“Work on top of work on top of work”

The government’s seeming perplexity recently at the trade’s negative reaction to Statutory Instrument 326 and pubs that serve food still sits somewhat uneasily as we look to the future.

You’re hardly likely to forget it. SI 326 required the publican to make a record of each meal ordered by each member of a party eating in the pub until all pubs (except those ‘wet’ pubs in Dublin) were reopened (briefly) on the 21st of September.

Bearing the government’s past in mind, there’s every likelihood of a similar farce being hoist upon hospitality industry at any time as we move forward into what will inevitably be ‘living with Covid’.

The Taoiseach, in referring to the introduction of this legislation at the time, stated that there was no requirement for pubs and restaurants to keep records of what individual diners bought.

“It got misinterpreted and misrepresented completely,” he claimed while acknowledging that the communication of SI 326 could have been better conducted. Nevertheless, he insisted that there had been an over-reaction to the introduction of the Instrument.

But the SI was quite clear that the requirement on a food-serving operation was that a record had to be made of the substantial meal or meals ordered “by each member of a party of persons and each sole person” allowed to enter the premises. That was fairly specific.

When it’s less than specific, chaos can ensue.

Who can forget the bedlam caused by trying to define what constitutes a smoking shelter?

This was left open to interpretation by every individual EHO with the result that hard-pressed publicans lost fortunes in attempting to comply with the law as understood by one EHO only to be told by his or her replacement that this was not satisfactory and to start over again. EHO interpretation also varied from county to county.

And while the last temporary SI was undoubtedly another heavy level of bureaucracy on the trade, “filing work on top of work on top of work for businesses” as Junior Minister Anne Rabbitte put it at the time, publicans are entitled to expect nothing less than clarity in being asked to comply with such onerous regulations.

The insouciance of the government’s approach to legislating the licensed trade contrasts strongly with the trade’s own fine-tuned take on the detail of this SI, just as it did when the smoking legislation was introduced with its loosely defined criterion for a smoking shelter.

And who introduced that?

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