Who’s on for drinks?

This country depends on a viable business environment for SMEs, the backbone of employment in Ireland, but no such viable business structure seems to exist for that major tourist magnet, the pub – this was one of the discussion topics at this year’s VFI Conference.

Not only is there no support for those on the ground when it comes to our burgeoning tourist industry, but the drinks industry as a whole is being made feel like it’s the Evil Empire by the anti-alcohol lobby who clearly regard it as the root of all alcohol abuse.

This attitude to an industry that brings in €1.19 billion in export earnings has been infectious.

Because what’s really interesting – and it was another of the topics at this year’s VFI AGM – is that Irish pub representatives feel they’ve no standing with government or semi-state bodies and find themselves having to specially request that they be given greater input to tourism policy and planning. This should be a given.

Why should this be the case? Why is it only this year, for example, that Irish alcohol beverages were once again part the St Patrick’s Day Hamper that went to the White House after being proscribed from this presentation pack celebration of Ireland for so many years? What seems to have distanced pub and product from our international tourism drive, government and semi-state consciousness, is that abovementioned sense of shame by those not involved in the industry but who feel guilty by association with it.

Having looked carefully, one can see nothing to be ashamed of in what drinks producers, suppliers and retailers do for a living. They do it well and our pubs are the envy of the world, so we shouldn’t, as an industry, allow ourselves be cowed by anyone.

Let’s approach our new Minister for Tourism and gently insist that he takes the Irish pub a lot more seriously than has been the case in the past – the Scots are seeking their own Minister for Pubs – in the interests of both the future of the industry itself and the wider economy.

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