‘Where is the light’ in 2012? — VFI’s 39th Conference in Kilkenny

This year’s VFI Conference in Hotel Kilkenny was attended by some 400 delegates where it was generally agreed that draught beer was the one product that could not be got outside the on-trade and that prices should therefore be maintained on draught as it cost the publican money to offer it. The Federation was charged with trying to reduce costs and ensure that alcohol is given back to the publican. Drinks Industry Ireland reports from conference.


‘Where is the light?’ was the theme of this year’s VFI Conference.

‘Where is the light?’ was the theme of this year’s VFI Conference.


Below-cost selling, not publicans, now blamed for abuse
For the first time, below-cost selling and not publicans has been acknowledged as being the main problem contributing to alcohol abuse, VFI Secretary Michael Fitzgerald told the 39th VFI conference held in Hotel Kilkenny recently.

“The question is, what will the Government do now?” he asked before adding, “We’re frightened of what they’ll do next.”
Michael Fitzgerald was referring to other possible alcohol sales-suppressing moves such as increasing excise tax when supermarkets were undoubtedly the problem.

“Multiples in the UK admitted that alcohol is responsible for just five per cent of their turnover” he told the conference, “but it accounts for 40 per cent of their footfall”.

He just hoped that when Minister Shortall makes a decision on how to tackle alcohol abuse, her response will do something for the problem itself.

“We’re working behind the scenes to make progress on it,” he told delegates.

Bond licence seekers?
Leased pubs trading without a licence are causing problems to bona fide publicans around the country.

The conference heard a motion to the effect that the VFI enter into negotiations with the Minister for Justice seeking legislation compelling anyone wishing to obtain a new licence for a leased premises to enter a Bond similar to a Builders’ Bond etc. This would help defray outstanding tax, VAT, suppliers etc costs in the event of the unexpected closure of that premises.

In proposing the motion, Michael Farrell from Cork pointed out that he knew of a pub in Cork that’s trading in an area surrounded by 10 pubs of which only two had a licence.

The problem tends to involve leased pubs that don’t pay their bills or VAT and then simply quit the scene.

“We need to  talk to the politicians and get something done about it,” he told delegates.

However John Smith from Meath advised caution pointing out that if public servants got their hands on the above motion and decided to run with it, it would most likely have implications for all legitimate publicans.

“It may well lead to everybody having to enter a bond to renew their licence,” he warned.

And while delegates heard that there are genuine pubs being wiped out because of these operations, VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribben warned that there were also implications in relation to singling out one set of people who might be looking for a licence from others. He  suggested referring the motion  back to National Council to see if there’s some way that this could be dealt with without it affecting ordinary publicans.

VFI works on controlling costs
There has been no increase in alcohol excise in the last four years and the VFI is working with the Government to have this remain the case.

“The reasons for this are partly the economic situation but it’s also due to what we’re doing behind the scenes by way of pointing out diminishing returns,” explained VFI Secretary Michael Fitzgerald who pointed out that there hasn’t been a supplier increase for the last three or four years despite there being an increase of 30 pence during this time from suppliers to UK retailers.

Other costs such as Sky were very frustrating to deal with.

“BskyB won’t discuss price so you must decide if it’s worth it and if you can afford to be without it,” he advised conference delegates.

The VFI continues to work on controlling costs via (from left) its Chief Executive Padraig Cribben, it’s outgoing President Gerry Mellett and its incoming President Gerry Rafter.

The VFI continues to work on controlling costs via (from left) its Chief Executive Padraig Cribben, it’s outgoing President Gerry Mellett and its incoming President Gerry Rafter.

VFI seeks Good Friday opening
The VFI is to seek to have Good Fridays an optional opening day for the country’s pubs.

A motion from Cork and Kerry saw Cork’s Michael Farrell point out that everywhere else in Ireland is open on Good Friday except for the pubs.

From a tourism point-of-view it’s detrimental to places like Kerry and Cork. Opening should be optional, he stated.
But Sheila McHugh from Limerick, who’d a small family pub, wanted to keep the tradition of having Christmas and Good Friday closed.

Kerry’s John O’Sullivan, who favoured changing the law in relation to Good Friday opening, pointed out that things have changed a lot in the world and this has been to the detriment of the vintners’ business.

Many pubs regularly close on one, two or even five days of the week, so when tourists are around on Good Friday it should be optional to open, he added.

The motion was carried.

 The motion for the Federation seek to have Good Fridays an optional opening day was carried.

The motion for the Federation seek to have Good Fridays an optional opening day was carried.

Clarify smoking area legislation says VFI
A move to make the legislation in relation to what constitutes a valid smoking area clearer was proposed by Ger Counihan from Kerry who asked VFI Head Office to go back to Government to get this legislation simplified “.. as it should be easy for every publican to go and get a smoking area set up”.

Noel O’Sullivan from Tipperary supported this motion stating, “Smoking areas here in Ireland are the most over-regulated in the world, I’d say, we therefore need to have some discussion and lobbying with the relevant Government department on what are currently harsh smoking laws”.

The next speaker, Paddy O’Reilly from Cork, pointed out that with smoking likely to be banned in public places, it was going to get more complicated.

Kildare’s John Brennan told delegates that the important thing here is to make the rules simpler. There seemed to be a total lack of knowledge on the part of inspectors and legislators as to what constitutes a smoking area, he said, so publicans want something simpler that everyone could understand.

The motion was carried.

Call for cold discounts cuts no ice with brewers
Breweries have “steadfastly refused” to countenance discounts for the costs of running ice-cold beer countermounts despite the VFI having been in continuous discussions on the matter, it emerged at the conference.

VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribben said that all that  was available for those renewing their pumps was better,  more energy-efficient pumps.

Other matters raised under AOB were the cost of subscriptions for those members with a second pub, a proposal to set up computer training for publicans and a call for multiple-style discounts from suppliers to the on-trade as a whole as well as a reduction in supplier costs and an improvement in the frequency of visits by suppliers’ sales representatives.



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