The recent news that the British pub chain JD Wetherspoon has entered the Dublin market has sparked a rather predictable outcry from supposed defenders of the native Irish pub. A half serious "Feck Off Wetherspoons" campaign is already gaining traction on Facebook, while several online forums are abuzz with this apparent threat to traditional Irish pub owners.
Today, it emerges that Greene King, a bitter rival (in more ways than one) of Wetherspoons, is also on the prowl for Dublin pubs. The truth is nobody will be forced to drink in a chain pub. Customers, and not thinly-veiled anti-British internet campaigns, will decide whether chains like Wetherspoons succeed in this State.
On the surface, the Dublin pubs market is ripe for attack from well-capitalised new entrants such as Wetherspoon and Greene King. It is highly fragmented, battered banks control vast swathes of the market, and many highly-indebted owners are desperate to sell.
Ireland overall has lost 1,000 of the 12,000 pubs licensed at the height of the boom, but the capital has lost less than 50 pubs to insolvency, and most of those are still open. In recent months, there has been an upswing in city centre trading.
There has never been a culture of corporate ownership of the Irish market. But if the brewchains do manage to gain a foothold, it is not in the pubs market that the greatest effect will be felt, it is in the brewing and distribution game. Once you strip out Bulmers cider, draught beer distribution in Ireland is effectively a duopoly. Heineken, which also distributes Murphy's, and Diageo, which distributes almost everything else, will be watching closely to see how the British brewchains fare. The late Hugh O'Regan failed with his attempt to break this duopoly 10 years ago, when his Bar Trader scheme to bypass the big beer distributors floundered. It was under capitalised and misunderstood, and the big brewers hammered it. But they might have to try a different tack if they find themelves up against two of the largest pub companies in Britain.
That would be a bar brawl worth seeing.