Licensed Vintners Association Chief Executive Donall O’Keeffe described it as a “monumental day for all of hospitality”.
Hospitality has tried to operate under varying levels of restrictions over the past 678 days since pubs and late-night venues closed their doors at the outset of the pandemic on 15th March 2020.
“We’re delighted this has all happened so quickly” he said, “the speed with which things have progressed this week has been amazing. Some in the sector were worried this day may never come.”
While the removal of all restrictions is a massive step forward for the trade, there will be a sense of trepidation too as publicans attempt to rebuild their businesses after enduring some of the tightest restrictions in the world, pointed out the Vintners Federation of Ireland.
“After a nightmare 22 months this is the news our members have been waiting for,” said VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribben, “The removal of all restrictions this weekend is the green light for pubs to get back to doing what they do best.
“Across Ireland there are 7,000 pubs employing 50,000 staff so the benefits of reopening will be felt everywhere. Overnight, we’re saying goodbye to vaccine passes, mandatory table service, contact details, six per table, sitting at all times, one-metre Social Distancing, no pool or darts and the ban on using bar counters. It really is remarkable to see it all coming to an end.
“Over the course of the past two years there have been numerous false starts and deep disappointment as we returned to various Lockdowns, but there’s a strong belief this time is different. We must learn to live with Covid, which means solutions must be put in place for any future waves. The hospitality trade can’t return to rolling lockdowns so Government must engage with the sector about meaningful solutions to keep us open.”
Similarly, the LVA would like to see the Government maintain the supports it has been providing over the coming months.
Padraig Cribben agreed.
“The trade must also be given time to get back on its feet, so maintaining the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme at the current rate for another couple of months is vital,” he stated, “Our members have taken a hammering over the past two years so it is reasonable to maintain supports during the initial reopening phase.”
VFI President Paul Moynihan added, “When we stood with the then Minister for Health Simon Harris as he announced the closure of all pubs on 15thMarch 2020 none of us could have foreseen the crisis that lay ahead. Almost two years later, as restrictions end this weekend, we can finally start looking to the future.
“We closed our pubs due to public health advice and all through the crisis we said public health is the number one priority. The vaccine rollout was the game-changer for the country.”
Restaurants Association of Ireland Chief Executive Adrian Cummins described the announcement as a day of liberation for the hospitality sector.
“Businesses are breathing a sigh of relief after two years of Lockdowns and restricted trading and are excited to trade once again.
“Staff and customer safety will continue to be paramount for the sector. The Association also welcomes comments by Government that current supports will have no cliff edge. Hospitality businesses welcome the reopening of their doors without restrictions but know that it will take some time to trade out of this and small hospitality businesses countrywide have built up debt over the past two years – supports will be vital.”
Donall O’Keeffe pointed out, “We’ve not had anywhere near normal trading for more than 22 months now and businesses throughout the hospitality sector will need a little more assistance to get them back on their feet”.
The Association is also seeking the waiving of the upfront Special Exemption Order fees required for late-night venues during their initial period of reopening.