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Calls for 'urgent' one-off grants to help restaurants and bars develop outdoor summer seating

The Tánaiste has said he will ask Fáilte Ireland why 18 counties have been excluded from one hospitality scheme.

The Tánaiste told TheJournal.ie this week that local authorities should support businesses, stating outdoor dining is more safe than indoor.
The Tánaiste told TheJournal.ie this week that local authorities should support businesses, stating outdoor dining is more safe than indoor.
Image: Sasko Lazarov

AN OUTDOOR DINING Scheme and how it might support businesses during the summer months is still being worked out by Fáilte Ireland, according to the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.

While it’s hoped lockdown measures will be further eased as the vaccination programme is ramped up from the second quarter of the year, the chair of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) epidemiological modelling advisory group, Philip Nolan has said it’s clear “we’re looking at an outdoor summer” in 2021.

A number of TDs and business groups have called for more detail about what supports hospitality will get as they plan to reopen in the weeks ahead. 

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Tourism Imelda Munster has called on Minister Catherine Martin to provide outdoor dining grants for the tourism and hospitality sector, saying businesses must be supported in their preparations for what is expected to be a very different and difficult summer season.

“We need additional funding for outdoor dining adaptation grant aid, to allow businesses to make improvements and changes that suit their own individual premises and business.

“There was disappointment and confusion last week when it emerged that such a grant would not be forthcoming, and that a previously announced outdoor dining grant is expected to be managed by local authorities covering only eight cities and towns.

“This scheme excludes the entire border and north west, along with thousands of businesses across the state,” she said.

Earlier this week, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told TheJournal.ie that local authorities should “do what they can” for local restaurants and cafes by supporting outdoor seating where possible in towns and cities this summer.

If conditions are met and the government is in a position to ease restrictions, “I would definitely be encouraging all local authorities to do what they can for their local businesses”, he said, adding:

“We know outdoor retail and outdoor seating is safer to indoor, however I understand too that councils need to take into account the need for space for pedestrians, wheelchair users and buggies when making these decisions. So I would hope that a balance can be struck on what works best for each local area.”

Outdoor shelter

Munster said a fund managed by Fáilte Ireland that allows businesses to access grant aid for outdoor furnishings, shelter, weatherproofing measures and other infrastructure that will allow a business to accommodate outdoor dining.

In a statement to this website, the Tourism Department said:

All tourism funding schemes are designed and operated by Fáilte Ireland, as the National Tourism Development Authority.
We understand that Fáilte Ireland is currently considering how best it could support outdoor dining experiences, including scoping out a proposed Outdoor Dining Scheme which has not yet been finalised or launched. No final decisions have been made as to the parameters of the proposed scheme.

Fine Gael Senator Regina Doherty said with the reopening of hospitality a number of months away, she believes now is the time to introduce a one-off grant specifically targeted to restaurants and bars to help develop and expand outdoor seating areas.

“We are all working towards the easing of restrictions, but now is also time to prepare businesses through supports like these for what will hopefully be the end of our last lockdown when they can eventually reopen.

“Helping restaurants, cafés and bars to open or expand outdoor dining areas will not only keep people safer when restrictions are eased, it will also allow these small, often family run businesses to cater for a few extra tables at a time when it will be badly needed.

“I know outdoor dining is not normally an ideal option in Ireland, but I think that when people are finally allowed return to their local pub or restaurant, being indoors or outdoors won’t stop them,” she said.

In relation to hospitality businesses based in large towns and cities, Doherty called for an easing of County Council rules and criteria for applications for on-street furniture.

Local authorities 

Earlier this week, TheJournal.ie reported on the measures some local authorities are planning to take in the months ahead in terms of giving more public space over to businesses, however it was also highlighted that some councils are taking a more ridged approach.

“As a temporary measure this summer, I think waiving licensing fees for on-street furniture, as well as doing away with the need for a notice in the paper would be a hugely beneficial way to bring life back to our large towns and cities. Accessibility for street users should absolutely be maintained but I think there is a healthy balance to be found,” Doherty said.

Fáilte Ireland announced last month that it is launching two new funding schemes in collaboration with local authority partners to improve the quality of outdoor dining spaces in “key tourism destinations”. However, there have been calls for the scheme to be expanded to other areas too.

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Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd asked the tourism minister about the exclusion of 18 counties from the outdoor dining grant. 

The minister said that contrary to some reports, she has been informed by Failte Ireland that the proposed Outdoor Dining Scheme is still in development and has not been finalised. 

Fianna Fáil’s Jennifer Murnane O’Connor asked the Tánaiste this week why only eight areas – Dublin, Killarney, Limerick, Waterford, Galway, Cork, Athlone and Kilkenny – were included in the scheme and other counties sidelined.

“It is unfair to single out eight locations and leave out the rest,” she said.

Leo Varadkar said it was a “reasonable point” to make, stating: “I will take that up with Fáilte Ireland.”

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