Pubs could lose licence if they flout Covid-19 rules, warns Garda

Gardaí to ramp up pub inspections following public concerns over lack of social distancing

From last Monday, pubs that served food were allowed to reopen with table service only. Customers must book in advance and eat a meal while drinking alcohol. Photograph: Getty Images

From last Monday, pubs that served food were allowed to reopen with table service only. Customers must book in advance and eat a meal while drinking alcohol. Photograph: Getty Images

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Publicans risk the immediate closure of their pubs and losing their liquor licences if they are found breaching Covid-19 public health measures during new inspections on pubs, senior Garda sources have told The Irish Times.

Garda Headquarters in Phoenix Park, Dublin on Friday evening said it had instructed gardaí across the country to begin inspections in pubs from 7pm to ensure they were adhering to the public health measures – a significant ramping-up of the approach that had been planned.

Deputy Garda Commissioner John Twomey said it had initially been the Garda’s intention to carry out “spot checks” on pubs, rather than inspecting all pubs.

“However, it now appears that just a few days after their introduction, some licensed premises and their customers are ignoring the public health guidelines,” he said.

“By doing so, they are putting themselves and everyone they then come into contact with at risk of getting Covid-19. This is not acceptable and we are now expanding our planned checks.”

Because of concerns being expressed by members of the public as well as gardaí around the country and people in the pub trade, the initial plan to carry out spot checks had been escalated to Garda members being directed to check all pubs that were now opened in their areas.

Senior officers have told The Irish Times if pubs were found to be flouting the rules, they faced the prospect of being closed and/or losing their licence.

Pre-booking

Gardaí have no specific powers to close a pub on the spot if they find it in breach of conditions introduced to allow for the reopening of pubs last Monday, including social distancing and pre-booking and a time limit of 105 minutes per customer.

However, if Garda members find what they regard as unsafe conditions in pubs, they can alert the Health & Safety Authority (HSA) and it can apply to the High Court for an order that would force a pub to close over risks to health and wellbeing.

A number of Garda sources said the new inspections would initially be “light touch”, with gardaí engaging with publicans to explain the measures in place and to encourage compliance.

However, if the same pubs were found to have repeatedly ignored the Garda advice they could be closed by the HSA and gardaí could also object to a renewal of a pub licence in the District Court when its current licence expired.

Announcing the plan to immediately begin inspections in pubs, Garda Headquarters said while some of the provisions of the Covid-19 health regulations involved criminal offences, this was not the case for social distancing and some of the other health guidelines.

Legal process

However, it said some breaches of public health regulations could result in a legal process being commenced, adding that under long-standing liquor licensing laws a pub required “a declaration of suitability from a member of An Garda Síochána in order for its liquor license to be renewed”.

Under the Fáilte Ireland measures for the reopening of pubs, those that served food were allowed to reopen from Monday while pubs not serving food must wait until July 20th. From last Monday, pubs that served food were allowed to reopen with table service only.

No queuing is permitted at the bar and customers must book in advance and eat a meal while drinking alcohol. Each customer is only permitted to stay for 1¾ hours. Breaks of 15 minutes, for cleaning, are required before people can sit at a table in place of departing customers.