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Publicans 'not optimistic' about September reopening as Tánaiste acknowledges their 'sacrifice for society'

Publicans also want the PUP and wage subsidy scheme levels to remain at current rates for closed pubs until they reopen.

Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Updated Aug 12th 2020, 3:57 PM

PUBLICANS HAVE CALLED on the government to provide a strong support package for pubs who are unable to open due to public health concerns.

The Vintners groups have said they are “not optimistic” that pubs will be allowed to reopen at the end of August in light of recent Covid-19 trends.

The Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) and the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI) said pubs are being treated differently to other sectors of the economy and they want to see funding provided to all pubs who are being asked to stay closed.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said he hopes such a support package could be agreed at Cabinet and acknowledged that publicans are being asked to make “a sacrifice” for society. 

Last week the government announced that pubs that are not serving food – essentially operating as restaurants – must remain closed until at least 31 August. The groups said this will mean 3,500 pubs employing 25,000 people across the country will have been unable to trade by government order for a minimum of 168 days (46% of a year).

They said there is growing scepticism across the industry that the government will allow them to open their doors at the end of the month.

Publicans are calling for a specific pub support package of direct financial aid, the maintenance of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and temporary wage subsidy at current rates for all closed pubs until their reopening and an extension of current licences until September next year.

“As we have made clear from the outset of this crisis, pubs want the opportunity to trade responsibly,” said Padraig Cribben, Chief Executive of the VFI.

The pubs that are still closed can’t wait to get their doors open again, to interact with their customers and to earn a living. These businesses will abide by the public health requirements, they just want the same chance as was granted to the rest of the economy.

“The clear preference of these pubs is to reopen, but if the government won’t let them then they owe these pubs special support,” Cribben said.

Speaking about the potential for such a support package, Varadkar said if the pubs are to remain closed he hopes additional supports would be ready when that decision is taken. 

He said the decision around the potential reopening of pubs would be made at a Cabinet meeting to be held on 28 August: 

If it is the case that on 28 August that we’re saying to the pubs that you have to stay closed for a bit longer, at least until we see how things go with the schools and with the virus. If it is the case that we’re saying on 28 August that you can’t reopen, I would like to be in a position at that same Cabinet meeting to have a package of additional supports for pubs and nightclubs, recognising that they’re a sector that have been ordered by government to stay closed longer than everyone else. 

Varadkar said there are a number of business supports that pubs can already avail of and that he hopes they do so. 

He added that publicans are “in some ways being asked to make a sacrifice for the rest of society”.

The Tánaiste said that, notwithstanding the fact that Covid-19 clusters in schools are to be expected, they remain in a different category to pubs in terms of their importance to society. 

“What we’re trying to do here is manage risk and to minimise the extent to which the virus is circulating in the community, the more and more it circulates in the community the more and more you’re going to see flare ups and you’re going to see clusters,” he said. 

Schools are essential, I’d love to go to the pub, I’m looking forward to going to the pub again, and nightclubs, but they’re not as important as schools.

“I think the vast majority of people in society will accept that children being able to return to school, getting their education, families getting back into a routine is an overriding social economic priority.”

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- With reporting by Rónán Duffy

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