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Nightclubs and entertainers gear up for reopening despite earlier uncertainty on guidelines

The guidelines were only published this evening, leading to some initial uncertainty.

Image: Shutterstock/Pressmaster

Updated Oct 22nd 2021, 3:38 PM

NIGHTCLUB OWNERS AND those working in the industry are preparing to reopen tonight for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

Following meetings with industry representatives yesterday, the government confirmed nightclubs could operate at 100% capacity and that a standing capacity of 1,500 would be permitted for live music events. The full guidelines were released just after 6pm this evening.

Ordering drinks at a bar will now also be allowed, but people will have to return to their seats with their drink. 

For musicians and entertainers, the anomalies between the guidelines for nightclubs and those for other venues such as bars or hotel function rooms, have created confusion about the type of work they can do.

Dancing is allowed in venues that have a stage and dancefloor as well as the necessary licences; a 7-day or theatre licence, a dance licence and special exemption order to open late. However if bands or DJs are hired for private events such as corporate parties or family celebrations – other than a wedding – people will have to remain seated.

Pubs can now hire live entertainment, but unless they have the necessary licences and designated space, patrons will have to remain seated for the performance.

This has already resulted in cancellations for those working in the industry.

Garvan Rigby, director of Star DJs said companies organising Christmas parties in particular have cancelled the planned entertainment.

“They’ll have to be seated at a table – why would they have a DJ if they can’t dance?” he said.

“We get the knock-on effect of this because we get cancelled by the venues. We’re 90% down on bookings compared to where we were before Covid.

If the government wants to know why there are still 100,000 people on the PUP [Pandemic Unemployment Payment], this is why. People are uncertain about coming off it – why would they when they’re being hired for something and then told its’s cancelled, it’s too uncertain.

This time of year is usually the busiest for this industry, he said, and it was a blow to those working in it to hear that a full lifting of restrictions is not likely before next spring.

“If we don’t get properly up and running in the next few days it’s too late. I can’t believe we’re still here,” he said.

‘Blamed for rising numbers’

Jackie Conboy of the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland (MEAI) said that while representatives received a lengthy document last night, by lunchtime today these guidelines still had not been published. 

He said this caused concern that further changes could be made last minute today.

“This is the biggest weekend of the year and we’re just being thrown into things now,” he said. 

He said that while some clarity had been provided yesterday, “anomalies are still there”.

“We worked out a certain amount through consultation but this all could have been sorted a week ago,” he said. “And unfortunately some venues had to cancel before the guidelines because they were afraid it would go in a different direction – some cancelled right after the announcement by the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister Ryan.”

Conboy described the announcement on Tuesday by government as “a shambles” and said those working in the industry were offended by the manner in which politicians spoke about the guidelines. 

“I don’t think people realise what this industry has gone through,” he said. “When you see the Taoiseach saying with a bit of a smile ‘what goes on in nightclubs’ – these are professionally run venues with so many people relying on them for their living. There seems to be an awful lack of respect for what we do.”

He said he is also worried that if case numbers continue to rise, as they have already been over the last fortnight, this industry will bear the brunt of the blame.

“The numbers are already going up so we don’t want the music industry to be suddenly blamed for it. Something I’ve been hearing from people is that they don’t want this to be a case of opening up and then closing down again.”

Sunil Sharpe, DJ and spokesperson for the Give Us The Night campaign, said those working in the industry are heading back into a high-pressure environment, reopening on a bank holiday weekend while Covid case numbers are rising. 

“It’s important that venues are given a fair shot at this and allowed to settle into operating in this new environment. We want to reopen and stay open,” he said.

Trying to manage things 100% according to some proposed guidelines will be very challenging. This is a lot of operators’ first shot at things like contact tracing and socially-distanced queuing, for instance, they really do have their hands full, especially with staffing as difficult as it is at present.

He also questioned why the government did not put plans in place earlier to introduce wider scale use of antigen testing as an added safety measure. 

“It seems like the government is now getting ready to support the use of antigen testing for events, but we need to see quick action on that,” he said.

If we can’t get a good system in place this weekend, let’s get it moving next week or the week after that. We would like to see more venues and promoters to test its use if they can, but ultimately we would like it to become a standalone form of entry to venues, and for the government to start a programme like the NHS did where lateral flow tests are available for free.

‘We’re excited’

Despite the stress and confusion caused by the last minute government announcement and industry talks that came down to the wire, those working in the industry are looking forward to welcoming customers back through their doors again.

Owner of Tramline nightclub in Dublin, Ian Redmond, told The Journal that he and his staff are “really excited” about getting back open.

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Source: Ian Redmond

“It’s been a whirlwind past six weeks getting everything ready, the stock arrived, the staff are ready and it’s going to be brilliant.”

The venue will open at 7pm for seated live entertainment before its first nightclub night begins at 10pm. Some 900 tickets have been sold for the event.

Redmond said the announcement that Covid certs would still be required for indoor events and activities this week has not changed much for him as the terms and conditions of the tickets stated the event would be run under government guidelines.

“We’re confident we can do this safely. We’ll be encouraging people not to do a big rush at the bar, we’ll have plenty of bar staff on. We’ll also be doing thermometer checks so everyone in the venue will be doubly checked.

“And we’re just asking people if they have a temperature or are feeling unwell to stay home, if you want a refund we’re more than happy to do it.”

Speaking in Brussels this morning, Taoiseach Micheál Martin defended the government’s handling of the reopening of nightclubs over the past week. 

“I have had feedback that quite a lot of nightclubs are very happy with the fact that they’re reopening. The night-time economy and live entertainment have suffered more than most throughout the pandemic. People who work in that sector, artists, performers, have had a very, very, very tough time,” he said. 

What we’re doing now is doing everything we possibly can to facilitate the return of live entertainment, nightclubs and the night economy, in a cautious way because Covid is still a factor here.

“It’s not government, it’s not the sector, it’s a global pandemic, which means the responses are not the responses that we would normally be doing in a normal situation.”

‘Stay safe’

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar has told people to enjoy themselves this weekend as night clubs reopened, but urged them to remain cautious.

Varadkar said while he has no plans to attend one himself this weekend, he urged those that do to enjoy themselves, and remain safe. He said: “I know a lot of people have been working very hard for the last couple of weeks and are going to enjoy the time off over the bank holiday weekend.

“I’d say to people, whatever you’re doing, absolutely enjoy yourself, but do stay safe.

“The most important thing really is that if you are having symptoms, that you don’t go out and about, that you stay at home, you get a test and even if the test is negative, if you have symptoms, don’t be out and about. If you don’t have symptoms, consider an antigen test.

“And please be sure to wear a mask if you’re in a crowded scenario or if you’re in any of those indoor places where we advise it.”

- With reporting by Rónán Duffy and PA

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