The Government “messed up” the issue of re-opening pubs by allowing those serving food to operate while forcing pubs serving only alcohol to remain closed, the Dáil was told.
The House passed legislation giving gardaí powers to close down pubs breaching public health guidelines by 126 votes to 12. Solidarity People Before Profit, three Rural and three other Independents opposed the Bill.
Sinn Féin justice spokesman Martin Kenny described it as "abnormal type of legislation for abnormal times" but he acknowledged "it does what it says on the bottle".
Mr Kenny, whose party supports the legislation, said the issue of the other pubs re-opening was the real problem.
“The Government has messed this up back a couple of months ago when they allowed some pubs to open because they serve food and others not.”
Mr Kenny said “if proper thought had been put into that, if it was delayed by a week or two and get it right and allow all pubs to open with limited numbers (of customers)”, then all pubs could have opened.
He suggested that pubs’ fire certificates could be used to establish how many people should be present because fire officers inspect the pub and state on the certificate the number it is safe to have on the premises.
The Sligo-Leitrim TD suggested that perhaps 35 per cent of the normal number of people should be present and with all the other measures in place including recording the time people come in at, their phone number and social distancing all pubs could open.
The Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers) (Covid-19) Bill allows gardaí to inspect premises and close them down temporarily where there is a refusal to comply.
The legislation has a sunset clause ending on November 9th and can only be extended subject to Dáil approval.
Independent TD Michael McNamara said November 9th should be the definitive sunset clause on the legislation because at some point “we as legislators will have to trust people” and cannot keep controlling people through coercive legislation.
He said young people can’t meet in bars, nightclubs or other venues and so were meeting where they should not. Mr McNamara spoke of the “sense of isolation, desolation and desperation in rural towns and villages and warned that “we are destroying communities and doing untold damage to people’s health”.
Earlier Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae claimed Ireland was becoming “like the dictatorships in Russia and other places” because of the legislation.
He said it was “absolutely ridiculous” that “we’re shoving this down the throats of people in rural Ireland”. Claiming 50 per cent of Covid-19 cases are in Dublin or the surrounding area he also said two-thirds of pubs in Dublin are open while two-thirds in Kerry and the West are closed.
Mr Healy-Rae added: “These people have done nothing wrong and we’re suggesting that uniformed or plain clothed gardaí can enter into a premises.
“It doesn’t say whether it is a private house out in the country where people are terrified.”
The Kerry TD claimed the Bill is “opening the door for robbery and mayhem in rural Ireland. He said “we are becoming like the dictatorships in Russia and other places around the world.
But Minister for Justice Helen McEntee stressed that “there is absolutely nothing in this Bill that in any way allows a member of An Garda Síochána to enter a home”.
Earlier former minister Richard Bruton said “I think some of the interpretation of this legislation is very unfair to the framers of the Bill.”
He believed it was a “framework under which we can start to open pubs and to have the lifting of some of the restrictions that have been very difficult to manage in a safe way.”
He said it was being portrayed as a means to ensure the pubs stay closed when it’s “quite the opposite”.
“I think if we want to see the opening of premises that have been closed we need to see the development of compliant protocols that will be applied by publicans and other sectors that have difficulty reopening.”
The Bill now goes to the Seanad.
Also on Thursday, Taoiseach Michael Martin said guidance on the issue of pubs being reopened is being worked on.
“We would love to see not just pubs open . . . we also want crowds back albeit smaller crowds at sporting events.”
Mr Martin said these issues will form part of the Government’s new long-term roadmap for living alongside Covid 19.
He said guidance to pubs “will issue shortly”.
At a private meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party on Wednesday night,Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said so-called “wet pubs” should be given the chance to reopen and prove that they can operate safely. He said the State was an outlier across Europe in terms of the reopening of bars. He said that if certain rules are in place, publicans should be given the opportunity to reopen their doors.
When asked if the Tánaiste was undermining his authority by announcing to the Fine Gael parliamentary party that he wants to see pubs reopened, Mr Martin said “the Government acts collectively based on public health advice”.
Also speaking on the issue on Thursday, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said the Government was having strategy discussions on how the economy can deal with the pandemic including on the possible reopening of “wet pubs” that do not serve food.
He told RTÉ radio’s News at One he was well aware that many small business owners such as pubs could not reopen their business at present. For now the regulations are very clear, he said.
“We’re doing all of this in the interest of public health.”
Meanwhile, the Northern Executive, which met on Thursday, deferred any decision on when or whether Northern Ireland’s 600 “wet” pubs, which don’t serve food, can open.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill hoped that the Executive when it meets again next week would be able to provide an indicative date for the opening of such pubs.
“But I want to caveat that by saying there will be very strong mitigations in place, it will be very stringent in terms of the enforcement of all of that,” she added.
With both Covid-19 and Brexit it was important “we tread very carefully into the winter months that we have ahead”, she said.
Ms O’Neill added that the Executive also agreed that Minister of Finance Conor Murphy should write to the British treasury seeking an extension of the furlough scheme beyond the end of October, notwithstanding that the British prime minister Boris Johnson has ruled out such as extension.
“Thousands of people are going to be without employment and what we need as an Executive is to be able to support those people in what is going to be a very challenging winter,” said Mr O’Neill.
“We’re rehearsing our argument to the treasury that this Executive needs support to be able to support people and the furlough scheme is the way to do that,” she added.