Publicans, wary of ‘wet pub’ reopening date, seek financial supports

‘I won’t be buying stock on the basis of that date’, says one publican

Publicans gathered outside the Dáil on Tuesday to protest repeated delays in reopening "wet" pubs, which are now due to reopen on September 21st. Pub owners described the impact closures have had on communities and called for financial support from Government.

 

Just as the Government was cementing a date to reopen pubs, a nearby group of frustrated owners gathered at Merrion Square to march on the Dáil and demand “fair play”.

Like most of them, Tipperary based organiser TJ McInerney seemed nonplussed by the new date - his attention has shifted to a battle for financial supports, for survival even after the doors creak back open.

“I never signed up to go bankrupt,” he said, and listed off a “suite of solutions” that would include cuts in VAT and excise duty.

As he set out his concerns, another publican walked past to tell him the Government had agreed on September 21st.

“I have already got the two road maps on reopening and nothing happened. I won’t be buying stock on the basis of that date,” he said in response.

“I have to hear it from the Minister and I have to be guaranteed. It’s actually the fourth time I have been told.”

The group marched to the Dáil where they were met by a handful of rural TDs, echoing their demands for financial help and a viable future. The Irish pub will be much altered in the months ahead - less people, no bar service. The common concern voiced at the protest is the ability to survive in a public-facing industry crippled by Covid-19 restrictions.

In matching GAA shirts, Ronan and Lorraine Gibbons travelled from Shrule on the Mayo-Galway border where their small bar caters for a very local clientele.

“My pub would be the first pub in Mayo or the last, depending on which way you are going,” said Ronan, who set out their rural credentials - you will never get much more than 10 or 12 people in TJ Gibbons at any one time.

“I am here today because I don’t want to be on the dole. I want to get my pub open and get a bit of fair play,” he said. “It’s rural Ireland; it’s rural Ireland.”

Fourth generation

Simon Varley is only 25 and while he runs the family pub in Headford, Galway alongside his father, he will be the fourth generation proprietor one day.

He has been pulling pints since he was 15.

“It’s all I have ever known,” he said. He joined the march to fight for the future he always assumed he would have.

“It [Covid] is scuppering the whole thing. All I want to do is keep it going, keep the family business going,” he said.

“It’s really the last chance now at this stage. If it goes on much longer, ourselves and many other rural businesses are finished. Publicans have been take for a ride.”

Many at the march described premises of a typical size - accommodating about 100 people pre-Covid. With the new regulations, that will be cut to about 35 in most cases.

“We are really going to need a lot of help going forward,” said Jackie O’Brien, the fourth generation of O’Brien’s in Tipperary Town. His father Eamon, aged in his early 80s, is about to stand back from the bar for good.

“Thirty per cent of the business is what it’s looking like [with the new guidelines] and we will have 100 per cent of the bills.”

Donal O’Keeffe, chief executive of Dublin’s Licensed Vintners Association, welcomed the Government move but said that by the time the last pubs open, they will have been shut for 189 days.

“It will not be business as usual,” he said, “the new guidelines put a lot of restrictions on the trade, they will really challenge our commercial viability.”

Drinks Ireland, the suppliers’ organisation, said it would work with publicans to supply stock and to clean beer lines. Its new campaign, #OpeningTime, will highlight the importance of getting pubs open safely and sustainably, it said.

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