen for outdoor service from the 30th of April while indoor service is due to resume for all hospitality in England from the 17th of May and in Northern Ireland from the 24th of May and according to the VFI, the Irish Government must immediately publish its plan to get the hospitality sector reopened here.
In a significant move, similar to the reopening plan in England, all hospitality outlets in the North will reopen together the VFI pointed out.
“The most significant message coming from the North is that all hospitality opens together, including pubs, hotels and restaurants,” said VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribben, “Similar to England there’s no divide based on food. That must be replicated here and avoid the divisions created in 2020.
“There has been commentary from senior politicians here about allowing hotels reopen in June. Our message is clear, that if indoor premises such as hotels are deemed safe it logically follows that, with the appropriate measures in place, a pub is also safe. All hospitality outlets must open together.”
With the National Public Health Emergency Team outlining the need for social contact to remain largely unchanged over the next six weeks, the LVA has said that once that period has elapsed, hospitality should begin reopening, starting with outdoor service for all venues – including all pubs and restaurants. This would be from the week beginning the 24th of May.
The LVA believes that any long delay between the reopening of hospitality in the North and in the Republic will lead to thousands of people making the journey across the Border every weekend.
Northern Ireland’s reopening announcement came on the same day that traditional pubs in Dublin marked 13 consecutive months of closure by order of the Government.
The Republic of Ireland, already has the most severe hospitality closure in the European Union, it pointed out, with most pubs and restaurants across the country being forced to keep their doors shut for nine of the last 13 months.
With the Taoiseach confirming hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs will be allowed to reopen in June, the LVA says that the reopening of all indoor service should be aligned with that date.
“The reopening should start with outdoor service for all hospitality, which includes traditional pubs, gastropubs and restaurants and with capacity dictated by social distancing,” said LVA Chief Executive Donall O’Keeffe, “That timeframe would allow for the further roll-out of the vaccine and would also ensure that the NPHET’s request for social contact to remain unchanged for the next six weeks is met.
“Any plan should also allow for indoor drinking and dining to resume in all hospitality venues shortly after that point, aligned with the reopening of hotels in June. The risk profile for dining indoors and drinking in hotels, guesthouses or B&Bs is the same as it is for other hospitality venues so these should all open together. We will not accept any situation which sees the Government discriminating against certain sections of hospitality over others.
“The Government has re-confirmed that by the end of June more than 80% of the population will have received their first dose of the vaccine so infection rates should have significantly diminished and the ‘vaccine bonus’ should allow for all indoor hospitality activity to resume.
“The tens of thousands of people working in pubs and across the Irish hospitality sector are understandably keen to get back to work and to return to some sense of normality. It has been a very, very long time coming. Hospitality can’t be kept closed indefinitely and we believe this is a reasonable approach towards reopening while also being mindful of public health,” he concluded.
VFI publishes ‘reopening template’
In the absence of any meaningful plan from Government, the VFI has published a ‘reopening template’ highlighting the key metrics NPHET and Government must address to allow pubs reopen.
“Pubs in the North know they will reopen indoors on the 24th of May which introduces a welcome degree of certainty and stability to the trade,” said Padraig Cribben, “That’s exactly the sort of approach we need here as publicans continue to feel abandoned by government.
“The reopening template highlights details Government need to provide to give our members some certainty.
“The key to reopening is vaccinations and hospitalisation numbers. As our template illustrates, we need Government to tell us how many people need to be vaccinated to allow hospitality reopen. We also need to understand what level of hospitalisations will Government deem safe for our members to resume trading. This will give re-assurance to employees and hope to publicans”.
The VFI is also gravely concerned about how NI’s reopening will impact businesses along the border.
“From the 30th of April pubs in the North will resume outdoor drinking and dining, so in a few short weeks our members in the border region will start to lose customers across the border. For how long is that sustainable?
It’s another clear-cut reason why Government must publish its reopening plan for hospitality immediately.
“England will reopen indoor drinking and dining on the 17th of May and has correctly abandoned the mandatory meal provision while Northern Ireland will follow suit one week later. After being closed for over 14 months our members in the Republic deserve the same level of respect,” said the VFI Chief Executive, “For the sake of businesses across the country it’s vital this is the last lockdown. The reopening must be sustainable and carry a strong degree of confidence that progress towards a full reopening without the need for Social Distancing is the ultimate destination.
“If the delay in publishing a reopening plan continues any longer, we’re calling on Government to double the CRSS payment to publicans.
“As we approach the ‘make or break’ Summer season, the Government must either provide confidence to the trade through a sustainable reopening plan or else increase supports,” he concluded.
Retail Ireland too seeks an early May reopening to avoid cross-border shopping trips draining from the RoI’s retail economy.
The group warned that the divergence of approaches North and South would incentivise cross-border shopping further depriving hard-pressed businesses in the Republic of trade and customers.
“We need to align Covid retail restrictions with Northern Ireland where possible to avoid significant numbers travelling North to shop,” said Retail Ireland Director Arnold Dillon, “An early indication of reopening dates is now needed so businesses can prepare. Managing people, cash-flow, stock and supply chains at this time requires careful planning and good organisation.
“The protracted closure of much of retail has compounded the serious difficulties many businesses are facing. A significant number will not survive the crisis without enhanced and prolonged Government support.
“It’s vital that the full range of business supports are kept in place for as long as needed. Many retailers continue to face unreasonable demands from landlords for rent accrued during periods when they were closed. These issues need to be resolved through arbitration, not in the courts,” he concluded.