Northern Ireland: Reopening of nightclubs part of ‘return to normality’

Minister voices concern over lack of mandate for Covid vaccine proof to enter clubs

There are around 100 nightclubs in Northern Ireland, according to an industry body. Photograph: iStock

There are around 100 nightclubs in Northern Ireland, according to an industry body. Photograph: iStock

 

The reopening of nightclubs in Northern Ireland represents part of the return to normality that many young people have been craving, a leading promoter has said.

For the first time in a year and a half, nightclubs opened their doors on Halloween night across Northern Ireland after some Covid-19 restrictions were eased.

A Stormont minister repeated her concerns about the nightclub sector reopening without a mandatory Covid vaccination certification system.

Nightclubs had been the last remaining part of the hospitality sector which had been prevented from opening due to public health regulations.

But the Executive agreed to permit the reopening on Sunday and also said that customers would be able to remove their face masks when dancing.

Joe Dougan, promoter and manager at the Limelight in Belfast, said: “After a very difficult 19 months for the nightclub industry, it felt fantastic to be back.

“In many ways it felt like business as usual, we operate a very safe environment for our customers and will continue to, and the atmosphere was back to what we’d been used to also – world class.”

Mr Dougan continued: “Customers and staff alike were delighted to be back at it, and we all just hope that this is the desperately needed return to relative normality that we’ve been craving for so long.

“We were one of the first industries to close, it certainly appears that we are one of the last to reopen.

“We have engaged with Government consistently, and have done what we can to ensure that this sector is considered at Executive level — I believe they’ve listened, and we are grateful for that.

“The highlight of it all for me was realising that for many of the 18 to 19-year-olds in attendance, this was their first time ever dancing in a night club.

“I remember my first visit to The Limelight as a reveller, and that experience really is irreplaceable.”

Colin Neill from Hospitality Ulster said he had spoken to several nightclub owners and they all said the reopening has been a success.

He said: “Northern Ireland has a relatively small nightclub sector, less than 100 across the province.

“From reaching out to them it was clear that they had a successful night after being closed for so many months.”

The Executive advised venues to introduce their own Covid entry checks but stopped short of bringing in a mandatory system similar to the one operating in the south.

Mr Neill said his organisation had advised all of the venues about the voluntary system, but added that it would take time to gauge how well it was working.

The issue has divided the Stormont administration, with the SDLP and Alliance Party calling for legally enforceable Covid passports for nightlife venues.

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon told the PA news agency: “I am concerned by this situation. We know that the greatest protection against the spread of this virus is vaccine uptake.

“We know that when you incentivise vaccine uptake, particularly among younger people, it works. We know that we have a fragile health service.

“We want to see a sustainable pathway out of the remaining restrictions and to be doing everything that we can to minimise the risk of having to reimpose restrictions.

“We are clear that Covid certification for access to hospitality is the answer. It has been shown to work in other places.

“It is being very much left to businesses to decide for themselves. The SDLP view is that it is much clearer and cleaner when you have clear regulations.”

Work is continuing on developing an official certification system for Northern Ireland but DUP First Minister Paul Givan and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill have insisted they do not want to compel the sector to enforce mandatory checks at this point, preferring a “partnership approach”.

Ten further deaths of patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 were reported in Northern Ireland on Monday.

The North’s Department of Health also reported another 948 cases of the virus.

On Monday morning there were 326 Covid-positive patients in hospital, of whom 36 were in intensive care.

To date, 2,663,473 vaccines have been administered. – PA