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Hospitality industry collectively call for 'stronger sanctions' against businesses that flout rules

Those in the hospitality sector have said they should not be used as a “scapegoat” for the rising case numbers.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

Updated Nov 9th 2021, 3:50 PM

FOLLOWING A MEETING with government officials today the Restaurants Association of Ireland has said representatives from the hospitality industry have collectively called for “stronger sanctions including penalties, fines and closures for hospitality businesses flouting the regulations”.

The Restaurants Association of Ireland described the meeting as “full and frank”, confirming that the Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn was also in attendance.

In a statement, the group said:

“Government officials engaged with Hospitality representatives in a proactive and informative manner in terms of presentation of public health communication plans, Covid health data and hospital capacity as we head into the winter period.”

The Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI), which also had representatives at the meeting, today said the vast majority of pubs are complying with regulations.

However chief executive Padraig Cribben said any venue found to be in breach of the guidelines “needs to understand there will be sanctions”. 

He also stated the enforcement powers of both the HSE and HSA need be used more widely as “only a credible threat of enforcement will bring those flouting the law into line”.

“Publicans, the authorities and the wider public all need to work together to ensure we can return to normal life without restrictions as soon as possible. For the present, we all need to focus on compliance and awareness, all venues should continue checking for proof of immunity along with the other required measures while the public need to play their part through wearing masks and following the rules currently in place,” Cribben said.

A government statement after the meeting said that the hospitality representatives had reiterated a commitment to “ensure greater compliance with regulations and guidance”.

Under the existing guidance, the EU Digital Covid Certificate or the HSE Vaccination Card an be used as evidence of vaccination or proof of immunity when going into a pub, restaurant, café or food court to access indoor hospitality.  

The rules set out that this may not be necessary where a person is well-known to the business. 

Relevant Covid-19 data as well as recent compliance surveys will be shared with stakeholders today, with a discussion to take place on the relative risks associated with this sector.

The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) revealed last week that the percentage of people not having Covid certificates checked in pubs was 37% in October, while 34% were not asked in restaurants. 

However, inspections carried out by HSE and HSA health and safety inspectors found that 75% of premises were compliant over the October bank holiday weekend. 

Cabinet was today updated on the Covid situation and the hospitality compliance rates. 

Ministers were told that there continues to be a general high level of compliance to date in businesses and organisations inspected.

The most recent Social Activity Measure survey shows more people reported not getting their Covid certs checked when dining indoors.

The HSA have taken 645 compliance checks since from 26 July 26 until Oct 29, with
96% of indoor venues found to be in compliance, with 14% of them requiring additional measures. 4% were in non-compliance.

The HSE took 11,948 compliance checks up to October 29. 70% were in compliance, 3% were non-compliant and 27% needed further compliance measures.

Speaking on his way into Cabinet today, Minister Michael McGrath said that businesses in the hospitality sector that do not enforce rules on Covid-19 vaccination passes “do not deserve to remain open”.

“Any outlets that are not complying with rules are putting everyone at risk. And I think the public will increasingly vote with their feet and will leave the premises if they’re not satisfied with the level of compliance,” he said. 

We do expect the minority of operators that aren’t complying to fully comply with the rules. It’s in all of our interests that they do. And if they don’t, then there are penalties. The government will act and the authorities will act and certainly any premises that does not comply with the rules does not deserve to remain open.

Asked about compliance today, Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy TD told reporters that a phone line for members of the public to report non-compliant premises would be helpful to direct HSA inspectors. 

“You would be hoping for self-compliance in this but we’ve always had a concern that there is inadequate enforcement or oversight of this,” she said.

A helpline is one of the things that was looked for, where people can ring and say ‘look I wasn’t checked’, that way you’re actually going up to the places that are non-compliant, rather than going into the places that are fully compliant. And there’s a lot of places that are fully compliant.

Richard Boyd-Barrett TD of People Before Profit said that he would also be in favour of such a reporting line: “Where people who don’t feel safe, they should have an avenue to report it. And indeed workers should have an avenue to report it.”

In a statement following the meeting today the government said sectoral representatives had reiterated their commitment to supporting the public health measures.

“Constructive engagement took place on the range of issues and how these sectors and government can work collectively to improve awareness of the risks and how to manage them, to support the public to follow public health advice and ensure greater compliance with regulations and guidance,” the statement said.

‘Scapegoat’

Speaking ahead of the meeting today, Chief Executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) Adrian Cummins said that the hospitality sector should not be used as a “scapegoat” for the rising case numbers. 

He said those in the sector will want to hear more details from officials about where exactly non-compliance is taking place. 

Cummins said he believes the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) should also attend today’s meeting, stating that health experts have not been present at any of the meetings with the industry throughout the pandemic.

“We’ve asked for them to be in the room so we could speak directly to them. Now, we did have officials from the Department of Health when the Covid pass was developed but ever since we have never had a direct conversation with either health officials or NPHET,” he said on RTÉ Radio One over the weekend.

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The Taoiseach confirmed yesterday that he will not be attending the meeting, but his officials will be. He said this meeting is part of the “regular engagement” the government has with the industry with some government sources stating that today’s meeting has been “hammed up” somewhat.

Micheál Martin said the “bottom line” is there needs to be maximum compliance with the existing guidance in place. 

He said he expected there to be “constructive engagement” with the industry today. 

Over the weekend, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said he favoured the introduction of urgent and rapid sanctions for outlets that are not checking patrons for vaccine certification.

Donnelly said that while the Cabinet had not decided how to respond to the increase in non-compliance, he favoured more robust sanctions for offending outlets.

“We need to get very serious with industry on that,” he said.

Groups invited to the meeting include Give us the Night, the Irish Hotels Federation, the Licensed Vintners Association, the Live Venue Collective, the Restaurants Association of Ireland and the Vintners Federation of Ireland. 

A number of Opposition TDs recently told the Dáil that democracy is under threat due to the extension of Covid-19 emergency powers – including the use of the Covid pass – until February 2022.

- With reporting by Rónán Duffy and Press Association

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