Last night’s Government decision to move the entire country to Level Three will see 50,000 bar staff lose their jobs in another devastating development for the pub sector in a year where it has borne the brunt of lockdown restrictions and closures.
Many pubs had only reopened two weeks ago after closing on 15th March.
The Federation believes that there’s now an urgent need for Government to announce immediate additional support for the pub trade including a substantial increase in the Restart Grant – although the VFI has warned that there cannot be a repeat of the situation in Donegal which was moved to Level Three 10 days ago, where pubs are excluded from the 30% ‘top up’ grant because technically they remain open.
“It’s impossible to overstate the impact this news will have on publicans across the country,” stated VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribben, “They now join their colleagues in Donegal and Dublin on Level Three with all the uncertainty that entails. We also face the grim fact that over 50,000 people will once again have to sign-on this week.
“There now must be an immediate return to the original Pandemic Unemployment Payment for pub staff along with liquidity supports that will allow our members re-establish their businesses once restrictions are removed,” he continued, “As a customer-focused sector disproportionally impacted by restrictions, the very least publicans require is an emergency bailout fund that will support our members until they can return to normal trading conditions.
“There was some hope when pubs reopened two weeks ago they could trade their way to a successful Christmas period but that looks impossible now. We’re facing the prospect of being closed for at least nine months of 2020, a fact that Government needs to address.
“While Government say these restrictions will remain in place for three weeks we’ve learnt from bitter experience that reopening dates can move at the last minute. Our members face another prolonged bout of uncertainty at the worst possible time.
“Next week’s Budget is a crucial opportunity for Government to show its commitment to the pub sector by announcing a series of measures that will restore confidence to a battered trade.”
For its part the Licensed Vintners Association pointed out that Lockdown in Dublin had not reduced the level of Covid-19 infection rates where non-food pubs in the capital had now been closed for a minimum of 225 consecutive days.
And most of the food-pubs and restaurants across the capital were forced to close on the 18th September following the Government’s decision to ban indoor service.
In the 18 days since their forced closure, the level of infection in Dublin has continued to grow. This was despite NPHET claims that the infections were arising in pubs and restaurants, a claim they’ve failed to produce data to justify, stated the LVA.
Last night’s announcement that the entire country will be placed in Level Three also means that Dublin’s non-food pubs are now facing their sixth potential reopening date, following the proposed reopenings originally set for the 20th of July, the 10th of August, the 31st of August, the 21st of September and the 10th of October.
Since the 15th of March pubs that serve food in Dublin will have had their doors closed by the Government for 144 days.
Despite the Government advocating a ‘living with Covid-19’ approach, it has repeatedly singled out the hospitality sector to bear the brunt of restrictions without providing meaningful supports to ensure businesses and jobs that were viable pre-Lockdown will remain so, the Association stated.
A further sign of the inconsistent approach being taken to the hospitality sector is that the non-food pubs are allowed offer outdoor service in every county except Dublin.
The LVA is therefore calling on the Government to address that support deficit in the coming Budget and is seeking:
- the restoration of the former Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme level support for the hospitality sector
- the abolition of commercial rates from October 2020 to September 2021
- the re-introduction VAT at 9% on pub food
- a cut in excise duty of 15%
- an increased cash grant aid to reflect the extended pub closures (10% of Restart Grant Plus per week closed).
“The Government and NPHET’s big idea for reducing the level of infections in Dublin was to keep the pubs and restaurants closed – and that hasn’t worked,” said LVA Chief Executive Donall O’Keeffe, “Yet despite that lack of progress they’re taking the same approach around the country and extending these short-sighted measures in Dublin.
“They expect pubs and restaurants to take blow after blow while all other aspects of society can continue to go about their business. This is disproportionate and tokenistic. It amounts to being seen to take action and merely punishing easy targets.
“How can they justify allowing the non-food pubs to offer outdoor service in every county apart from Dublin? This makes no sense and it’s easy to see why the faith in the Government and NPHET has been shattered amongst most of the pub sector in this country.
“It is worth remembering that one-third of the pubs in Dublin have not been able to open their doors since mid-March. They’ll be closed for a minimum of 225 days at this point, have made zero contribution to this problem and they have to remain closed. This is not allowing these pubs and their employees to live with Covid.
“There’s now a massive level of responsibility on the Government to bring forward real and meaningful support measures in the Budget, particularly for the pub sector. We already had one very false dawn when it comes to the Government providing support when we got spin and little substance.
“How to survive this pandemic is increasingly taking on different meanings for different sectors and the pubs are at the forefront of that varying approach given the way we have been treated since the outset,” he concluded.