Voting for the Irish local and European elections will take place on 5 June. NOffLA members have been using the opportunity to make a case for the return of pub opening hours to the off-licence sector.
According to NOffLA chairman, Jim McCabe: “Turnover in independent off-licences has been annihilated, in some cases by as much as 45%”. The causes are various but include below-cost selling in multiples and increased cross-border trade due to improved sterling exchange rates and growing VAT differentials. However, the single cause that was initiated by Government and is in their control to reverse is the restriction in trading hours to 10pm.
The introduction of an earlier closing time was made as part of a number of restrictions for a variety of Irish alcohol retailers. However, representations from the multiples ensured that the minister agreed to waive the restrictions on the sale of alcohol that were to be applied to the supermarket sector. Ironically, the waiver of these restrictions was made on the basis of the introduction of a voluntary code of practice for the sector. The irony is that the code of practice finally agreed pales into insignificance when compared to the Responsible Trading in the Community policy already in practice by members of NOffLA in the independent off-trade.
The reality for the Irish independent off-trade is, according to the NOffLA chairman, “We are by and large small, independent family-run businesses. Our families cannot afford for our small business to be wiped out in this way. Many of us are self-employed and if we cannot afford to pay our PRSI contributions we will not qualify for state assistance or even a pension when we finally do go out of business.”
Jim McCabe is also definitive when he explains the broader implications of the shorter opening hours: “There are in excess of 350 members represented by the National Off-Licence Association. The majority of these are family-run independent businesses providing local employment. Each of our 350 members has lost 30.5 business trading hours per week which would, on average, be staffed by two people minimum (and often many more) which comes to 61 hours a week based on this conservative estimate.
“That is lost local employment of on average one-and-a-half personnel per outlet which adds up to 525 jobs nationwide. Those figures don’t include the other 1,150 off-licence holders who are not even required to train their staff properly to handle alcohol retailing. So across the off sector we are probably looking at a minimum of 2,250 jobs.”
The restriction of opening hours has created the inexplicable situation where one can drink in a pub after 10pm but one cannot purchase a drink to consume at home after 10pm. As Jim McCabe points out: “The reduction in trading hours has not reduced alcohol abuse. It has just annoyed people”. NOffLA is calling for those who have established themselves as responsible traders to be allowed to do so in a fair and equitable manner.