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Over 100 days on from shutting their doors, just under half of Ireland's pubs are geared up for re-opening

In Dublin, vintners estimate around 50-60% of pubs will re-open from Monday. For the rest of that country, that number is closer to 40%.

Mariusz Brzyk assistant manager of Paddy Cullens pub in Dublin lays out social distancing mats
Mariusz Brzyk assistant manager of Paddy Cullens pub in Dublin lays out social distancing mats
Image: Niall Carson/PA Images

ON MONDAY, HUNDREDS of pubs across the country will be able to open their doors again a full 106 days after they shut back in March.

Phase Three will see pubs join the likes of restaurants, hairdressers and hotels in reopening.

In the case of pubs, however, it’ll only be those which operate on a restaurant basis serving a “substantial meal” that are permitted to re-open. The pubs that don’t will have to wait until Phase 4 on 20 July – all going to plan – before they can return. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Licenced Vintners Association CEO Donall O’Keeffe said that while it’s not possible to be certain of figures it was their “educated guess” that between 50-60% of Dublin’s pub trade would re-open on Monday. 

“There’s a lot of restrictions, it’s a new style of business,” he said. “But we’re glad we’re re-opening.”

As for the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI) – which represents pubs outside Dublin – it is similarly unable to have exact figures but its chief executive Padraig Cribben told TheJournal.ie it estimates around 40% or thereabouts of pubs will reopen. 

2792012-guinness-celebrates-arthurs-day Source: Rollingnews.ie

Cribben said it was unlikely that many pubs that previously did not serve food would now do so just to open three weeks earlier. 

“Some have looked at it but it would be a very small number as the investment would be substantial for a relatively short time frame,” he said. 

According to a report from AIB in 2018, there were just over 7,200 licensed premises in Ireland with just 772 of these in Dublin. If we were to take the indicative figures from both vintners associations, it could mean in or around 3,000 pubs will be opening their doors on Monday. 

How did we get here?

A lot has changed in the last few months.

Just a few days after the Taoiseach’s landmark speech closing schools on 12 March, the sight of pubs full of patrons that weekend drew consternation and condemnation

On Sunday 15 March, following meetings of the vintners and health officials, publicans shut their doors and haven’t opened them again in the same way since. 

The first time the government announced that pubs would be permitted to re-open was as part of the five-phase roadmap unveiled on 1 May

As part of that initial plan, it wasn’t until the beginning of Phase Five on 10 August before the “reopening of pubs, bars, nightclubs and casinos where social distancing can be maintained” would be permitted.

Publicans had initially been dismayed at having to wait so long to re-open, with representative groups particularly angered by these same guidelines allowing restaurants to re-open six weeks earlier on 29 June. 

Throughout May, however, there were positive signs that the mass restrictions put in place on the Irish public was having an effect.

The number of daily new cases and deaths dropped considerably to a point where chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan could say in mid-May that we had “effectively extinguished the virus from the community”

As we now know, the government decided we’d reached a stage where the plan to re-open the country could be accelerated.

tourism-cov-19-384 An empty Temple Bar in March. Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Under this plan, pubs will be permitted to open from Monday 29 June but only if they can serve “substantial meals” that cost at least €9 under guidance issued from Fáilte Ireland.

The pubs that don’t serve food aren’t permitted to open during Phase Three which gets under way in a few days’ time. 

For those that do, they’ll need to enforce physical distancing – but not rigidly at two metres under certain circumstances. They’ll have to arrange tables and booths to adhere to this distancing. Extra signage should be placed throughout the venue, with floor markings and wall signs. 

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Frequent cleaning of toilet facilities and often touched surfaces is also required under the guidelines.

In the three weeks between Phases Three and Four, customers will only be able to spend a maximum of 105 minutes at any one premises. 

‘A new phase for us all’

Publican Charlie Chawke, whose pubs include the Bank Bar on College Green and Searsons on Baggot Street in Dublin, told TheJournal.ie that it’s been a “big job” to put the preparations in place that will allow pubs to open safely and within the guidelines. 

“We’re opening the nine pubs (seven in Dublin and two in Limerick) on the 29th,” he said. “We’ve a lot of work done already but we’ll be finishing that off in the next few days.”

searsons Chawke's Searsons on Dublin's Baggot Street Source: Google Street View

Chawke said the pubs had already received bookings ahead of the re-opening date but it was important to also try to facilitate walk-ins from members of the public who haven’t booked ahead.

He said: “We can’t keep spaces for people who haven’t booked. But every two hours there’ll be people coming and going. 

It’s a new phase for us all. We’re going into it with eyes open, and we’ll do what we have to do to keep our customers safe. Staff are chomping at the bit to get back. And I think there’s definitely an appetite there for people to come to pubs again. People will go to places they can rely on. Hopefully we’re one of those. 

The Fáilte Ireland guidelines for the pubs reopening only applies to the three weeks in between Phase Three and Phase Four.

There is of yet no set guidelines for how other pubs that don’t serve food should re-open on 20 July. 

The LVA’s O’Keeffe said: “Any Dublin pub that wanted to be in food has been in food for a long time. They’re either constrained by a lack of kitchen facilities or they have a style of bar where food just wouldn’t suit. 

We’ve called for early publication of the guidelines for 20 July to avoid the kind of additional concern that was caused with the way the guidelines for 29 June were released. I presume that shortly after 29 June, we should begin to see those plans for the rest of the pubs on 20 July. 
Cribben, of the VFI, added: “We had hoped to have them by now but, based on our experience of waiting on those for 29 June we are unsure when they will be available.”

About the author:

Sean Murray

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