Major Dublin restaurant group threatens State with legal action over Covid-19 restrictions

Press Up says there is ‘no empirical, objective and verifiable evidence’ to support closures

Press Up, owner of Elephant & Castle, has given the Government until next Tuesday to give notification if it intends to extend the restrictions or it will take legal action.  Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Press Up, owner of Elephant & Castle, has given the Government until next Tuesday to give notification if it intends to extend the restrictions or it will take legal action. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

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One of Dublin’s biggest restaurant groups has threatened the Government with legal action if it extends coronavirus restrictions on pubs and restaurants in the capital beyond October 10th.

Lawyers for Press Up group, which employs 1,800 people across five hotels, 12 bars, 27 restaurants and two cinemas, have written to Government, saying Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has published “no empirical, objective and verifiable evidence” to support the closures.

The group has said that if the restrictions are extended, it “will be left with no alternative; but to issue proceedings in respect of the laws bearing on operation of their premises as a last resort”.

The predominantly Dublin-based hospitality business, controlled by businessman Paddy McKillen jnr, has given the Government until next Tuesday to give notification if it intends to extend the restrictions or it will make a legal claim that the restrictions are unconstitutional.

Solicitors for the business have sent the warning in a letter to the Ministers for Health, Justice and Finance, the Attorney General and the Chief State Solicitor’s Office.

The group also claims Mr Donnelly has “unlawfully delegated or otherwise abdicated responsibility to third parties in particular members of the National Public Health Emergency Team”.

Rising infections

In response to rising virus infections, the Government moved Dublin to Level 3 restrictions last month, limiting restaurants and food-serving bars to outdoor dining only, delaying the opening of drink-only pubs, closing cinemas and restricting hotels to residents only.

Press Up’s bar, restaurants and hotels include Angelina’s Bison Bar, Elephant & Castle, The Stella Theatre, Peruke & Periwig, The Workman’s Club and The Dean and The Devlin hotels.

The group’s solicitors state that it has not been notified by the HSE of any outbreak of the virus at any of its premises and has called on Mr Donnelly to publish evidence to justify the restrictions.

It has questioned the lack of debate in the Oireachtas about the measures and criticised the Government for not proposing “alternative safeguards” that minimise the spread of the disease and permit businesses to operate or allowing those alternative measures to be debated in parliament.

“The laws bypassed the Oireachtas and have not been subject to any reasoned debate or scrutiny by the elected members of the Oireachtas. The absence of real debate on the content of what on any view are radical laws is a point of particular concern,” said the solicitors.

The group argues that the “lack of debate undermines social solidarity with the proposed measures undermining their efficacy”.

Sued

Since the initial lockdown in March, the group said it has incurred very significant losses due to the closure of premises and that the group has financial obligations to suppliers, lenders, landlords, employees and the Revenue and is no longer benefitting from a loan moratorium.

“The laws passed by Mr Donnelly are not coupled with any provision to compensate our clients for having to deny access to their premises to the public,” Press Up’s lawyers state.

“That is a fundamental property right of our clients connected to the operation of bars and restaurants. The new laws, were they to be extended for a prolonged period, could ultimately threaten the financial viability of our clients and their respective businesses.”

The group has already taken legal proceedings over the financial impact of the coronavirus restrictions. It has sued insurer RSA over non-payment of business interruption insurance.

Mr McKillen’s father, also Paddy, a shareholder in the group, won a high-profile legal action against the State after the financial crisis to stop his loans being moved to the National Asset Management Agency, which was set up to purge the banks of mostly delinquent property loans.