The stark decline of 1,829 in the number of pubs in Ireland over the past 16 years – and particularly during Covid – has been highlighted in the new DIGI study conducted by Dublin City University Associate Professor Emeritus and Economist Anthony Foley.
The Irish Pub: Stopping the Decline report illustrates the stark decline in Ireland’s pub population throughout the country. It’s based on the Group’s analysis of Revenue license data and includes an economic and social analysis by the report’s author.
The report indicates a 21.2% decline – from 8,617 to 6,788 – in the number of pubs in Ireland from 2005 to 2021.
Some 349 pubs – or 4.9% of the total population – were lost during the pandemic period (from 2019 to 2021) alone.
All 26 counties experienced declines in pub numbers through the 16-year period, with the largest decrease being seen in Laois which has 30.6% less pubs than in 2005. This was the only county with a decrease of over 30%.
The lowest decrease of 1.4% was in Meath followed by Dublin which experienced a pub population decrease of 4.3%.
All the remaining 23 counties had decreases greater than 10%.
Three counties – Carlow (10.4%), Kildare (13.6%) and Wicklow (10.1%) – showed decreases between 10% and 14.9% while Cavan (17.2%), Kerry (15.3), Kilkenny (18.1%), Monaghan (19.8%) and Wexford (17.2%) were in the 15% to 19.9% bracket.
All the remaining counties had decreases of more than 20%. Six counties – Clare (24.7%), Galway (20.6%), Louth (20.3%), Sligo (24%), Waterford (23.5%) and Westmeath (24.4%) – were in the 20% to 24.9% decrease band, while nine counties – Cork (28.5%), Donegal (26.3%), Leitrim (26.4%), Limerick (29.1%), Longford (25.7%), Mayo (25.1%), Offaly (29.9%), Roscommon (28.3%) and Tipperary (26.3%) – saw decreases between 25% and 29.9%.
Economic and social analysis
The report’s author notes that public houses contribute to the culture and vibrancy of villages, small towns and rural areas in many ways. They contribute to tourism and provide an extensive network of physical facilities and services needed by tourists and locals.
He cites concerns for the impact of the pub decline on rural Ireland when taken in the context of wider challenges facing areas outside Dublin. When one considers decreases in the number of post offices, full bank branches, Garda stations, local retail enterprises and a wide range of other services and facilities, there are concerns about the commercial capability of small towns and villages with large levels of commercial building vacancy, he notes.
He also cites a number of reasons for the pub decline including non-replacement of pub operators on retirement or death, low levels of business volume and economic sustainability as well as regulatory changes such as tighter drink-driving laws and enforcement allied with weak or non-existent public transport and population change and distribution, among others.
And according to the recently-appointed Chair of the DIGI, Communications and Corporate Affairs Director at Irish Distillers Kathryn D’Arcy in the report, there’s likely to be a negative social impact arising from the trend and extent of closures, especially in rural and remote areas in Ireland.
Describing the report as “alarming”, Vintners Federation of Ireland Chief Executive Paul Clancy said, “1,829 rural pub closures represent businesses that provide jobs, a hub in the local community for socialising and community integration and a cultural centre which has long been documented as among the main attractions for tourists visiting Ireland.
“The pace of decline increased as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic which saw the drinks and hospitality industry suffer the worst of all, with one of the longest lockdowns recorded globally.
“Considering this sharp decline and trend we’re witnessing we need to monitor this industry carefully and ensure all the necessary supports are in place to contribute to stopping this trend.
“Our high alcohol excise tax is a cost and slows the growth of these businesses and impacts their day-to-day operations and bottom line. Exasperated currently with inflation and the cost of living, we’re calling on the Government to reduce excise tax to support the industry with meaningful measures that will be felt immediately and reduce costs overnight for tens of thousands of business owners.”
Kathryn D’Arcy commented, “The Irish pub has been in a steady decline for years and these stark figures once again highlight the need to secure the sustainable future of our pubs. Central to this is introducing policy measures which can make both an immediate difference and a long-term impact in terms of delivering sustainable policy to support these businesses. DIGI is seeking a reduction in Ireland’s high excise tax rate which would deliver on this.”
In commenting on his report, Anthony Foley stressed, “There’s likely to be a negative social impact arising from the closure of the 1,829 public houses between 2005 and 2021. Pubs serve as a vital social outlet for many people, particularly in rural Ireland. With people living there faced by the spectre of rural decline, preserving the cultural heritage of the Irish pub in Ireland is arguably a progressive course of action.
“Economic and business sustainability is one of the several determining factors of closures of small public houses. Addressing high excise would have a positive effect on the commercial sustainability of small public houses and would be a strong element in the wider policy strategy to support rural areas. It is a measure which is completely within the scope of Government,” he concluded.