The pub is the glue that holds Irish communities together - but it is becoming unstuck in the face of Government inaction and predatory trading by retail giants, the newly elected president of the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI) has warned.
Speaking as the federation agm got under way in Wexford, Kilkenny publican and new VFI president Pat Crotty said he would support a motion proposing a name change for the organisation, which represents rural pubs, on the grounds the general public does not know what the word "Vintner" means.
Other items to be discussed include commercial rates, energy costs and the high cost of personal injury insurance policies.
“For a long time the pub has been central to many communities but it is in danger of becoming peripheral,” Mr Crotty told The Irish Times.
“We have to figure out ways to remain relevant - but we also need support both from the public and from the Government.”
He pointed out that over the course of the recession, publicans had been hit with two VAT increases, two increases in excise duty and an increase to the minimum wage. "But we have had to absorb those costs because we would not have been in a position to pass on the increases to our customers," he said.
He warned that many pubs in rural Ireland were becoming unviable and said something would need to be done if they were to survive.
"They really are the social glue that holds communities together, and we will lose them at our peril. Maybe the Government could be looking at some reduction in rates," he suggested.
“I know that publicans don’t get much sympathy from the public and that many view us as fat cats, but the reality in most cases is far from that and I think society would ultimately lament the loss of the pub.”
He said while fewer people were going to pubs, alcohol consumption levels remain high as people chose to drink at home instead.
“It can be impossible to compete with retail prices. They still use alcohol to get people through the doors and then just increase the price of 10,000 other products they sell. We just can’t do that.”
It might be time to drop the name “vintner” from the organisation’s title and replace it with something consumers might more readily understand, he continued.
“I wonder how many people would know what the word ‘vintner’ actually meant? It is a bit archaic and I think we need to communicate in a language that people understand.”