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'We're bottom of the pile': Tattoo artists say they shouldn't have to wait until August to reopen

Like other industries, tattoo artists are pushing to reopen earlier than indicated in the government’s roadmap.

Image: Shutterstock/Roman Zaiets

BUSINESSES ACROSS THE country were eagerly awaiting the publication of the government’s roadmap to reopening Ireland last Friday.

For those that closed their doors, they were waiting to see when they could open them again. 

While some retailers will begin opening from phase one, due to begin later this month, tattoo artists were dismayed to see that under the government’s plans they wouldn’t reopen until phase five in August at the earliest. 

“We were shocked,” Dolores Murray from the Association of Body Modification Artists in Ireland told TheJournal.ie. “We were thinking we’d get back in June. August was like a bolt of lightning.”

The tattoo sector is unregulated in this country, with Health Minister Simon Harris last year ruling out any new law to regulate the tattooing and body piercing industry in Ireland. There have been calls for regulation over the recent years that have failed to gather momentum. 

In lieu of long-sought for regulations, the tattoo industry itself has created its own set of standards in terms of hygiene and safety that they feel would see them well placed to return to work a lot sooner during the current Covid-19 crisis.

“We’d keep our doors closed, with people only coming in by appointment only,” Murray said. “There’d be a limited number of people in the studio. The artists would always wear protective clothing anyway. Everything is wiped down and everything is sterilised.

We’ve always done this and we’ve done it ourselves. We’d also take all the precautions that will apply to other retailers. 

Customers coming in would be required to wear a mask and also sanitise their hands, with the same applying for the tattoo artist. 

The government’s roadmap singles out tattoo parlours under its headings for phase five, which is due to begin on 10 August. Institutions that also require close contact such as barbers and hairdressers are permitted to open three weeks earlier.

It says: “Further loosening of restrictions on services involving direct physical contact for periods of time between people for which there is not a population-wide demand (e.g. tattoo, piercing) for later phases due to risk.”

In the case of hairdressers, it has been reported that they’ve been offered three-to-four times the normal price of a salon haircut but it’s not believed similar situations have arisen in the tattoo industry. 

Murray said that only being permitted to open from August at the earliest will present a huge challenge to their industry.

“We’re the same as everyone really,” she said. “We’re negotiating with landlords, talking to the utility companies, we’re trying to be responsible and put measures in place so that we can survive and reopen safely.

With the plans we have we know we’ll have reduced numbers of customers coming in. We’ll have a reduced income but our overheads will be the same. People [in our industry] are very worried about it.

To try to put their case for reopening to the government, individual owners and managers have written to the Department of Health or HSE. Murray said they received either stock responses or no reply.

They’ve started an online petition – which at the time of writing has over 4,000 signatures – calling for what they describe as equality for their industry. 

However, at the weekend Health Minister Harris said the government will engage with any business that believes that they might be able to adapt to open in safe environment. 

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This followed calls from the likes of the vintners for pubs to be permitted to reopen sooner. Other sectors are pushing to reopen sooner than indicated, and tattoo artists are no different. 

Given the safeguards she said are in place, Murray sees no reason why they can’t have that same engagement and convince health officials they should reopen sooner. 

“We’re united as an industry on this, and this in an industry not known for its cohesiveness usually,” she said. “Any arguments have all been put aside to go for this one item. 

Over the years, we’ve been pushed to the bottom of the pile. We just want a chance to put our case forward.

About the author:

Sean Murray

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