Publicans and restaurateurs push for clarity on reopening

Half of restaurants ‘face permanent closure’ due to pandemic, says representative body

Publicans want to know if they will only be allowed to reopen for customers who have been vaccinated against Covid-19.

Vintners have asked for a clear roadmap for reopening after lockdown and have also called on the Government to scrap the distinction between those premises that serve food and so-called “wet pubs”.

They will make the call for more information on reopening at Tuesday's meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, which will separately be told that half of restaurants face permanent closure due to the pandemic.

The Licenced Vintners Association (LVA) and the Vintners' Federation of Ireland (VFI) will outline their views on the impact of Covid-19 on the hospitality sector.

They will be joined by the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) and the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) in seeking extended and enhanced State support for the battered industry.

There will be no reopening of the hospitality sector on April 5th – the next date for the easing of any restrictions – and Taoiseach Micheál Martin suggested last month that it may not happen until mid-summer.

The LVA, which represents Dublin publicans, will tell TDs and Senators it supported all public health guidance from the start of the pandemic but the trade in the capital had experienced “the longest, most severe lockdown in Europe”.

Its representatives will outline how “wet pubs” and nightclubs have been closed since last March, and premises that serve food have been open for just 105 days of the 372 since the start of the first lockdown.

The LVA will say it understands specific reopening dates cannot be provided yet but urges the Government to publicly communicate the circumstances that would allow for it to happen.

It will ask what percentage of the adult population needs to be vaccinated to allow all pubs to reopen and what level community transmission will have to be at.

The LVA further asks if it will be the case that pubs and other hospitality will only reopen for vaccinated customers.

It also wants confirmation that, post vaccination, the “previous artificial distinction” between wet pubs and those that serve food “will be eliminated”.

It says: “There could be no justification for keeping wet pubs closed while allowing food pubs and restaurants to reopen this summer. All hospitality businesses should face the same public health regime.”

Clear roadmap

The VFI, which represents publicans nationwide, calls for a “clear roadmap” outlining the conditions that need to be in place for reopening, including the level of vaccinations, community transmission of the virus and hospitalisations.

It says this information would “reduce stress levels” in the industry.

It too seeks a commitment from Government that all hospitality outlets will be allowed open at the same time, with “no more divides between food and non-food”.

Meanwhile, Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) chief executive Adrian Cummins will warn that hospitality businesses "are on the brink of collapse" with 50 per cent of restaurants facing "permanent closure".

“We need a plan for reopening ... and above all our industry needs hope.”

The IHF will say that Covid-19 has had a “catastrophic impact” on the industry with revenue across the hotel sector falling by more than €2.5 billion last year and the immediate outlook remaining “exceptionally challenging”.

All four organisations are calling for increased State support ranging from an extension of the employment wage subsidy scheme to March 2022 to an increase in the weekly Covid-19 restrictions support scheme payments for businesses that have had to prohibit or considerably restrict customers accessing their premises due to Covid-19 restrictions.

It also wants an extension of the reduced 9 per cent VAT rate for the hospitality sector to 2025 and restart grants for reopening.

Separately, the Government will consider more targeted measures to support the tourism sector, the Seanad heard, but Minister for Tourism Catherine Martin said she could not give specific dates for reopening the industry.

The Minister also warned it was “vital not to raise hopes about a quick return to international tourism”.

She was speaking during a debate in which Senators highlighted the frustration of the industry and a “break in compliance, confidence and trust” between the sector and Government.