VINTNERS CONFERENCE: Publicans mourn ‘lost generation’

Noreen O'Sullivan, VFI president, with Padraig Cribben, CEO, at the annual conference in Killarney.

In publican speak, they’re the ‘lost generation’ — younger people who have forsaken the traditional pub for the nightclub or home-drinking, as well as the tens of thousands that have emigrated.

In publican speak, they’re the ‘lost generation’ — younger people who have forsaken the traditional pub for the nightclub or home-drinking, as well as the tens of thousands that have emigrated.

While the decline in trade has been arrested in larger urban centres, and may even be showing a slight increase, the demise continues in rural areas and country towns.

There are now villages without a friendly local —something the barstool philosophers would not have predicted 15 or 20 years ago. With changed drinking patterns among younger people, many pubs are depending on an ageing clientele who, in many cases, are growing old with the publican.

VINTNERS CONFERENCE: Publicans mourn ‘lost generation’

Chairman of VFI Kerry Ger Counihan: Some young people only going to pubs for special events.

Such customers need to be replaced if a premises wants to remain in business, the industry suggests. And it also seems publicans have stopped moaning about the smoking ban and drink driving laws.

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A Co Meath motion calling on the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) to look at grounds for a legal challenge to the smoking ban was withdrawn from the conference in Killarney, yesterday.

Now, the publicans’ focus is on below-cost selling of drink in supermarkets, high government taxes and “hidden” costs.

A drinker whinging about the price of the pint might, for instance, not appreciate that the man or woman behind the bar is paying upwards of €800 per month for Sky TV. Yet the same customer expects to be able to view their favourite sport in the pub.

VINTNERS CONFERENCE: Publicans mourn ‘lost generation’

Publicans who generally have to listen to other people’s stories, ventilated their grievances.

Michael Farrell of the Summerfield Bar in Youghal, Co Cork, called for legislation to deal with a “totally unfair” situation relating to below-costing selling of alcohol by supermarkets. He claimed the retail stores were making up the loss by transferring the cost to groceries.

“Supermarkets can claim back Vat on the back of selling below cost. They’re using drink as a loss leader and are pushing the price on to other products,” he said.

“They are effectively being subsidised when they get VAT back and the customer has to pay more for other goods.”

Mr Farrell, VFI chairman in Cork county, said the pub trade had the potential to create thousands of extra jobs if the Government introduced the necessary legislation on minimum pricing — six jobs for every one job in the off-trade.

Pubs in tourist areas were seeing a small pick-up in business but many others would continue to close in rural areas, he warned.

There is an estimated three-way split in the price of the pint — a third each to the brewery, the publican, and the Government.

However, Mr Farrell was quick to highlight expenses such as rates, water charges, Sky TV, and wages which the publican had to meet.

Ger Counihan of Bunker’s Bar in Killorglin, Co Kerry, said many younger people only now visited the pub for special events such as 21st birthday parties and a big challenge was to get such people back.

“There’s also a trend whereby younger people tend to go to the larger towns to socialise rather than staying local and this also impacts on trade,” he said.

Mr Counihan, chairman of Kerry VFI, said most pubs had improved their facilities, while providing food and more comfort for customers.

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Call to boost broadband access in rural areas

VINTNERS CONFERENCE: Publicans mourn ‘lost generation’

Publicans have called for improved services, including high-speed internet access, in rural areas.

VFI president Noreen O’Sullivan said such areas were underserviced by poor infrastructure, in particular broadband.

“It is vitally important we protect the business interests of rural Ireland,” she told 400 delegates, who passed a motion calling on Government to take immediate action to address a significant infrastructure deficit.

“There is a common mistake often made that when we talk about rural Ireland, we talk about areas that are far from villages and towns — what might be referred to as remote areas. This is a serious misconception.

“Outside of the major urban areas like Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, and so on and, perhaps one or maybe two towns in each other county, the rest of Ireland is basically rural.

“Villages and small towns rely on rural living and rural infrastructure for their livelihood and prosperity. We can safely assume that the vast majority of the country we live in is rural.”

Ms O’Sullivan, of Rocky O’Sullivan’s Bar in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, said pubs contributed significantly to the local economy, with figures showing 64% of VFI pubs support local suppliers while the pub also supports 7,000 local enterprises.

In addition, the average spend per pub on capital and refurbishment is €23,000 yearly, benefitting local tradesmen, carpenters, electricians and other trades.

Conference also heard, of the 92,000 jobs supported by the drinks industry, 52,000 people are employed by the on-trade while the average number of people employed in a pub is seven. This results in an estimated wage bill of €1.2bn.

Ms O’Sullivan said: “The economic benefit of the Irish pub is there for everyone to see. Accounting for over 50,000 jobs and contributing over €20 million in employment related taxes alone is ample evidence.”

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