Covid-19: Minister warns pubs over social distancing guidelines

Video of crowds drinking on Dublin streets and ignoring physical distancing rules posted on social media

Further restrictions on reopenings may be imposed if businesses continue to flaunt social distancing guidelines, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has said.

The Minister was speaking following reports of pubs and customers failing to abide by measures introduced to prevent a resurgence of coronavirus which causes the disease Covid-19.

The Garda has submitted a report to Government ahead of today’s cabinet meeting on what it observed over the weekend in licensed premises across the country.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said gardaí carried out about 6,000 inspections of licensed premises over the weekend under Operation Navigation and found the “vast majority” to be in compliance.


In some cases pub owners in breach of the guidelines agreed to clear out their pubs. In others gardaí used public order legislation, he said.

Speaking at Slane Garda station in Meath following her first official meeting Mr Harris since being appointed Minister for Justice, Ms McEntee said the restrictions are “obviously something we need to continuously review.”

She said the “vast majority” of businesses are doing their best to protect staff and customers but that “of course we’ve seen some scenes over the weekend that were maybe disappointing.

“I would ask and urge everybody to comply with public health regulations. We have come so far and made such great progress.”

“What we don’t want is to have to re-implement these measures which have been relaxed over the past while. But certainly it is an issue and will be kept under review.”

Ms McEntee said officials will engage with premises to help them comply with the rules. “If that does not happen, if certain premises continue to disregard regulations then obviously further measures will have to be taken.”

Mr Harris said large crowds of drinkers gathered on Dame Lane in Dublin over the weekend, images of which were shared widely on social media, were dealt with by gardaí using public order legislation.

He said it was an isolated incident and that the “broader picture was one of compliance. People are doing their best.”

The gardaí need to intervene to stop large groups drinking on the streets and ignoring Covid-19 physical distancing rules, the chief executive of the Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) Donall O'Keeffe has said.

Mr O’ Keeffe said the images and videos posted on social media over the weekend of large crowds of people drinking on Dublin city centre streets were “shocking”.

"We're hugely concerned that an irresponsible few could damage the entire industry -– it's very damaging for the reputation of pubs in Dublin, what's going on, it's very damaging for the image of the city," he told RTÉ radio's Morning Ireland on Monday.

“It’s unacceptable that people are allowed to drink alcohol on streets and laneways, in public places in or around the city centre.

“We are calling on the gardaí to try and deal with this situation. It’s really concerning from a public health perspective and it’s really concerning for the recovery of our business.”

Mr O’Keeffe said it appeared that at the weekend a number of pubs were selling draught beer through windows, and some people were buying their alcohol in advance and then arriving in the area.

“It’s a shocking situation. It’s disgraceful business. This should not be happening. But selling alcohol, pints out through a window or a hatch, is actually legal so that’s the weakness in the legislation.

“It was inconceivable three months ago that pubs would be involved in this type of business. We always want our customers to come to the premises, have use of the facilities, our staff, our service. This situation was never contemplated, but it’s causing huge problems in town now.”

Mr O'Keeffe said the issue on on-street drinking was separate from the reopening of pubs adhering to the new Fáilte Ireland guidelines.

“This is a separate issue of on-street drinking. It’s been there forever at a low level, but has reached very serious, very worrying, very dangerous proportions over the last days.

“The gardaí need to deal with that. The law is clear – if alcohol is sold for takeaway, it cannot be consumed within 100m of the premises – that’s difficult for pubs to enforce, but they should,” he said.

“ The pubs that are knowingly allowing that alcohol to be consumed on public streets and laneways around our pubs should stop that business. The gardaí must intervene now to deal with this.”

Premises should close

The chief executive of the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI) Pádraig Cribben said gardaí should make it clear to pubs not observing Covid-19 health guidelines that there will be “significant objections” when it comes time to renew their licences.

The overwhelming majority of publicans were acting responsibly, he told RTÉ radio’s Today with Sarah McInerney show. Mr Cribben said it was a “small minority” who were not following the guidelines. He said they should be called out and their premises closed.

Mr Cribben said if gardaí told publicans, who were not following the guidelines, there would be objections when their licences needed to be renewed that would “bring them to order.”

Mr Cribben also said if all pubs had been reopened at the same time, not just 45 per cent, there would not have been the crowding seen at the weekend.

He said “takeaway” drinks, which appear to have been a big factor in the scenes in Dublin’s Dame Lane on Saturday night, needed to be stopped.

‘People were on top of each other’

Consultant Dr Laura Durcan, who had witnessed the crowds in Dame Lane at the weekend, also called for a change in the rules with regard to take-out drinks.

“These people were on top of each other (on Dame Lane),” she said. “Pubs need to take responsibility, they need to stop take out drinks.”

Dr Durcan said there was a need for “a strong national voice on what is acceptable and appropriate behaviour.” She said she was concerned was for what would happen in the next nine to 14 days when people began to manifest symptoms or being asymptomatic and unknowingly spreading the virus.

Rules difficult to enforce

Public Health expert Prof Joe Barry said the problem was predictable because of the weakness in the current legislation. He said he had a certain amount of sympathy for pubs as the Fáilte Ireland guidelines were very difficult to enforce.

“It says if people go to pubs and get drink ordered, and have it even on the premises, they’ve got to give their contact details because the only way our public health colleagues will be able to follow up outbreaks ,” Prof Barry said.

He said he’s observed that most young people don’t observe social distancing while “lots of members of the population are taking it very seriously and are staying away from pubs.”

Prof Barry said there were two things that needed to be done to stop a resurgence of coronavirus.

“I hear that gardaí and the HSA are going to be inputting into the review of what’s working and not,” he said.

“I think public health people need to be involved in that review today with the Cabinet, because at the end of the day we all want an orderly return to normality.

“What happened last night will probably happen again. There are lots of weaknesses in the system, which was inevitable. Unfortunately it is going to lead to more spikes and that is something that none of us in the country want.”