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Publican's groups urge full reopening of sector following 'escalation in crisis faced by pubs'

Nphet will meet on Monday to consider its recommendations to Government ahead of the planned lifting of restrictions on Friday.

PUBLICANS’ GROUPS HAVE urged the Government to lift the remaining restrictions on hospitality this coming Friday to “end the crisis” facing the industry.

According to the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) and Licenced Vintners’ Association (LVA), some 349 pubs have permanently closed their doors since the beginning of the pandemic.

In a joint statement, the LVA and VFI said there has been a 5% drop in pub licence renewals between January 2020 and September 2021 which they say is a “dramatic escalation in the crisis faced by pubs”.

Over the 19 month period, Cork lost 37 pubs, Dublin and Donegal both lost 33 public houses, while Kerry lost 22, according to an analysis of licence renewals by the LVA and VFI.

“These new figures reveal Covid’s dramatic impact on the trade over the past 19 months. To lose 5% of pubs in such a short timeframe is unprecedented and underlines how the pub trade bore the brunt of pandemic restrictions,” said Padraig Cribben, VFI Chief Executive.

“In light of recent speculation about delaying the ending of restrictions, the news that pubs are closing across the country will only heighten anxiety in the trade. Uncertainty is a key factor in why so many pubs have closed so Government must put an end to the crisis by announcing the easing of restrictions will proceed as planned.”

The Government is not contemplating the re-imposition of Covid-19 restrictions in Ireland, but has already cautioned that it cannot guarantee the lifting of the remaining restrictions will proceed as planned this coming Friday.

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.

The changes will herald the return of businesses like nightclubs.

Earlier this month, the Dáil approved the extension of legislation that gives emergency powers to the Minister of Health Stephen Donnelly to keep vaccine passports for indoor dining until 9 January.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin insisted the vaccine rollout had put Ireland in a different situation from earlier in the pandemic, despite rising infection rates. The 2,180 cases of coronavirus reported yesterday was the highest number since January.

In an interview with the Sunday Independent today, Martin said introducing further restrictions was not being considered.

“We do not want to go back, and we are not contemplating going backwards,” he said. “The only issue facing us now is going forward and that is a decision we will make on the advice we receive from Nphet (National Public Health Emergency Team).”

He said the country was in a “completely different situation” than it was earlier in the pandemic because over 90% of the population was vaccinated.

Martin said while it was not the Government’s intention to go backwards in terms of restrictions, the “only caveat” he would attach to that was the “twists and turns” of the vaccine.

Nphet will meet tomorrow to consider what recommendations it will make to Cabinet in relation to Friday’s scheduled lifting of remaining restrictions, such as social distancing rules in the hospitality sector.

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) is also set to meet tomorrow to consider whether the vaccine booster programme should be expanded beyond the over-80 age cohort and those with suppressed immunity.

The LVA and VFI are both calling for the reopening of late-night hospitality, the return of the bar counter, the end of mandatory table service and a resumption of normal trading hours next Friday.

However, Chief Executive of the LVA Donall O’Keeffe said there is “no justification” for proceeding with the easing of the rest of the restrictions if access is limited to those who have been vaccinated.

“With more than 90% of the adult population vaccinated and vaccine passes likely to remain in place, if we can’t allow hospitality to trade relatively normally now then when will we ever be able to?

Anticipation is high ahead of the lifting of 22 October for the simple reason that publicans are desperate to get back to normal trading. Many pubs and other hospitality businesses have been hanging on for this moment and any further delays will be a step too far for some.

“The Government needs to recognise delays will push more businesses over the edge where they will join the 349 pubs that have already been lost during the course of the pandemic,” said O’Keeffe. 

- With reporting from PA

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