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'We have to get the doors open before Christmas': Retailers and pubs call for clarity on re-opening

The Vintners Federation of Ireland said outdoor-only service is “useless” for many pubs.

A window of Penneys on Henry Street in Dublin city pictured earlier this month.
A window of Penneys on Henry Street in Dublin city pictured earlier this month.
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

RETAILERS AND PUBLICANS are calling for clarity on if and when they can re-open ahead of the Christmas season.

Dee Ryan, chief executive of Limerick Chamber, said businesses are “very anxious” to re-open their doors as soon as possible.

“We will have to get the doors open before Christmas. We’re just going to have to do this,” she said.

Many retailers are planning to re-open in early December, once the current Level 5 restrictions are set to be lifted.

“They have their stock; their team members, largely speaking, are anticipating and preparing to go back to work. But it’s a matter of how long the window to trade in in the run-up to Christmas will be,” Ryan told TheJournal.ie

A slight increase in Covid-19 cases over the past number of days has caused some concern among health officials, with Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan warning that people ignoring guidelines are “putting progress at risk”.

Ryan said the increase in case numbers is “concerning” and has heightened the anxiety felt by many retailers.

“If things keep going in the direction that we’re heading in right now, it has to put a question mark over how open we’re going to be.”

Ryan said the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic has been very stressful for retailers.

“They want to be productive, they want to be contributing. They’re used to dealing with people on a daily basis, they thrive on that interaction, so it’s very difficult for all of them.

People are feeling quite low, they’re anxious to get trading.

Ryan said many businesses have ramped up, or created, an online presence in recent months in a bid to keep trading. She encouraged people to shop locally when buying Christmas presents.

“This year, in particular, it’s more important than ever to look to spend money with a local business owner and keep the spend within the local economy.”

Retail Ireland, the Ibec group that represents the retail sector, has called on the government to unwind the restrictions on retail trading in advance of December so retailers can trade safely over the coming weeks.

Director Arnold Dillon said: “A short three-week shopping window in December will create significant additional challenges for retailers working to manage numbers in stores and reduce the need for queues.

“Public health is the priority and retailers are taking extra steps to ensure a safe Christmas for customers. Many stores are looking at extending opening hours so that trade can be spread more evenly across the day.”

Dillon last week said the run-up to Christmas is “make or break for many retailers” who are “relying on the period to make up for the major financial hit taken earlier in the year”.

‘Ridiculous’

Brian Foley, of the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI), said publicans also need to know in advance of 1 December, when Level 5 restrictions are due to end, if they can open next month.

“We need clarity as soon as possible. Pubs need to know – they have a whole re-opening plan that they need to implement, they need to get in touch with the suppliers to get stock in, get staff back, there is a whole host of issues that need to be tackled to get open, so leaving it until the day before it’s just ridiculous.

“We’ve seen that throughout the year that that doesn’t work. So, you know, basic level of respect will dictate that the government let pubs and their staff know know as soon as possible, well before the end of lockdown.”

Foley told TheJournal.ie that pubs need to be allowed trade indoors “in a safe, socially-distant manner” in order for re-opening to be viable.

Before the current Level 5 restrictions, the country was in Level 3, under which pubs and restaurants could remain open for takeaway and delivery, and outdoor dining or service to an maximum of 15 people.

Wet pubs in Dublin – those that don’t serve food – remained closed. By 1 December, Dublin pubs that do not serve food will be closed for 260 consecutive days.

The country is expected to return to Level 3 next month. However, outdoor service limited to up to 15 people is “useless” for many pubs, Foley said.

“It’s not something that would work for our members, so we want indoor indoor trading in a safe, socially-distant manner”.

The VFI, which has 4,000 members outside Dublin, wants all pubs, including those that don’t serve food, to be allowed re-open next month. The Licensed Vintners Association (LVA), which represent pubs in Dublin, is also calling for the re-opening of all pubs in a safe manner.

Takeaway pints

Earlier today Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said he was “extremely annoyed and concerned” by videos of large crowds gathered in Dublin and Cork over the weekend.

Martin told Cork’s RedFM the government will consider changing the law on takeaway drinks. He said he would be speaking with the Minister for Justice on the matter and will also be seeking advice from An Garda Síochána.

Footage emerged at the weekend of a large number of people on South William Street in Dublin city, and also in Cork city – some of whom were drinking takeaway pints.

Pubs and licensed premises are legally permitted to sell alcohol for takeaway or to be consumed off the premises, but the alcohol cannot be consumed within 100 metres.

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Foley said some people who are drinking outdoors are getting alcohol from off licences, rather than pubs. He said any pubs that break guidelines should be “dealt with”, but added that “the vast majority of publicans are following the guidelines”.

Drinks Ireland, which represents drinks suppliers and manufacturers across the country, also said that pubs should be given the opportunity to re-open safely at the start of December.

Patricia Callan, director of Drinks Ireland, today said pubs should be allowed to re-open once they follow the guidelines.

“The December trading period will be a final lifeline for many pubs, who are ready and able to welcome customers back.”

Callan noted that the hospitality and wider experience sector employs 330,000 people, and will likely play a crucial role in the eocnomic recovering post-pandemic.

“In the longer-term, the sector can play a crucial role in the economic recovery which will follow this pandemic, as it did during the recovery of the last economic crisis, when it accounted for one in every seven jobs created,” she added.

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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