Nightclubs can reopen with 100% capacity, Catherine Martin confirms

Hospitality talks participant says: ‘There are still quite a number of issues we are not happy with

Among the issues to be resolved are the level of bar service that will be allowed in venues. Image: iStock

Among the issues to be resolved are the level of bar service that will be allowed in venues. Image: iStock

 

The meeting between Government officials and the hospitality sector has ended.

The expectation is that the Government will shortly issue the full guidelines in relation to the reopening of nightclubs and music venues, as well as revised guidance for pubs and restaurants.

It is understood that a number of issues remained unresolved between parties at the end of the discussion.

The first meeting which began shortly after 4pm was postponed for over an hour after it emerged the nightclub guidelines were not ready.

Sources said that the capacity in pubs and restaurants will not be 100 per cent but will be the maximum number of customers that can be allowed under social distancing rules.

While some have put that figure at 70 per cent capacity, sources said in many cases it will be much higher. Nightclubs will be allowed to operate at 100 per cent capacity.

A concession that has been given to pubs is that if there is a designated performance area and a designated dance floor, dancing will be allowed to live music in those circumstances.

A member of the hospitality industry involved in the talks said: “There are still quite a number of issues that we are not happy with.”

In a tweet earlier, Adrian Cummins of the Restaurant Association said that the rationale Government officials used for the stricter rules on social distancing in restaurants and pubs than in nightclubs was because the latter had “a younger and lower risk demographic. Restaurants and pubs are an older demographic with a higher risk factor.”

Earlier, Minister for Culture and Arts Catherine Martin said the decision by the Government to allow 1,500 people stand at concert venues and 100 per cent capacity at nightclubs represented real progress when it came to the reopening of the sector.

Speaking to the media outside Government Buildings on Thursday night, Ms Martin said at that point that talks were ongoing but progress had been made.

She pointed to 100 per cent capacity at nightclubs and also to the change whereby people will be able to order drinks at bars and then return to their seats.

“This is a sector that has been closed since March 2020. We want it now that it is open to remain open. We want the owners, the event organisers and the public to respect [the guidelines] so that we can keep the venues open,” she said.

Asked about the delays in negotiations and the lateness of engagement with the sector, she said: “If we go back to a few weeks ago the Cork Jazz [Festival] was to mark the grand reopening and the lifting of restrictions. But everything changed in the last seven days with Covid-19.

“Unfortunately that is the one constant that throws up something at us and complications arise.”

Referring to correspondence from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), she said: “The Nphet letter arrived late on Monday night. The three party leaders met and we had to go straight into negotiations which we did on Tuesday with the industry.

“We hope this is progress for them. It’s the best we can do. It is moving in the right direction. We have to be cognisant of Covid too. It may not be what they hoped for on October 22nd but it is still further progress on where we were in the last few days.”

She insisted that engagement had happened and had been ongoing since Tuesday.

“My priority has been finding a position that would allow everyone to show progress and at the same time respect where we are at with Covid,” she said.

The Restaurant Association of Ireland (RAI) gave a “guarded welcome” to the new guidelines for hospitality.

“Whilst social distancing remains within restaurants, pubs and hospitality on the advice of public health, the increase in table numbers and return of multiple bookings is welcome.

“We are calling on every restaurant, pub and hospitality venue to abide by the guidelines, do the right thing to protect our customers, staff and the health of the nation. Our industry is moving forward in the right direction,” said the RAI’s chief executive Adrian Cummins.

The Government has made a major concession to live music venues by dropping the requirement that all people attending concerts will not be allowed leave their seats.

Ms Martin has confirmed that up to 1,500 people attending music concerts will be allowed to stand, with the remaining members of the audience sitting.

In effect, it means most music venues in the country - with the exception of a few such as the 3 Arena and the INEC in Killarney - will be allowed to have the entire audience standing during the performance.

In addition, Ms Martin has indicated that nightclubs will also open with 100 per cent capacity. This was an issue of contention during talks between Government officials and representatives of the hospitality industry.

There has also been significant progress on bar service, with both sides close to agreement on a system where people can queue for drinks at the bar.

However, patrons will not be allowed to linger or remain at the bar but must return to the table once they have collected their drinks.

It was agreed on Wednesday that all hospitality venues can have multiple table bookings with a maximum of 10 per table.

Earlier, Ms Martin told RTÉ: “For our live venues, they will be open to standing area of 1,500 now. So we’ll have the standing, with the combination of 100 per cent seating.”

The measures, which includes extended opening hours beyond 11.30pm, are set to be reviewed in the coming weeks.

Ms Martin said that the measures were important to support an industry that had been closed since March 2020.

“This is what we’re doing to balance public health,” she said.

Venues will have to follow certain rules, including the use of Covid passes and enforcing the wearing of face masks for anyone not drinking or dancing.

The meeting between Government officials and the hospitality sector to finalise guidelines for the reopening of nightclubs and music venues was earlier delayed by an hour because of problems with the draft text.

The meeting began but was quickly postponed when an issue arose around the wording and definition of ‘nightime economy’.

The meeting resumed at around 6pm.

Representatives from the Restaurants Association, Hotel Federation and the two publicans associations, as well as representatives of live music venues, met with officials from the Department of Tourism, and the Department of Enterprise.

The State tourism agency, Fáilte Ireland, is expected to issue the guidelines to allow the reopening of nightclubs and live music venues later on Thursday evening. The sector has been shut for 585 days and is due to reopen on Friday. – Additional reporting: PA