New law to pave way for reopening of ‘wet pubs’, says Minister

Helen McEntee said Ireland was an outlier in Europe for keeping pubs closed

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has said that new legislation giving further powers to the gardaí will pave the way for the reopening of pubs that do not serve food.

The new powers, to be debated in the Dáil on its return today, will provide a road map for the future opening of all pubs, Ms McEntee said, as they will give greater guidance to gardaí and ensure compliance of measures.

Such measures include social distancing, the wearing of visors, table service and ensuring there was a lead person in a group for contact tracing.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show, the Minister said the new legislation would allow so called “wet pubs” to prepare and plan for a future reopening.


The Government is looking at how to reopen all pubs safely and will put in place a new road map on September 13th to guide people, she said. It will tell them what is required of them and what is expected.

The Minister said her family had owned a pub for many years and she had worked in pubs as a student so she knew the industry and that the ”vast majority are doing a fantastic job”.

Ms McEntee said she would like to see the remainder of pubs reopen and pointed out that Ireland is an outlier in Europe in this regard. Publicans deserve clarity, she said.

She was speaking as a group of rural Independent TDs launched a blistering attack on the Government for “persecuting” rural publicans.

The six members of the group used a media event on new Garda enforcement legislation to vent their anger at the Government’s decision to delay the reopening of wet pubs.

Closure powers

Group leader Mattie McGrath accused the Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party coalition of further persecuting rural publicans with new legislation that will allow gardaí to force the temporary closure of pubs not complying with Covid-19 regulations.

He said that the situation had now gone beyond critical and pointed to a large grass-roots protest involving publicans from Tipperary and elsewhere that would march on Leinster House next Tuesday.

In an impassioned plea, the Kerry TD Danny Healy-Rae, who is himself a publican, said that the “man on the hill” in rural Ireland had no outlet to meet any of their friends or community.

“The more it goes on the less chance the men on the hill will ever meet inside in their local pub. Many of the pubs around the country of Kerry, many of them will not open again.

“They are seriously under pressure for money. They don’t have it. To think that these crumbs [the Government is] offering that is going to be alright. That is not alright lads.”

He added: “There are people bawling with pain trying to see surgeons and they can’t get an appointment. There are people going blind and they can’t get their cataracts removed. There are so many things wrong in the country and this is what we are debating, to criminalise and penalise and victimise publicans. I for one will give them hell for whatever couple of minutes I get in the Dáil.”

All of the TDs referred to hundreds of rural pubs never reopening because of the prolonged lockdown and what they said was the innate unfairness of a situation where crowds were being allowed into city pubs serving food, while country pubs which never had more than a handful of customers were still shuttered.

“Rural Ireland is not the problem. Ye in Dublin are the problem,” said the Limerick TD Richard O’Donovan.

He said that only four pubs in all of East Limerick remained open at the present time. “The pub is the last thing in rural Ireland. We have lost the banks and the post office and the shops and the banks. The pub was the last outlet and now they are taking it away,” he argued.

Michael Collins of Cork South West accused the Government of having an agenda to shut down rural pubs. Carol Nolan (Offaly) said the Bill conveyed the impression that publicans were irresponsible and required criminal sanctions. “I think this is wrong,” she said.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times