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No live music and limited toilet access: publicans groups' radical plans to allow bars to re-open early

Health minister Simon Harris said that the government is open to talking to publicans.

Image: Shutterstock/gresei

Updated May 4th 2020, 3:23 PM

PUBLICANS’ GROUPS HAVE proposed a series of radical new measures which they say will allow bars across the country to re-open while maintaining public health compliance.

The Licensed Vintners’ Association (LVA) and the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) say the plans will allow pubs to reopen at the same time and on the same basis as cafes and restaurants as part of the government’s proposal for lifting Covid-19 restrictions.

The two groups are expected to meet with the government this week to discuss the implications of the roadmap, which was announced last Friday after an address to the nation by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Under the plan laid out in the roadmap, pubs will not be able to open until phase five, currently scheduled to begin on 10 August.

However, restaurants and cafes will be allowed to reopen on a limited basis from phase three, which is currently expected to begin on 29 June.

In the wake of the announcement, the LVA and the VFI took issue with restaurants and cafes getting the green light to open up before pubs, expressing concerns that pub owners were being treated like “second-class citizens”.

Both groups said that implementing the social distancing guidelines will be just as challenging for all hospitality businesses and that all should be given the same opportunity to trade.

But ahead of their meeting with government officials this week, the two groups have put forward a number of proposed changes to the normal operations of bars in order to protect public health.

‘Dispense’ areas and toilet limits

Under the proposals, bar areas in pubs will become ‘dispense’ areas only, with no sitting, standing, ordering, payment or drinking at the bar allowed.

No more than four people would be allowed for every 10 square metres in a premises, with table service a requirement in all pubs, which would only serve a maximum of six customers seated at tables.

Live music and DJs would not be allowed and there would be possible limits on the number of people using toilets at any one time.

Meanwhile, customers would be required to use hand sanitiser upon entering a pub, and staff would be required to wash their hands every 30 minutes and to maintain a safe distance from customers.

And gardaí and the HSE would have the power to close any business caught flouting public health guidelines.

The LVA and the VFI would look to have temporary measures reviewed by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) on an ongoing basis, with a view to resuming normal trading when it is safe to do so. 

Donall O’Keeffe of the LVA said the groups fully respected the need to continue to protect the public health, and had repeatedly proven their commitment to doing so.

“We believe that if other venues who serve food and alcohol are allowed to reopen in phase three, then pubs should be granted the same opportunity to trade,” he said.

“We don’t believe it is in any way appropriate that the government should apply one rule for some hospitality businesses and another rule for others.”

His comments were echoed by Padraig Cribben of the VFI, who said the current roadmap plan was not tenable and would lead to confusion in the hospitality sector if it was not addressed.

“The public health restrictions will present real challenges to all hospitality venues, it doesn’t matter if they are a pub, a restaurant, a café or a hotel,” he said.

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“There is no denying that and there is no getting around it. Addressing those public health requirements will be necessary for all hospitality businesses whenever they reopen.” 

Reaction

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, health minister Simon Harris said that he hadn’t yet had time to read the full proposals. 

However, he said that the government was “open to talking” to pubs about any early re-opening. 

“I’m aware that there’s different types of pubs and bars, and there’s some that are traditionally packed and very busy, that I as a lay person, let alone as the Minister of Health, can’t see how you would safely physically distance,” Harris said.

“I’m equally aware that there’s other larger pubs where it’s generally table service and maybe the bulk of their trade is food and in many ways, they’d argue they’re quite like restaurants, so we’re very, very open to have these conversations.”

“But one way or the other, whether it’s pubs or restaurants, you know these are decisions for a number of weeks time, not today, because we’d have to see where the virus is at,” Harris added. 

Praising the response of pub owners so far, Harris said: “Our plan is not about, you know, this business can open and this business can’t open. What it is is an attempt to map out what might be safe to open at a particular point in time.”

With reporting from Christina Finn

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