Restaurants plan legal action over ‘discriminatory’ indoor dining rules

Licensed Vintners Association welcomes ‘solid’ commitment to reopening all pubs on July 5th

The Government is expected to announce that hotels will reopen on June 2nd, along with indoor dining for guests, while outdoor hospitality will be allowed from June 7th and other indoor hospitality from July 5th. Photograph: iStock

The Government is expected to announce that hotels will reopen on June 2nd, along with indoor dining for guests, while outdoor hospitality will be allowed from June 7th and other indoor hospitality from July 5th. Photograph: iStock

 

The new plan for easing restrictions on the hospitality sector signals the end of a “15-month nightmare” is in sight for publicans, the chief executive of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) has said.

The Taoiseach confirmed on Friday evening that hotels will reopen on June 2nd, along with indoor dining for overnight guests. Outdoor hospitality will be allowed from June 7th, while bars and restaurants can welcome drinkers and diners inside their premises from July 5th.

The VFI’s chief executive, Padraig Cribben, said the “hugely significant” announcement provides certainty to publicans and the 50,000 staff employed in the trade. He paid tribute to the sectors’ workers who have battled through an “unprecedented storm”.

Mr Cribben said it is a “big boost” that the industry will be able to open for the busy July and August summer season. However, with only eight weekends in that period before September, the federation is urging the Government to bring forward the reopening by four days so publicans can trade for another weekend. This, Mr Cribben said, would be a “small concession with a big impact”.

Image: Paul Scott/The Irish Times
Image: Paul Scott/The Irish Times

The guidelines currently stipulate there must be one metre between tables indoors for customers who have pre-booked and a time limit of 105 minutes, plus 15 minutes in between bookings for cleaning. If the space between tables is expanded to two metres, diners won’t have to pre-book and there won’t be a time limit.

Both the VFI and the Licensed Vintners Association (LVA), which represents Dublin pubs, are hopeful the Government will revise the time limit for indoor customers.

Donal O’Keeffe, chief executive of the LVA said he anticipates updated guidelines as the reopening date for indoor dining approaches and the vaccine rollout progresses. The association will also be calling for bar seating to be allowed.

Overall the association is welcoming of a “solid” commitment to the reopening of all pubs on July 5th. “We were always going to be starting indoors with restrictions; this is a good starting point,” he said.

In the meantime, many of its member pubs in Dublin will be able to reopen for outdoor service in just over a week’s time.

“We are not back to the good old days, but this is a very important milestone . . . We have come through the horror show,” he added.

‘No other option’

However, restaurant owners were less pleased. The chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, Adrian Cummins, described as “discriminatory and inequitable” the decision to press ahead with hotel guest dining more than a month before standalone restaurants and hotels are allowed to welcome customers indoors.

Mr Cummins said the association is engaging with a legal firm with the intention of moving forward with a case taken by one of its members. Mr Cummins said the association hopes to get to court at the “earliest opportunity” next week.

“We have no other option because of the nature of this decision by the Government which is discriminatory and inequitable. It divides two sectors of hospitality with no scientific basis,” he added.

Mr Cummins said restaurant owners were particularly irked by comments made by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar on Friday morning that the decision to open hotel dining ahead of indoor services at other restaurants and pubs is “really more practical rather than scientific”.

“Follow the science has been the mantra since the pandemic began,” Mr Cummins went on.

An admission that science is not at the core of the decision could help to boost the legal case, Mr Cummins added. The association is calling for minutes of Cabinet meetings to be published, so the evidence behind the decision to stagger indoor dining can be scrutinised.

The tourist season runs from St Patrick’s Day until September, and June is a key revenue raiser for many regional restaurants, Mr Cummins said.

“I think the Government hasn’t realised that every week a business is closed during the tourist season is like a month in winter.”

Meanwhile, the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation said the Taoiseach’s announcement offers at “long last” a roadmap out of the crisis for the tourism and aviation sector.

The latest plan confirms Ireland will operate the European Union’s Digital Green Certificate from July 19th, provided the public health situation does not significantly deteriorate.

Chief executive of the confederation, Eoghan O’Mara Walsh, said: “For too long Ireland has had a closed sign above it. We now have a much more positive message to tell overseas markets.”

He said the Common Travel Area with Britain should be “fully restored without restrictions” and called for the creation of a travel corridor with the United States. A 90 per cent drop in revenue due to the pandemic, means the tourism sector will need ongoing supports for the remainder of 2021, he added.