Restaurants group prepares legal challenge against reopening rules

Government to allow hotels, but not restaurants, open indoor dining facilities in June

Covid-19 signage on a bar in FIRE restaurant. File photograph Nick Bradshaw/ The Irish Times

Covid-19 signage on a bar in FIRE restaurant. File photograph Nick Bradshaw/ The Irish Times

 

The group representing thousands of restaurants in Ireland is preparing to begin a legal challenge against the Government’s decision to allow hotels to reopen their indoor dining facilities to residents from early next month while forcing restaurants that cannot offer outdoor dining to stay closed.

The chief executive of the Restaurant Association of Ireland (RAI) Adrian Cummins told The Irish Times there was “a huge amount of frustration” among members over the Government plans.

He said if hotels were allowed to offer indoor dining based on the density, space and ventilation in their dining rooms, restaurants should be allowed to do the same.

“A number of businesses have come to us to say that they are being economically discriminated against by the announcement that hotels will be able to open for indoor dining from June 2nd while they won’t. Restaurants don’t even have a date when reopening will be allowed or any metrics to work with,” he said.

“We will support any legal challenge a business takes, we will back it and we have our legal team working on it.”

Mr Cummins said no legal action would commence until the statutory instrument allowing hotels to recommence indoor dining was signed into law and he stressed that any legal steps would not aim to stop hotels opening their dining facilities but to allow indoor restaurants do the same.

Speaking on Saturday, the chairman of the National Public Health Emergency Team modelling group, Prof Philip Nolan, said hotels would have lower density and turnover of customers than normal restaurants. “Given the level of hotel occupancy the owners of the hotel should be able to operate their restaurant in a very controlled manner,” he said.

He said the resumption of indoor dining in hotels would “lay the groundwork” for further reopening of the rest of the restaurant sector.

In response Mr Cummins said he wanted “to see what the guidelines around density, ventilation and space are. Around 70 per cent of restaurants do not have outdoor dining or beer gardens and even many who do will not find it viable to open with only that space available to them.

“The outdoor dining was about supplementing the indoor space which was limited as a result of social distancing restrictions,” he said.

He expressed concern that Government Ministers were now talking about restaurants with indoor facilities being along to open at the same time as pubs nightclubs and casinos.

“There is a huge amount of frustration out there.Our members are flying blind and don’t know when they can open which is why they have come to us and asked about legal action.

“We want to see fairness and transparency and if the guidelines for a hotel to re-open its indoor dining facilities depends on density, space, ventilation and they why can’t we open under the same guidelines.”

He expressed optimism that the public would support any legal move taken by restaurants “when they see that there is discrimination and that it is simply unfair”.