Keeping pubs closed at Christmas will mean more ‘shebeens’, TD says

Taoiseach says Government will engage with publicans but ‘Covid-19 thrives where crowds gather’

The Government will engage with publicans about the re-opening of licensed premises but Taoiseach Micheál Martin warned that “Covid-19 thrives where crowds gather”.

Speaking after the Cabinet rejected proposals for fines for drinking outdoors, Mr Martin said enforcement of existing laws was important and there would be further engagement with the Garda in relation to that.

He was responding to Regional Independent TD Sean Canney who said that unless pubs re-opened before Christmas there would be "shebeens and house parties" operating in an uncontrolled way with no social distancing.

The Galway East TD described the proposals for fines as a “knee-jerk reaction” and said pubs were the best way to deal with the issue.

Mr Canney said he was not asking the Taoiseach if pubs would open for Christmas but appealing for the Government to engage with vintners so that they would have advance notice to prepare for opening if they were to be opened.

Vintners need to be treated “with a bit of respect”, he said, and insisted that they would be strictly compliant.

Otherwise there would be “shebeens and house parties” which were uncontrolled with no social distancing.

“This is what’s going on,” he said, “unless we get back to a social, controlled, safe environment”.

Mr Martin described as “problematic” the scenes of the last two weekends where large crowds gathered outside “takeaway facilities” in Dublin and Cork.

He acknowledged that people had sacrificed a lot including not being able to go the funeral of a loved one, visit another household or travel more than 5km.

Contrasting that to the crowds gathered drinking in city centres, he said it was “problematic in terms of the overall message in maintaining confidence underpinning the sacrifices people have made”.

The Taoiseach said the only motivation of Level 5 restrictions was to reduce community transmission of the virus and to reduce deaths and illnesses.

He said “Government would like nothing better than to open society tomorrow or next week if that was possible”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is a parliamentary reporter with The Irish Times