One of State’s biggest restaurant and pub groups starts legal action over Covid-19 measures

Press Up Group says that it stands to lose more than €20 million by year-end due to closures

Press Up Group whose Dublin premises include Elephant & Castle claims it stands to lose more than €20 million by the end of the year. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

Press Up Group whose Dublin premises include Elephant & Castle claims it stands to lose more than €20 million by the end of the year. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

One of the biggest restaurant and pub groups in the State has taken legal action against the Government over the extension of the Covid-19 restrictions closing their premises to indoor dining.

Press Up Group whose Dublin premises include Elephant & Castle, Wagamama, The Clarence, Devlin and Dean hotels and The Stella cinema, claims that it stands to lose more than €20 million in business by the end of the year due to the closures.

The hospitality business, controlled by businessman Paddy McKillen Jr, threatened legal action against the Government last week if it decided to extend the Covid-19 restrictions.

The Level 3 restrictions, limiting gastropubs and restaurants to outdoor dining only, were introduced last month in Dublin but extended across the country this week until October 27th.

The group claims in newly filed legal documents, launching the case on Wednesday, that the State’s prohibitions to contain and eliminate coronavirus infections had been advanced on the basis of the “exigencies of the common good in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The business chain, which employs more than 1,700 people across the group, claims this amounts to a “subjugation” of its “constitutional and common law rights to the common good.”

It argues that the State has failed to make any provision to compensate or indemnify it for the loss or interference to its property rights “in circumstances where the requirement to close the premises to the public is a direct requirement of the purported exigencies of the common good.”

It occupies 55 premises affected by the restrictions - 37 restaurants, 11 bars, five hotels and two cinemas, mostly in Dublin. The premises are valued at more than €10 million, the group says.

The group says that it has complied with Government health guidelines at all times since the start of the pandemic in March and that it has not been notified of any Covid-19 outbreaks.

The legal proceedings have been issued by 18 companies in the group against the Ministers for Health and Finance, the State and the Attorney General, which are yet to respond.

The group said that it has incurred “very significant losses” due to the closure of premises including loss of revenue and profit, far in excess of €1 million.

Matt Ryan, one of the group’s directors, says in a sworn statement filed with the High Court proceedings that the group has had to reduce staff numbers by almost half to 938 since the Level 3 restrictions were introduced in Dublin on September 19th.

In the week after the restrictions were introduced, Mr Ryan said that the group’s turnover had decreased on a like-for-like basis by almost €1.4 million, or more than 70 per cent.

“If the current lockdown continues until year-end, and based on turnover achieved in week 39, group turnover on a like-for-like basis would decrease by €20,731,695, or 72 per cent. The loss claimed as a result of the enactments will be in excess of €20 million,” he said.

The group had to reduce its workforce from 1,719 to 159 following the initial lockdown in March 2020 but with re-purposing and re-opening certain venues for takeaway and delivery the group was able to increase employee numbers to 1,437.

“This has since reduced to 938 following the introduction of the regulations on 19 September and the restrictions imposed on the [GROUP’S]premises,” said Mr Ryan.

The business group has asked that the proceedings be fast-tracked for entry into the Commercial Court, a division of the High Court that hears expedited cases.