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Monday 2 October 2023 Dublin: 11°C
Sam Boal/ Five friends from Kildare at the Button Factory test event last week.
Nightclubs seeking guarantee they'll be at 100% capacity for the big reopening
The department says there are “positive” signs due to vaccination rates but a final decision still needs to be taken.

NIGHTCLUB PROMOTERS ARE calling for the government to confirm that the 22 October reopening is set to go ahead without capacity restrictions. 

The October bank holiday weekend is set to see nightclubs reopen for the first time in 19 months following almost 590 nights of closure due the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Last week, a pilot nightclub event supported by the Department of Tourism and Culture was held in the Button Factory in Dublin with a 60% capacity crowd. 

Antigen testing was also required of all those in attendance at the venue with the department stating that contact details of those in attendance was also taken. 

On 22 October all remaining Covid-19 restrictions are scheduled to be lifted, including requirements for social distancing, indoor mask-wearing and limits on numbers at events. It is also planned that entry requirements such as vaccination certs or testing will be removed.  

Just over two weeks out from that date, promoters are reporting a huge demand for the events they organise for nightclubs, with many events already sold out. 

Buzz O’Neill-Maxwell, who promotes four club nights across Dublin, says all his events for the bank holiday weekend are sold out but that there’s “huge panic” amongst promoters that there’ll be restricted numbers, with the government not yet confirming it will be full capacity. 

“While whatever guidance might be there from Fáilte Ireland for the venues, for actual promoters and the people that are organising the nights there’s nothing, it’s a joke at this stage,” he tells The Journal

What we want absolutely is a guarantee that on 22 October we’ll be opening with 100% capacity.

He adds that, if it were to be the case that capacity wasn’t full,  tickets to be refunded and resold based on smaller numbers. 

Previously, the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and government have either signed off on reopening plans or put the brakes on a week in advance of a planned date. 

In a statement to The Journal, the department said that the vaccination target set as a requirement for the final stage of reopening has been met but that a final decision must be taken under public health advice. 

“The plan states that, based on the criteria of at or close to 90% of people 16 and over being fully vaccinated and having regard to the incidence and behavior of the disease at that time, the government will remove further statutory restrictions in respect of events and activities from 22 October,” the department said.

The target vaccination rate has already been met which is positive in terms of lifting restrictions on schedule.  Government will meet in advance of 22 October and will consider the available public health advice as part of its decision-making process.

O’Neill-Maxwell says it is a case of the sooner-the-better for promoters and that a week’s notice would be “of absolutely no use” if there are to be limits on capacity. 

He added that any learnings from last week’s 60% capacity test event should be shared with the industry. 

The test event was hosted by promoters Hidden Agenda and District 8 in consultation with nightlife campaign group Give us the Night. 

“They put that pilot event in place four to six weeks ago. And to be honest they’ve been talking to those promoters that were running it for months,” O’Neill-Maxwell says.

The government couldn’t be seen to be running a test pilot event at full capacity, and I understand that, I get that. But what’s come out of that now? What’s the great finding and do they care to share that with us?
The department described last week’s pilot event as “an important step” but that it “must continue monitor the ongoing risk from Covid-19 and manage the risk both individually and collectively”.
It added: “The department will be working with the event management team and health and safety consultants from the night-club pilot in the coming days to review all aspects of the pilot to see what learnings can be taken from the event and shared with the sector.”

For its part the Licensed Vintners Association (LVA), which represents publicans, says it expects all restrictions to be lifted on 22 October and that its members should operate on that basis. 

“They’re eager to go so I would expect that the vast majority will open on 22 October. We’re not looking for any guidelines, we’re not calling for them because we are hoping and expecting that it would be a full unrestricted opening. That it would be normal, pre-Covid late bar and nightclub trade,” LVA chief executive Donall O’Keeffe told The Journal

Overall, O’Keeffe says publicans are “very optimistic” about the reopening of the sector because they’ve seen the strong demand in places like London and Belfast when nightlife returned in those cities. 

Despite this, the LVA is seeking a six-month waiver on special exemption orders, which cost nightclubs €410 per night and permit the sale and consumption of alcohol beyond normal trading hours. 

O’Keeffe says the waiver would give nightclubs the “best chance of a successful reopening” as they are already struggling with the extended closure and issues with getting staff. 

“Outside of the financial impact of closure, the biggest issue now is getting enough decent skilled staff to reopen a business that’s been closed for so long. This is the entire hospitality sector, not just pubs, hotels and restaurants,” he says. 

The late bar and nightclub guys have the distinct disadvantage of being the last to open, so lots of their staff have migrated on and gone on to working for other elements of the industry.

“They have a little bit of notice, as in we’ve had this day 22 October for a long time, so hopefully they’re in the process of training teams now and getting ready, but staffing is the single biggest issue facing the industry.”

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