“Another devastating day for pub trade” is how the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) described the latest announcement around Covid-19 restrictions.
While pre-Covid opening times are to return, Micheál Martin announced that table service in hospitality settings would remain.
The number of adults per table is to increase to 10, up from six, but Covid passes will still be needed to gain access to indoor hospitality.
The Taoiseach said it is expected that these measures will continue until February, which is what was advised by Nphet.
The VFI said that maintaining restrictions will result in further pub closures as mandatory table service significantly reduces capacity in venues.
On Sunday, a joint analysis by the VFI and Licenced Vintners’ Association (LVA) found that nearly 350 pubs nationwide had closed since the beginning of the pandemic.
“Over 92% of people are vaccinated so we could easily have removed mandatory table service by limiting entry to customers with vaccine passes. Instead, Government has guaranteed the closure of more pubs over the coming months,” said VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribben.
“The return of normal trading hours is simply a fig leaf for the fact bar counters remain off-limits. This restriction alone will mean pubs can’t operate at full capacity and will make continued trading impossible for many of our members.
“We also have to contend with the glaring anomaly of nightclubs reopening where, according to the Taoiseach, people will be permitted to dance while customers in pubs won’t be allowed sit at the bar counter.”
Asked earlier today about the measures nightclubs will have to adopt to open, Micheál Martin said: "What traditionally happens in a nightclub will happen in a nightclub."
He said the industry, which has been closed for almost 19 months, will receive specific guidance.
Mr Cribben added: “We thought this crisis was coming to an end on Friday but now face the prospect of severely curtailed trading through the busiest period of the year. Government cannot allow the sector to limp on in this fashion and must come back with a concrete plan for the pub trade”.
The LVA, meanwhile, has said that “confusion now reigns” over the nighttime hospitality industry.
It said the latest announcement from the Government has caused more questions than answers.
Donall O’Keeffe, head of the LVA, said they are “astonished” by the latest announcement.
“They have effectively thrown out their previous plan, that normal activity would resume once the majority of the public was vaccinated. Instead we now have a ‘wait and see while hoping for the best approach’. This is not a plan and this is not what the social contract was built upon.”
Mr O’Keeffe added that “permitting certain activities while preventing others also makes little sense to those who work in the hospitality sector”.
The LVA has published a range of questions which they will be seeking urgent responses from Government.
- How does public health advice permit people to closely dance together but not allow the use of the bar counter?
- With some night time venues due to open in less than 60 hours, when will the Government be publishing the guidelines for that sector?
- When will updated guidelines be available for the rest of hospitality?
- How does the Government plan on distinguishing between traditional bars, late bars and nightclubs?
- Is the Government aware that for many nightclubs it will not be feasible to open without access to the bar counter?
- If, as the Government said, these problems started arising 2 – 3 weeks ago, why did they wait until 3 days before 22 October to make their latest announcement? For example could this not have been done last week? Is it fair to leave such major announcements to the last minute?
Elsewhere, Ibec said that guidance from the Government for a continued return to the office on a phased basis “is to be welcomed”.
CEO Danny McCoy said that the decision “reflects the risk reduction that the vaccine programme is delivering”.
“It is encouraging to note that today’s updated health measures allow for the further reopening of many businesses, including some for the first time in 21 months.”
Mr McCoy did state that many sectors will still face difficulties in the coming months.
“While the health consequences are an important dimension, so too are the livelihoods of the staff of these businesses, and such businesses must continue to be provided with the necessary financial supports to ensure that they remain viable.”