He was addressing some 350 delegates at the 39th VFI AGM in Hotel Kilkenny.
On the back of “the most in-depth and comprehensive independent research ever carried out on the pub trade in Ireland” the VFI made three specific demands of the Government and indeed of their members:
1. That the Government address as a matter of urgency the lack of consumer confidence with a three-year plan detailing what is in store thus allowing people to plan and budget
2. That the Government look at the crippling situation of those who have been left in negative equity and examine a form of mortgage relief to assist rebuilding shattered consumer confidence.
3. That VFI members continue to examine new and innovative ways to entice customers into the pub in the form of events and attractions.
The research illustrated the frustration amongst a large proportion of Irish publicans. 69 per cent felt that Ireland did not possess a suitable business environment to assist with recovery and 75 per cent claimed that bureaucracy is either discouraging people from entering the pub trade or driving others out. Crucially, the research underlined the fact that the Irish pub is very much a family-run small business situated primarily in rural Ireland.
Gerry Rafter said, “The evidence clearly shows that publicans are struggling and the regulatory environment is not conducive to encouraging small- and medium-sized enterprises to flourish.
“Publicans I represent from Dungarvan to Donegal have clearly expressed to me the urgency of reducing local authority rates, reducing red tape and introducing a minimum price for alcohol.”
The new President claimed publicans were feeling the consequences of a lack of consumer confidence and action was required. He said, “Consumer confidence is at rock-bottom and the government must try to create an atmosphere conducive to instilling confidence in consumers”.
He concluded by calling on members to market themselves better and to look at events to drive footfall.
“Event-driven activity is vital to give people a reason to visit the pub,” he said, “We have published an Events Guide handbook which we have presented to all our members and I hope that this will give them guidance and inspiration.
“I fully accept that we must look at ourselves first and foremost. However, it is also blatantly clear we need stimulus in the economy if we are to get people spending which in turn is essential to ensuring the pub trade survives.
“As publicans we need to promote ourselves better and remind people of why we are the number one tourist attraction according to the Lonely Planet. We have an excellent offering and an excellent product. It is time that we further showcase just how great it is.”
Motions discussed on the day included opening hours on Good Friday and reducing the cost of Special Exemption Orders.