‘Disproportionate’ and ‘devastating’: Business owners on Level 5

‘We will be left with no option but to lay off the majority of our workforce’

"Disproportionate" and "devastating" were the reactions among business owners who responded when The Irish Times asked how their business would survive Level 5 restrictions.

There was also anger at the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) over its call to shut large swathes of commercial life and at Government over its failure to do more when the initial threat of the Covid coronavirus pandemic had receded.

Here is a selection of the responses we received from around the State.

Colm Walsh, Dublin: ‘I don’t know if I can hold out’

“This is a disaster. I own three yoga & pilates studios. We reopened in July and were trying to recover, then Level 3 shut them down. This is now a final blow – I don’t know if I can hold out with landlords/finance any longer.


“I have pivoted to Zoom classes online, but it’s running about 20 per cent of my former turnover. My TWSS was cut to €203/week, I have a mortgage and four kids. The bank has ended my six month mortgage break.

“I shall have to get another job, even though I still have to run a business which paid over €100,000 in income tax and VAT last year.”

Amy Hosey: ‘This will devastate our sector’

“This will devastate our sector. Without the support of the earlier TWSS [temporary wage subsidy scheme], we will now be left with no option but to completely lay off the majority of our workforce, as the [lower] EWSS [employment wage subsidy scheme payments] will leave our business unsustainable.

“This will have a huge impact on each employees life.

"I completely understand the need for a level 5 lockdown, but the government has no plan in place for industries which have already been hugely affected."

Luca De Santis, Dublin: ‘Level 5 means hibernation of the entire business’

“This is absurd and ridiculous. I am a head teacher in an English language school in central Dublin and business is already the quietest it’s ever been.

“We made enormous efforts to ensure mask-wearing, social distancing and constant change of air in our premises. The way Nphet works is absurd. We’ve been sticking to all the rules and now they ask us to shut everything down for 4 more weeks at least, just in case.

“I blame the Government as well for not using the time we bought to fix our broken health system as well.

“Looking at how the pandemic has been managed in my country of origin, Italy, and comparing it to Ireland leaves me appalled. The impact on the texture of society is going to be catastrophic.

“Level 5 would mean moving back to online classes for the foreseeable future, with further layoffs and a possible hibernation of the entire business for the time being.”

Paul Keeling, Kerry: ‘Promised government supports haven’t been paid’

“I bought my business in February – an old style sweet shop – just five weeks before the first lockdown.During that lockdown, I built a website and it is really only the on line sales that are keeping us going.

“Another lockdown would put the final nail in the coffin and completely finish off what is left of our business.

“Add to that that the promised government supports from last time haven’t even been paid yet,I don’t think the promise of supports is going to really help,especially if there is a six month waiting list for them.

“I’m sure I’m not the only one whose business will be decimated while the Government make decisions that don’t really affect them personally:they get to keep their pay cheques and continue giving themselves raises.”

Katie Doyle, Dublin: ‘Regulator seeking thousands of euro’

“I own a group travel agency for groups of six people plus. Capture Travel operates in the student and staff market alongside running wine tours. In March not only did I lose all business, but had to refund four months worth of bookings. Imagine running a business to not only operate in debt but also give people back my own personal funds, leaving turnover at minus 25 per cent.

“With students not going back to college and no more than three households allowed travel in Ireland, group trips have been no more. With the majority of staff working from home, staff trips are a laughable idea as are wine tours.

"On top of all this, the Commission for Aviation Regulation last week threatened my small business that if I did not raise thousands of euro in funding, I would have to take down my website despite not being able to trade in Ireland or abroad.

“There has been no assistance from the Government for this hardest hit industry. For travel agents who have been booking staycations in Ireland and who will [now] have to refund these customer bookings with new lockdown measures, there will be no travel agency left by the end of the year.

Kevin Keogh, Dublin: ‘All our cash flow and savings are gone from the last lockdown’

“Being a small hard-landscaping business with three employees plus myself, we found it very difficult during the last lockdown. Our sector was one of the first to be let go back to work but it soon became apparent that manufactures and suppliers were low on stocks leading to delays and many days waiting on goods.

“I genuinely fear with another lockdown and all the costs that will accrue we will be out of business. All our cash flow and savings are gone from the last lockdown and [there is] no chance of overdrafts from the banks to help with vehicle and liability insurance, maintenance etc. We just wouldn’t have the finance to start up again.”

Stephen Paul, Limerick: ‘My job is at risk – pure and simple.’

“I work in construction. The lockdown (let’s call it that for that’s what it is) will likely cause further uncertainty in the construction industry and the potential cancellation of more projects. My job is at risk - pure and simple.

“I bought in reluctantly to the last lockdown. But I believe these proposals by Nphet are disproportionate. They won’t have my buy in this time round.

Adriana Furim, Dublin: ‘It’s been a really difficult year’

“We were closed for almost six months following restrictions and the need for a space adequate to work under Covid protocols. Now we are shut again. It’s been a really difficult year for small business like mine, but we are still trying to make plans and work through the current situation”

Tom O’Connor, Galway: ‘Non-complaints will carry on regardless’

“Construction is, even as we are, impossible to be profitable. I have laid off 40 per cent of my staff at the peak, gradually taking back on staff as the restrictions were eased. But still 20 per cent or so remain off. I will have to lay of 40 to 50 per cent again. This is a serious situation for me, and my staff, and my supply chain and the uncertainty this creates to the future viability of the business causes extreme anxiety to all.

“Those in Nphet that are calling for this dramatic escalation in restrictions, seem to not consider the wider consequences of their advice.

“Better messaging, social shaming of those who do not abide by the restrictions, fines and penalties or what ever to get compliance [should be in place], but forcing the compliant into lockdown again, (and note the non-complaints will carry on regardless) is cruel and does more harm than good.”

Joanna Kaftanska, Galway: ‘I won’t be able to pay my house rent and studio rent’

“ I will have to close my tattoo studio. I won’t be able to pay my house rent and studio rent at the same time, with the Covid social payment. I can’t even imagine how many businesses will have to close down.

Nick Lee, Dublin: ‘Many SMEs encourage staff to work in the office’

“I agree with the Government having Level 5 restriction. Many SME firms, such as accounting firms, encourage their staffs to work in the office most of the week. This increased the chance of getting Covid 19 as staff have to travel to work, sometimes taking multiple transports. This risk is unnecessary when they can work from home. This is unfair to the staffs themselves. The boss has the final say.”

Philippa Thiel: ‘We are going to have to live with Covid 19 for a while’

“Knowing that we could expect a resurgence of Covid in the autumn, I would have expected the Government to prepare for it by augmenting the number of hospital beds etc. How is Ireland supposed to survive the consequences of another Lockdown ? Who is going to pay for it ? Businesses are trying to survive

“People who don’t wear their masks in public areas and people who insist on having parties with people from different households be fined .

“We are going to have to live with Covid 19 for a while , during which time we will have to adhere to certain rules . If we don’t the very young will still be paying for this many years from now .”

Ross Palmer, Sligo: ‘Close to 180,000 people will lose their jobs’

“We launched a new bar and restaurant Walker 1781 in early 2020. We traded during the first lockdown with great difficulty, offering a limited take away service.

“We have had to let most of our 22 staff go. Many of these have mortgages to pay and children to put through college. Given the low numbers of cases in Sligo, I feel that blanket restrictions are completely unnecessary.

“The level of support for the hospitality sector has been extremely disappointing to date. Today, close to 180,000 people within the hospitality sector will lose their jobs with no communication from the Government on what supports will be made available to an already struggling industry. I know of many businesses in the hospitality that will not open again.”

Sandra Power, Waterford: ‘Opening the store was a long held dream’

“I opened The Lady’s Slip lingerie in Tramore at the end of August. It was a long held dream, and I was delighted to finally get it up and running. The business has been steadily growing, but now, unfortunately my doors will close.

“The main service that I provide is a personal one, so there’s will be a massive impact. However I do a lot of social media promotion and I am currently setting up a website, I will do online fittings and videos and provide a delivery option to help my customers find their perfect bra, or indeed Christmas gift (pyjamas, nightwear etc).”

Brian Houton, Dublin: ‘The Level 5 restrictions might help’

“ I set up a party supplies website in 2001, partybag.ie, and my main customers were kids activity centres, a large cinema chain, hotels and Santa grottos. I was basically in the business of social gathering! Obviously, the business was decimated [in lockdown].

“During the summer I worked on an additional online business that would be aimed at the socially distancing market. This new online retail site, Mahoota.ie, was launched at the beginning of October 2020 and sells home gym equipment, toys for Christmas, outdoor play equipment, garden furniture and much more.

“ I have a few sales already, but need to generate more traffic to the website. The Level 5 restrictions might help the business as people are forced away from traditional retail.”

Paddy Ryan, Dublin: ‘We are told we are all in this together; I don’t feel that’

“Ours is a local pub in Dundrum, we are here since 1966 . The first lockdown was hard , but there was a novelty factor, and we thought we would be back in a couple of weeks.

“As weeks turned to months, the fear of running out of money became very real. Overheads still had to be paid, banks , insurance, etc . We were then able to reopen as a restaurant, and there was a real feeling of relief. Then out of the blue, and after giving us a road map, they shut us down overnight, with the loss of over €1,500 worth of food. The feeling was one of despair.

“After all the work we had done, following numerous guidelines, they treated us with utter contempt. With the help of great staff, we got some outside space up and running. Now after all that, sadly we are back to lockdown again.

“We are told we are all in this together, up until now I don’t feel that. My family business, which we have all worked very hard for, through no fault of our own is now in very grave danger of dying, with the loss of many livelihoods. We need help, and not more debt.”

Michael Creamer, Wicklow: ‘I witnessed firsthand the laxity of some in my industry’

As a small business owner in the fitness industry, it was a great disappointment to hear the government’s decision to impose Level 5 restrictions. However, I do understand and support the need to impose further restrictions at this time. I witnessed firsthand the laxity of some in my industry which may have contributed to where we find ourselves today. We all need to work together to beat this.

“During [the first] lockdown, I loaned out my rowing machines to customers and took my classes online. I am making plans to take my business back online for the duration of the Level 5 lockdown.

“People want to stay fit and healthy and since the gyms will be closed for the next six weeks I would encourage gym owners to consider lending or hiring out some of their exercise equipment so that their members can continue to exercise at home and/or online.

“It has been a challenging year but I am confident that my business can survive this latest round of restrictions.”

Kathy Doyle, Dublin: ‘Stress has made me ill with worry’

“I am the the third generation running a family owned building and maintenance company. We have worked so hard to keep ourselves afloat these last few months but the changes to the Covid payment has left us hanging by a thread.

“We have had the same client 49 years, the Iveagh Trust, and they are striving to keep us going. But the lockdowns are killing us. I’ve men depending on me and the stress has made me ill with worry. It means the world to me to keep [the business] going for my wonderful staff.”

Ciara Kenny

Ciara Kenny

Ciara Kenny, founding editor of Irish Times Abroad, a section for Irish-connected people around the world, is Editor of the Irish Times Magazine

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle is Deputy Business Editor of The Irish Times