The Garda Siochána remain concerned that a minority of publicans are potentially operating in breach of Covid-19 public health regulations and licensing laws, a senior Government official has said.
Liz Canavan, assistant secretary at the Department of the Taoiseach, was speaking after the Garda said that 26 licensed premises across the State could be prosecuted over the breaches.
More than 6,800 Covid-19 compliance checks were conducted by gardaí at pubs and restaurants last weekend after the Government permitted restaurants and pubs serving food to reopen as pandemic restrictions were eased on June 29th.
Officers found that 26 individual licensed premises, out of 2,785 that have reopened, were potentially breaching health regulations or licensing laws even after providing them with the opportunity to rectify the situation.
Files will now be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the force said in a statement.
Gardaí said that in many of the 26 cases they found customers consuming alcohol, but no evidence of food also being consumed and no evidence of receipts to show that food had been sold.
Officers also observed a lack of adherence to public health advice such as allowing large groups at the one table, little to no social distancing, no advisory signage and no records being kept for the purpose of contact tracing.
Ms Canavan said that the renewal of liquor licence applications “will be at risk unless compliance is observed.”
“The Gardaí remains concerned that a minority are potentially operating in breach of the regulations. In doing so, they putting the health of their customers and staff and everyone that they come into contact with at risk of getting Covid-19,” she said.
She urged the public to support businesses “who are trying to do the right and to avoid those that are not”.
Deputy Garda Commissioner John Twomey said gardaí remain concerned that “a minority are potentially operating in breach of the regulations”.
“In doing so, they are putting the health of their customers and staff and everyone they come into contact with after at risk of getting Covid-19. We are sending a clear message to such premises that we will be opposing their liquor license renewal applications in September unless they come into compliance,” he said.
“In addition, the public has shown great restraint and responsibility to date in adhering to the public health guidelines. The reality is that Covid-19 is still here. We all have an individual responsibility to ensure we continue to play our part in reducing the spread of Covid-19 to protect our family, friends and neighbours.”
A spokesman for the Vintners Federation of Ireland said the statement from the Garda was “a very clear warning and message” to a small minority of publicans that the authorities are taking breaches seriously and could close some pubs.
“If there is anyone out there thinking thy can ignore guidelines because they are not legally enforceable, they are mistaken. If the publican is not serving a substantial meal, that is grounds for prosecution,” said spokesman Brian Foley.
“The fact that 26 publicans are having files sent to the DPP sends out a serious message of intent that if you continue to abuse the guidelines, you could lose your licence and your livelihood, the most severe sanction you could face.”
Dublin City Council chief executive Owen Keegan said officials will be on the city’s streets this weekend monitoring the behaviour of people drinking in public areas, but they will rely on the gardaí to enforce regulations.
He told RTÉ’s Today with Sarah McInerney programme that if the officials find any misuse of approved street furniture it will be “dealt with” and that if there is illegal street furniture it will be removed.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin warned on Monday that people who go to pubs and fail to observe social distancing rules could force the Government to delay the full reopening of pubs on July 20th. This followed concerns being raised over groups gathering in parts of Dublin city centre over the weekend.
“As you know the full opening was to take place on July 20th … it could be delayed if they don’t behave - we will get advice from the public health officials but we are worried about it,” he said.
“Some of the scenes that we witnessed are very worrying because social distancing was not being complied with at all during a number of the inspections and the opening hours weren’t being adhered to either.”
Mr Foley called for the urgent publication of the guidelines for the safe reopening of pubs which do not serve food so they can be prepared for the July 20th if it proceeds on this date.
“Something as simple as, can they use barstools at a bar? In most rural pubs, the barstool is where the action is at so they need to know the guidelines for that,” he said.
Infectious diseases specialist Professor Sam McConkey said that a full reopening of the pubs should be put back until after the return of schools and primary and secondary education in late August and September.
“The most important thing for our long-term wealth and happiness is getting our children back into some sort of education and social activities,” he said.
“If the adults defer their drinking for a few weeks, it is not such a big issue, whereas if our children defer their education for more months, that is a big problem.”
Prof McConkey said he would prefer to see the return of pubs on a phased basis where they could reopen in “some small and tentative way” where customers would only be served at outdoor tables two metres apart with table service and servers wearing face coverings.
“Reopening pubs like they used to be last year with crowded bars is a disaster for the spread of Covid-19,” he said.