Both the VFI and the Licensed Vintners Association point out that as the pub sector approaches the one-year anniversary since it closed on 15th March 2020, there remains a complete lack of clarity from Government about how the hospitality sector will restart.
In Dublin, the LVA too expressed its disappointment with the announcement, stating that no hope was provided for hospitality and the 150,000 people from the sector currently on Pandemic Unemployment Payment in the Government’s revised ‘Living with Covid’ plan.
The Association had not been expecting any specific reopening dates to be included but it had hoped that the conditions for reopening would be outlined by the Government.
“These could include confirmation of the percentage of the population that would need to be vaccinated and how low the level of community transmission would need to be to facilitate a future reopening,” it stated.
By the time the next Government review takes place on the 5th April, of the 750 pubs across Dublin, 250 of them (33%) will not have not traded for a single day since 15th March 2020. These pubs will have been closed for 385 consecutive days – the most severe lockdown in Europe, it pointed out, adding that 50,000 people were directly employed in the pub sector before the pandemic.
“While public health is the number one priority, Government must provide some hope for the thousands of people working in the pub sector who remain unemployed for almost 12 months,” said VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribben who found it “incredible” that the Taoiseach did not signal what would happen after 5th April, “… especially after his recent vague comments that hospitality would remain shut until ‘mid-Summer’”.
His sentiments were echoed by LVA Chief Executive Donall O’Keeffe who stated, “It’s disappointing there is no hope on the horizon for hospitality in the revised plan announced by the Government.
“It would have been helpful if the updated plan broadly outlined the conditions that need to be reached to facilitate future reopenings of different aspects of the economy, including hospitality. That could include details about the level of vaccination, the number of infections and the rate of transmission in the community. This approach would have given everyone a sense of what we are all working towards.”
An unacceptable plan
The VFI found the lack of detail in the plan about how the pub sector will reopen “completely unacceptable to our members and their families”.
They deserve a roadmap to reopening that explains what must happen to allow pubs commence trading, believed Padraig Cribben who pointed out, “Without understanding the numbers that need to be reached we’re simply scrambling around in the dark”.
The hospitality sector, which currently has 150,000 staff on PUP, is not an “inconvenience which the Government can sweep under the carpet” stated Donall O’Keeffe, “Our future matters to the future wellbeing of our society and our economy, particularly to the families and staff dependent on this sector.
“In the absence any clarity and with closures set to continue for an indeterminant period, there needs to be a marked increase in the level of financial supports provided to the sector. The extensions announced are not sufficient. There needs to be an immediate doubling of Covid Restrictions Support Scheme payments, extension of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme to the end of 2021 and the waiving of commercial rates for the rest of the year. These supports are essential in ensuring these businesses can survive and reopen when it is safe to do so” he concluded.
Support schemes need expansion
The VFI also addressed the issue of supports for its members.
“Given the circumstances our members are facing, it’s not acceptable that so far Government refuses to increase the CRSS payment. The current 10% rate is not enough for publicans who have no clue when they will be allowed reopen. We’re calling for the rate to be increased to 20%.
“At some stage, clarity about reopening will have to be provided. Today is a missed opportunity and highlights the desperate situation our members face,” concluded Padraig Cribben.
While welcoming the extension of business supports until the end of June, Retail Ireland, the Ibec group that represents the Irish retail sector, agreed that the ongoing Level 5 restrictions will inevitably put vulnerable businesses at risk.
“It is vital that the full range of business supports are kept in place for as long as needed,” said Retail Ireland Director Arnold Dillon, “Even when restrictions are eased, it will take a long time for many retailers to recover.
“Additional supports will also be needed to help vulnerable but viable retail businesses. Many retailers continue to face unreasonable demands from landlords for rent accrued during periods when they were closed. These issues need to be resolved through arbitration, not in the courts.”