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Sale of alcohol should be restricted if we're facing another lockdown, Vintners' Federation says

CEO Padraig Cribben said restrictions on the sale of alcohol from off licences and supermarkets should be considered.

LAST UPDATE | 28 Aug 2020

THE CEO OF the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) has said restrictions on the sale of alcohol should be considered if clusters of Covid-19 are being traced back to house parties and gatherings.

Padraig Cribben, Chief Executive of the VFI – which represents 4,000 publicans across the country, said restrictions on the sale of alcohol from off licences and supermarkets should be considered if the country has to enter another lockdown.

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast today, Cribben said if house parties are one of the reasons for an increase in Covid-19 cases “you’ve got go to the core of the problem, you’ve got to use the rifle rather than the shotgun”.

Cribben said illegal shebeens have been “cropping up in sheds, in houses” selling alcohol.

“These are prevalent right around the country. Now I know that it’s difficult for the gardaí to get convictions in these scenarios, but I think efforts have to be made.”

Cribben acknowledged is “very difficult” to police house parties.

“If house parties are the problem in the spread of the disease, you’ve got to go back and say, what’s fuelling the house parties? And what’s fuelling the house parties is the cheap alcohol out of supermarkets.

“You’ve got to do one of two things in relation to that. You’ve got to either bring in the minimum unit pricing, that’s already on our statute books … that’s one option.

The second option, which is a lot less palatable maybe for a lot of people, is that if we’re in such a bind, if the numbers are increasing at such a rate what we actually need to do is look at whether we should take a period of three weeks and actually stop the sale of alcohol in off licences for that period.

When asked if he was calling for prohibition, Cribben said: “If you want to call it that.”

Closed for six months

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) is recommending that pubs don’t reopen on Monday as planned – another setback for some 3,500 businesses that have been closed since March.

Since 29 June, pubs that serve food have been permitted to re-open under strict guidelines, but other pubs have had to remain shut.

Drinks Industry Ireland – an umbrella group representing pubs, restaurants, hotels, brewers and others – said today that there is a “growing fear” among publicans that their businesses will remain closed until 2021.

Its analysis said that 60% of pubs still remain closed and it is feared some may never re-open. 

Its chair Rosemary Garth said: “Any further lockdown will be the difference in pubs reopening or not in the long term. Irish pubs are generally small businesses with modest revenues…. Government support next year will be too late; the damage will have been done.”

Cribben, meanwhile, added that the closure of pubs is taking a huge financial and mental toll on publicans and staff.

“The financial and indeed, at this point in time more importantly, the mental anguish that people are going through, the hardship that they are suffering, being put off for three weeks, for three weeks, for three weeks, is just not acceptable anymore.”

Cribben called for the government to give “a clear indication of when pubs might open, and then put a support package in place to support the sector that they have compulsorily closed for longer than any other sector”.

He added that pubs are one of the most regulated sectors in the country and should be given the opportunity to reopen if they comply with regulations.

“Put the guidelines in place, make them clear, give us the opportunity to trade, put sanctions in place and impose those sanctions on those that don’t comply with the guidelines,” he said.

On the same programme earlier, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said he understands publicans’ concerns, saying it is “a really important issue that Cabinet will have to consider”.

Cabinet will today consider giving gardaí stronger powers to shut pubs not following public health regulations. It is likely that the government will sign-off on the legislation and it will go before the Dáil next week.

‘Aware of the impact’

At the Department of Health briefing yesterday, Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said, given the current rate of infections in Ireland, public health experts “felt that we really weren’t in a position to reopen the pubs at this point”, and that it “simply isn’t the appropriate time right now to open pubs”.

Glynn said that there wasn’t a new date for pubs to reopen, adding that there needed to be a national focus on getting case numbers down.

Responding to claims that Ireland has experienced the longest lockdown of pubs in the EU, Glynn said: “We are aware the impact this is having on small family businesses around the country and the impact on the social life of communities.

“We want pubs to reopen, let’s be clear about that. We want pubs to reopen in a safe way. But since the end of June, we have seen a slow and steady deterioration of the profile of this disease in this country.”

Glynn noted that pubs had been due to reopen at the end of July, but through August there have been “very significant clusters” of Covid-19.

“There just hasn’t been an opportunity to say that the trajectory of the disease is such that we can open up what is recognised internationally as one of the most high-risk environments for transmission of disease.”

With reporting from Sean Murray

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