Nightclub operators are both “excited and confused” about reopening on Friday, for the first time since March 2020.
Under the revised reopening plan announced by the Government on Tuesday, nightclubs are set to reopen from Friday, October 22nd, albeit with restrictions.
New rules will be developed for the operation of nightclubs, which are likely to involve Covid-19 passes, contact tracing data collection and wearing of face masks except when eating, drinking and dancing, the Government said in a statement.
Ian Redmond, who runs the Tramline nightclub in Dublin's city centre, said he was "delighted" the club could finally reopen.
“There was huge uncertainty last week when the murmurs started that it might not go ahead. But today we had enough clarity to be confident we can open fully with some safety measures in place, which I totally understand. So we are happy overall,” he said.
“On Friday, it will have been 590 days since we had a customer dancing on our dancefloor, so it’s long overdue,” he added.
It had been difficult to secure staff last week but now "everybody is on board" and Mr Redmond was "confident we can train enough staff up so they're ready to go. I don't imagine it will be silver service but it'll be the best we can do with short notice," he said.
There was “a real excitement and buzz around” and Mr Redmond said he felt “lucky and grateful the club was able to ride this out”.
Promoter and event manager Buzz O’Neill shared that excitement, but overall he felt there was still a lack of clarity about how nightclubs can operate.
Mr O’Neill said nightclub operators were “not much clearer than we were a week ago or a month ago”.
“We’re just waiting to see the specific guidelines in writing because there are going to be separate guidelines for nightclubs to bars, late bars, restaurants and gigs even though there is obviously a big mesh of crossover between all of those,” he said.
Reduced capacity or social distancing “won’t work” for nightclubs, he said.
“We’re more than happy to continue with the Covid-19 passport for entry and the Taoiseach seems to have come round to antigen testing as well. We’d really welcome that, but the Government would have to support us with that and supply those kits.”
Most nightclubs were already sold out in advance for this weekend and were now in “total confusion” but “at the same time, we can’t wait to reopen”.
Mr O’Neill said he was particularly excited to be able to reopen the club nights he helps run for the LGBT+ community, as he had heard “shocking stories of loneliness and isolation” from young people throughout the pandemic, who had missed out on the rites of passage like going to college, coming out, and going to clubs.
“In LGBT+ club nights, we all know each other and miss each other. It’s a scene. They’ve missed out on that,” he said.
Court fees and associated excise duty relating to special exemption orders, which permit bars and nightclubs to trade past normal hours, will be waived for the remainder of 2021.
Meanwhile, the announcement that pubs must continue with mandatory table service while not permitting customers to sit or stand at the bar counter was “another devastating blow” to the pub sector, the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) said.
Maintaining such restrictions would result in further pub closures as mandatory table service significantly reduces capacity in venues, VFI chief executive Padraig Cribben said.
“Over 92 per cent of people are vaccinated so we could have easily removed mandatory table service by limiting entry to customers with vaccine passes,” he said.
The return of normal trading hours was “simply a fig leaf” for the fact that bar counters remain off limits.
“This restriction alone will mean pubs can’t operate at full capacity and will make continued trading impossible for many of our members. We also have to contend with the glaring anomaly of nightclubs reopening where people will be permitted to dance while customers in pubs won’t be allowed to sit at the bar counter,” Mr Cribben added.
Small businesses were "concerned with the announcement not to allow full capacity indoor events to take place," Small Firms Association director Sven Spollen Behrens said. Many businesses in the experience economy had developed "extensive plans" to open fully on the October bank holiday, "with money already paid to suppliers and staff rostered," he said.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said there would be “different rules for different sectors”, though declined to get into specifics about how nightclubs would manage requirements for social distancing, saying there would be detailed guidance issuing in the coming days.
However, he confirmed there would be no capacity limits for nightclubs. “What traditionally happens in a nightclub will continue to happen in a nightclub,” he said.
“There will be anomalies, it’s not one clear line across different sectors . . . We will work out with different sectors specific guidance, including nightclubs, and it will have to be practical.”
A statement from the Department of Arts and Culture said there were "some clarifications and anomalies which need to be worked through" and officials would be engaging with the Department of the Taoiseach, sectoral and stakeholders over the coming days to "find resolutions to any issues which may arise".