Rural publicans have been left “totally in a heap” after news of the introduction of a more strict curfew for the hospitality industry broke on Friday evening.
In Kerry, the owner of the Beaufort Bar in the foothills of the MacGillycuddy's Reeks said this had been one of the toughest years in the pub's 180-year history.
Padruig O’Sullivan, whose family pub can be traced back to 1841, said he was concerned for his elderly customers.
“They are at a complete crossroads. Retired people were asking last night what is in front of them this Christmas and are they to be locked into their own homes?”
Mr O’Sullivan said there were practical considerations, too, such as orders for stock, arranging cash for change at the bank and staff rosters having to be changed.
“There is only one day to order stock. The final order is Monday and that will have to do until January 4th,” he said.
“There has been uncertainty all day,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
From Monday, pubs and restaurants will be required to close from 8pm, under new restrictions introduced to tackle the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. The Government rejected a recommendation from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) to close indoor hospitality at 5pm.
Colette O’Connor, the head for the representative body for business in north Kerry, Tralee Chamber Alliance, said there was “real anxiety” in the hospitality industry and the mental health of staff and employers was being impacted by the lack of clear communication from Government.
Staff across the county went into work on Friday wondering “am I going to be on the roster on Monday? Can they pay their bills, can they do their Christmas shopping?”
Equally, employers in the hospitality sector were “dreading meeting staff on Friday because they have no clear guidance”.
“The lack of joined up communication has to stop,” Ms O’Connor said.
In Boyle, Co Roscommon, there were four customers in Dodd’s pub at 4.30pm on Friday – and that was busy for a Friday afternoon.
Publican Dennis Dodd, who said there were afternoons when an hour or two might pass before he saw anyone, was still reeling after waking to the “diabolical” news that a 5pm curfew had been proposed.
“It would be a help if they decided on 8pm closing. Our regulars usually start coming in around seven o’clock,” he said.
A 5pm closure would have meant the end of the road for many rural pubs, Dodd said.
“We’d only have a handful in from 1pm to 5pm. Most of our trade is from 7pm on,” he explained.
“I never expected this. It is a bolt out of the blue. I thought nothing would happen until after Christmas. This is unreal,” said Dodd, who was full of praise for the way his customers adapted to every tweak of the restrictions.
The Dodds have been in the Crescent Bar for over 70 years. Dennis’s father Joe took the helm around 1950 and it’s a place where a mixture of rural and “town” customers meet.
The pub is famous for the Friday night sessions which regularly attract some of the country’s best known traditional musicians.
“It looks like the Friday night session will be off for a while,” said Dodd.
He said the underlying message from Nphet seemed to be that pubs were to blame for the spread of Covid-19. “I don’t know where that is coming from. There is no evidence. I do think we are being unfairly treated.”
Boyle, like a lot of towns in the west, usually sees a big influx of returning emigrants at this time of year and this Christmas was expected to be more joyful in that respect, as so many were missing last year.
“We were really looking forward to meeting all the locals coming home for Christmas after so long. We will miss that,” said Dodd.
In Galway, publican and local Vintners Federation of Ireland chairman Johnny Duggan indicated that many pubs may simply ignore the latest Government restrictions on trading hours.
"All I can say is that I have spoken to a number of publicans today in Limerick, Cork, Waterford, Galway and most of them, if not all of them, are in favour of staying open until midnight regardless of what the Government brings in," he told RTÉ's Drive Time programme ahead of the Taoiseach's announcement.
“We’ve done everything we’ve been asked to do; we can’t take any more.”