‘It’s heartbreaking’: Pub owners react to delay in reopening indoor services

Publican Barry Flanagan believes plan for the fully vaccinated will be impossible to operate

Barry Flanagan, owner of the Lock 13 gastropub in Sallins, Co Kildare. Photograph: Grace Donnellan

Barry Flanagan, owner of the Lock 13 gastropub in Sallins, Co Kildare. Photograph: Grace Donnellan

 

Barry Flanagan, owner of the Lock 13 gastropub in Sallins, Co Kildare, has already made up his mind about the Government’s plan to let fully vaccinated people enjoy a return to indoor services in pubs and restaurants, but keep others outside.

“I wouldn’t want to be participating in that as a business. They don’t seem to have a plan in place,” he said, believing such an arrangement for customers would be impossible to operate and would cause concerns for his staff.

“I think it is a recipe for legal cases to be taken. I don’t think they’ve thought it through. I’d be interested to see how enforcement happens – the restaurant owner or the gardaí, for example, ” he told The Irish Times.

Announcing the plan for a return to indoor services at pubs and restaurants for the fully vaccinated after the workings of such a scheme were worked out, the Government said on Tuesday that the general reopening of indoor dining was now being postponed from the planned date of July 5th.

For now, Flanagan is grateful to have an outdoor area in which he can do business. “We have a covered space and also an uncovered space that we can use when the weather is nice,” he said.

However, the outdoor trade is fickle, and difficult to manage because a busy afternoon of bookings can fall away with “a flood of cancellations” if the forecast changes.

The delays and changes in reopening plans will make it difficult to attract and keep staff in hospitality, he fears, because it is “hard” to stay motivated in an industry “that is always left last to open and first to close”.

Disagreeing “wholeheartedly” that pubs and restaurants spurred the rise in Christmas Covid-19 numbers, he said the trade had made every effort to offer a controlled environment.

‘Gutted’

The lack of a guaranteed date for the reopening of indoor services in pubs and restaurants is the hardest pill to swallow, says Paul Lenehan, owner of Hartes gastropub in Kildare town, The Dew Drop Inn in Kill and Ashtons Gastropub in Clonskeagh in Dublin.

“Gutted, let down, disappointed, shocked that a decision like that could even be made. The biggest shock is that no date was given. Basically, the can has been kicked further down the road,” he said.

Saying he had had “rosters planned and menus done”, Mr Lenehan added: “Now we’re being told today it mightn’t, or won’t be the 19th [of July, as had been speculated in relation to the duration of the postponement], because they couldn’t give any clarity or definitive answer.

“The big fear is now it won’t even be in July. It’s just an absolute disgrace. The lack of clarity. We’re not seemingly following the WHO’s guidelines, we’re not looking to the rest of Europe, especially the UK.”

The UK had 22,000 new cases of Covid-19 on Monday, mostly of the Delta variant, yet its health secretary Sajid Javid “was out last night saying they are sticking to the 19th of July to get rid of all remaining restrictions”, Mr Lenehan said.

The Government here has warned repeatedly about the risk of deaths, “[yet] all the deaths that we suffered in the last 18 months were from the people that are now vaccinated.

“The older age groups are now vaccinated. If they’re vaccinated where are these additional deaths going to come from? We’re stuck again and where we go now and what we do from here, who knows?”

Fully booked

Joe May, the co-owner of Joe Mays on the Harbour Road in Skerries in north Co Dublin, says he was “devastated” by Tuesday’s announcement, saying one of his operations had been fully booked for indoor dining for July and August.

“A lot of our regular customers we wouldn’t have seen in the last year, or longer, even have bookings . . . Now the wool has been pulled from under us again,” he said.

New staff had been hired, he added. “It’s hard to get it kind of straight in your head because to me the 5th of July was set in stone and I think for a lot of publicans and restaurant owners that was non-negotiable.”

The Delta variant is “a game-changer”, he accepted, but the National Public Health Emergency Team’s (Nphet) warnings of 700,000 new cases by September “doesn’t seem to tally” with the experience in the UK, or across the Continent, “certainly as regards to hospitalisations”.

Restaurants offer a controlled environment with people sitting at tables, guaranteed social distancing and contact tracing, he says. “I can’t see how restaurants are going to be a problem. Pubs might be a slightly different story.

“If you think that people are going to get rowdy later on in the night we’ll close earlier. We’ll close at 10 rather than 11.30, but give us the opportunity to give it a go. It’s heartbreaking to be honest with you really.”

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