Derry restrictions: ‘I can’t disagree with it. Just look at the figures’

Business owners in the city understand the need for action but fret about survival

Publican William McGuinness, the owner of Peadar O’Donnell’s pub in Derry city. Photograph: Freya McClements

Publican William McGuinness, the owner of Peadar O’Donnell’s pub in Derry city. Photograph: Freya McClements


“Closing again,” a customer outside The Scullery Cafe in Derry city centre remsarks. “It’s a sad day.”

Like everyone in the hospitality industry in Derry, the cafe’s owner, Dermot Doherty, has been here before. Lockdown closed the business from mid-March until July. Now spiralling rates of Covid-19 in the Derry City and Strabane District Council area mean new restrictions will be in place from Monday.

The new rules, initially to be in force for two weeks, are designed to reduce social interaction and include the closure of museums and galleries, a ban on spectators at sporting events, and an appeal to avoid travel.

Hotels can serve residents only while cafés, pubs and restaurants are limited to takeaway, delivery and outside service.

At The Scullery, the plan is to serve takeaway tea and coffee. “We will stay open whatever happens,” says Doherty. It is about maintaining the business’s presence, continuing to serve their customers and “basically, to keep our staff in work.”

Though he agrees action must be taken and favours “a really strong lockdown for the next six weeks”, he warns of restrictions extending beyond the end of the month, when the government’s coronavirus job furlough scheme ends.

“You can’t employ 13 staff doing only tea and coffee,” says Doherty. “I think there will be a lot of job losses.”

Hospital Report

Confirmed cases in hospital Confirmed cases in ICU
545 117

Shuttered pub

Across the road, William McGuinness of the shuttered Peadar O’Donnell’s pub is contemplating a similar scenario. He is the owner of three licensed premises, and decided to shut them all after closing time on Thursday.

“There’s no point putting the brakes on on Monday when we could do it today.”

Dermot Doherty, owner of The Scullery Cafe, Derry city. Photograph: Freya McClements
Dermot Doherty, owner of The Scullery Cafe, Derry city. Photograph: Freya McClements

He and many others in the city made a similar decision back in March, choosing to close when the Republic went into lockdown before the North. The earlier adoption of restrictions in Border areas was later credited as one of the reasons the virus was initially less prevalent there.

McGuinness’s three venues only reopened a few weeks ago, after adapting to serve food. Since they have reopened, trade has been down by 60 per cent.

All were “very busy bars before the lockdown happened. On busy nights, we would have to turn people away. Now, with social distancing, we’re just about scraping by.”

McGuinness was watching the numbers, and knew lockdown was coming.

“I can’t disagree with it,” he says. “Just look at the figures. The virus doesn’t spread itself, we spread the virus, and the way it’s going, it’s better to put the lid on it now and try and push the virus back.”

But he is “worried about our employees, worried about the furlough scheme coming to an end, worried about having to lay people off. Hopefully we will survive,” he says, “but some others may not. There will be premises that will close.”

‘Lights out’

Others in the city have the same fears, not least the president of the city’s Chamber of Commerce, Redmond McFadden, who said the North’s Executive “must put in place support measures to allow businesses here a fighting chance.

“Otherwise it will be lights out for many of them, and the possibility of thousands of redundancies in a region that has one of the highest unemployment rates in the UK.”

At Primrose restaurant along Derry’s quay, Melanie Breslin admits to being relatively lucky. With an outdoor seating area, she can continue serving food as well as takeaway hot drinks.

“We’re organising big industrial heaters, and we’re saying to everybody: bring a blanket,” she says.

“Through the good and the bad, we have to support each other. When everyone opens up again, get out and support them.”

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