Restaurants and cafes in Temple Bar, Dublin, have been hit with an outdoor dining ban in the run-up to Christmas, despite being permitted to put tables and chairs on the street just three months ago.
While businesses in the area around Grafton Street have been encouraged by Dublin City Council to use the street for outdoor dining, Temple Bar traders have been denied street furniture licences, despite being in a pedestrian area.
Martin Harte, chief executive of business representative group Temple Bar Company, said the decision was "ludicrous" and "bizarre" and contrary to public health advice.
In September cafes and restaurants in the Temple Bar pedestrian zone, which runs from Eustace Street at the Norseman pub to Temple Bar Square, were permitted to put tables and chairs outdoors.
However, following the lifting of Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions, the council has said the furniture cannot return.
Mr Harte said the decision was all the more inexplicable, as the council and Temple Bar Company had recently installed bollards to enforce the pedestrian zone, routinely ignored by motorists.
“We have spent months ensuring that the area became an enforced pedestrian area for the very purpose of having outdoor dining,” he said. “We also got 200 chairs and 100 tables, which we distributed to our members to assist them to reopen safely and in line with public health advice.”
The council said it had allowed the street furniture in September, “as other businesses in the vicinity were closed and the council was under pressure to assist businesses in remaining open”.
However, it said having assessed the situation, and taken into account the concerns of Dublin Fire Brigade regarding emergency access and restricted means of escape from premises, "the applications could not be formally approved".
Mr Harte said the space in Temple Bar exceeded the 3.7m clearance required for emergency vehicles, which was not the case in several streets around Grafton Street he had measured.
“Temple Bar has been singled out for different treatment than other parts of the city,” he said. “The fact that lots of street furniture has been approved on many other streets within the city centre has really enraged many people.”
Independent councillor Mannix Flynn said in parts of the city people were "effectively building extensions to their pubs into the street" while "for some inexplicable reason" Temple Bar traders were being penalised.
“Temple Bar has managed its business in an exemplary way throughout the pandemic and has not been fined for any infringements,” he said.
“Let them put out the tables and chairs and demonstrate if they can manage things, and if they can’t, then take them away.”
Mr Harte said businesses were being unfairly treated at a time when custom was most needed. “Temple Bar has been hit harder than other parts of the city. All the advice is that outdoor dining is in the best interests of public health, but this decision will force people indoors, or mean businesses can’t open at all.”