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one-star reviews

Restaurants dealing with 'malicious, coordinated' campaign of abuse from anti-vaccine cert protesters

A Facebook page is coordinating an online campaign against businesses that reopened indoor dining this week.

THE GOVERNMENT HAS been told that pubs and restaurants have been the subject of coordinated online abuse and fake reviews this week by those opposing the use of Covid-19 vaccine certs to attend indoor dining.

The Restaurant Association of Ireland has written a letter to the Government about the issue, as well as to Facebook and Google. It is to contact the Garda Commissioner over ‘fraudulent’ posts that it said is causing its members’ businesses to suffer.

A Facebook page with hundreds of members which opposes the use of vaccine certificates has seen users post the names of businesses that have reopened indoor dining and resulted in hundreds of comments being left on businesses’ Facebook posts announcing their reopening.

Many of the negative comments on these businesses’ pages are from Facebook accounts which give their location as being far away from the pub or restaurant. 

When asked about the page, Facebook said it does not violate its rules.

One-star reviews are also being left on Google reviews for businesses that have reopened indoor dining. Many accounts posting one-star reviews that cite “discrimination” or a “two-tier” system have left similar reviews on multiple businesses across the country.

This comes after hospitality owners said last week that they had experienced false bookings, and staff had experienced abuse over the phone and on social media by people opposed to the Digital Covid Certificate.

CEO of the Restaurant Association of Ireland Adrian Cummins has written a letter to the Minister for Tourism Catherine Martin to state that its members have reported fake bookings and reviews on various platforms this week. The letter says:

As per our members, those leaving reviews are directly impacting upon the competitiveness of these businesses and their ability to trade.

“Fake bookings and reviews are a malicious, concerted and coordinated campaign of fraudulent misrepresentation towards small businesses who are simply adhering to the law of the land.”

‘Medical apartheid’ 

On the Facebook page of around 600 members, people opposed to the use of Covid certificates to reopen indoor dining have been posting the names of businesses that are reopening to criticise them, and praising the businesses which have chosen not to reopen.

Members of the group encourage others to leave comments on the Facebook posts of businesses that reopen indoor dining and request vaccine certificates.

Businesses have been called “sellouts” and accused of “medical apartheid”. Members of the group have encouraged others to boycott the business.

One comment read: “If you keep doing everything the government tells you, you will go bust. Show your loyalty to the people, not the government and stand up for yourself.”

Another said: “Shocking the lack of courage amongst the hospitality sector. Agreeing to this apartheid system for any reason is surely a measure of hypocrisy, never mind the fact that they are ALL enabling the new racism.”

Unfounded and conspiratorial claims against President Michael D Higgins have also been posted in the group, after he signed the indoor dining legislation that made it law.

One post shared a screenshot from a Sligo bar and restaurant that announced the reopening of its indoor dining facilities.

The post on the restaurant’s page now has over 600 comments underneath it, with many of the negative comments from profiles that state the user is from areas far away from Sligo – including Tralee in Co Kerry, Leixlip in Co Kildare, and Cork. The vast majority of the positive comments are from profiles that state the user is from Co Sligo.

A profile that states the user is from Leixlip wrote: ”Wow. Supporting medical apartheid and discrimination. Certainly have lost my business forever. Won’t be setting my foot here ever again.”

In response to the volume of comments, the Sligo bar had to ask users to “be nice to each other and staff members of all businesses that will be opening” indoor dining.

A pub-restaurant based in Dublin had a similar experience after its details were posted on the Facebook page, with over 300 comments on its reopening post, while a pub in Cork had over 120 comments on its reopening post.

Negative Google reviews

Several profiles have left numerous negative reviews of restaurants that have reopened indoor dining across the country on Google’s review system. One user left 21 reviews on restaurants and pubs across the country that mention “discrimination” or a “two-tier” society.

One review by this person on a Cork bar said: “A pint of discrimination please”.

Pint of discrimination Google Review Google Review

These reviews claim that they are supporting a “two-tier system”, and “supports the discrimination of healthy people”.

Another negative review read: “A nasty unfriendly place to visit, very happy to facilitate a two tier society, and discriminate against people, food well below par.”

Another said: “Likes to discriminate against people who choose not to take a experimental injection. Shame on you.”

Some of the same profiles that left comments criticising the acceptance of Covid certificates have also criticised the food and service of these businesses.

In response to questions from The Journal, a Facebook spokesperson said: “The Facebook Page does not break our policies. The posts are people discussing businesses that are choosing to open or remain closed for indoor dining.”

The decision to reopen indoor dining

On 12 July, the government approved the reopening of indoor dining to those who are fully vaccinated, based on the National Public Health Emergency Team’s advice issued in response to the surge of the Delta variant of Covid-19.

Since Monday, the new law has been in force, allowing some pubs to open for the first time since the pandemic began. Those who are not vaccinated can still dine outdoors.

Opposition TDs and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties have raised concerns about creating a “two-tier” system by requiring a Covid cert for indoor dining, and raised the possibility that it could be extended for other activities.

The Government have argued that they can either open indoor dining now for the fully vaccinated, or keep those businesses closed until more people are vaccinated and the current fourth wave – fuelled by the Delta variant – abates.

“It is imperfect, but I believe it is better than any alternative available to us,” Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Dáil. Labour leader Alan Kelly responded to say that he would be surprised if Varadkar himself wasn’t “uncomfortable” with the legislation.

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