Pubs in breach of Covid-19 rules face closure as €16m support plan is approved

Tánaiste casts doubt on pub reopenings this year as vintners bemoan ‘crumbs’ for industry

The Government has agreed to give gardaí greater enforcement powers against pubs that do not comply with Covid-19 public health guidelines.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar confirmed the move after a Cabinet meeting on Friday.

He also said there was a €16 million package being made available for pubs that were being prohibited from reopening next week.

There would be a 40 per cent increase on the restart grant for businesses in the pub trade, he added.

Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath said that Cabinet had also agreed to waive all licence fees for closed pubs.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) will also examine a new plan which will look at ways in which the industry can safely reopen but no date has been put on that.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said there would be enhanced enforcement powers for pubs and restaurants after an increase over the summer in the number of non-complaint premises.

She said with the sanction of a superintendent a gardaí can order the closure of a pub for one day, and if there is still no compliance with this seven days, and then 30 days.

Mr Varadkar said he could not say with any certainty whether pubs would reopen this year.

The Cabinet also agreed to ask the Attorney General to examine options for further regulating house parties.

Under the proposals discussed this afternoon, it will be an offence to organise or attend a gathering in a private house with more than six visitors either indoors or outdoors. This measure was introduced as a guideline last week.

The scale of the funding package for pubs, bars and nightclubs was criticised by industry representatives.

Donall O’Keeffe, chief executive of the Licensed Vintners’ Association (LVA), said it was a “paltry gesture which shows little regard… for the troubles of the pub industry”.

“This is the third time the reopening of the pubs has been delayed and they have had weeks to put a package together,” Mr O’Keeffe said.

“It is disappointing in the extreme.”

Padraig Cribben, chief executive of Vintners' Federation of Ireland described the support package as "crumbs" and "woefully inadequate" for publicans who are closed almost six months.

“Our members are facing into an Autumn of uncertainty with no guidance from Government about how and when they will be allowed [to] reopen,” he said.

“In the circumstances, a weekly grant payment was the absolute minimum publicans expected. Publicans are now in complete despair.”

Workplace regulations

Meanwhile, further regulations are being considered by the Government which would see workers in premises that serve drink and food be obliged to wear masks.

Ministers previously signed regulations making face coverings mandatory in shops and other indoor public settings but this did not extend to restaurants, bars or cafes.

Sources have said that officials in the Department of Health are currently drafting the regulations but that the plan will be to make it mandatory for those working in any establishment that serves food or drinks to wear masks.

Earlier on Friday, the HSE's Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry said now was not the time for pubs not serving food to reopen.

Dr Henry, who is also a member of the NPHET, said that from international experience congregated settings and alcohol were not good conditions for transmission of the virus.

Speaking on RTÉ radio's Morning Ireland, Dr Henry pointed out that the 14 day incidence has risen from three per 100,000 in June to 33 per 100,000 at present. "We had a single number of new cases per day back in June, now we're seeing new cases in the order of 100 to 120 per day.

‘A critical juncture’

“Now we’re opening schools and that’s an important milestone in our experience of Covid so far, because we’re recognising the impact closures have had on children’s health and well being, so now is not the right time to reopen pubs at this critical juncture,” he said.

When asked about the lower levels of hospitalisation and the age profile of more recent cases (31 years old), Dr Henry said: “We can’t have society apartheid where we expect older people to obey one set of rules and younger people to not adhere to those rules, because we know that apart from the harm to children, we are now seeing reports of harm to older people, malnutrition, deconditioning, decreased mobility, we can’t protract the isolation of older people.”

Dr Henry said that the new advice that came in last week was the need to double up “on all our behaviours” which meant that now was not the right time to reopen pubs with rising community transmissions.

“Sequencing of the virus shows it is the same, every bit as transmissible, every bit as lethal to vulnerable people and older people and younger people are not immune to the effects of the virus.”

Dr Henry said that the collective aim must be “to extinguish and suffocate the virus in those household settings and not allow transmission between household settings, hence the regulations that came in last week limiting the number of people indoors and outdoors and hence the generic advice for people apart from washing hands and distancing is avoid indoor settings, avoid congregated settings, minimise and ration the number of close contacts that you have.”