Craic will have to wait as Dublin’s pubs laid low

As Ire­land’s wa­ter­ing holes ten­ta­tively re­open, for a time at least – many in the cap­i­tal re­main shut, re­ports Si­mon Foy

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Business -

The win­dows in Gro­gans Cas­tle Lounge on Dublin’s South Wil­liam Street are plas­tered with neon pink signs that can be found on pubs through­out the city. “Aban­doned by Gov­ern­ment. Over 3,500 pubs re­main closed since March 15 by or­der of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party. Open the pubs,” the poster ex­claims.

De­spite their place at the heart of com­mu­ni­ties and the tourist in­dus­try, about half of the coun­try’s 7,100 wa­ter­ing holes were closed for more than six months, as Ire­land’s cau­tious at­tempt to re­open its econ­omy al­lowed only food-serv­ing pubs to restart op­er­a­tions in late June.

On Mon­day, most “wet” pubs – those that do not serve food – fi­nally re­opened. How­ever, pub­li­cans in Dublin – in­clud­ing Gro­gans’ Daniel Smith – have been forced to keep their shut­ters down for the fore­see­able fu­ture due to a spike in virus cases in the cap­i­tal in re­cent weeks.

“It seems as though the gov­ern­ment ei­ther doesn’t trust pub­li­cans or the public to be­have re­spon­si­bly when they’ve had a few drinks,” Smith says. “And I don’t know if that stems back to them think­ing that Ir­ish peo­ple only go out to get drunk and go on the lash. That’s just not the case.”

The pro­longed clo­sure of non-food pubs and bars – the long­est shut­down in Europe – typ­i­fies the Ir­ish gov­ern­ment’s softly-softly ap­proach to get­ting the econ­omy back to some sort of nor­mal­ity af­ter a strict lock­down in the spring.

Pubs that serve food opened on June 29 but with tight re­stric­tions, in­clud­ing a con­tro­ver­sial rule that forced cus­tomers to or­der a meal worth at least €9 (£8.30) if they wanted to have an al­co­holic drink. Padraig Cribben, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Vint­ners’ Fed­er­a­tion of Ire­land, says the rule

‘I treat it as a war and I say we keep our head down. It’s a pan­demic, so I think about our health and that of cus­tomers’

made no sense: “We ended up force-feed­ing oven piz­zas into peo­ple who didn’t want them.”

Last week, the Ir­ish gov­ern­ment out­lined a new five-level strat­egy for “Liv­ing with Covid” that al­lows coun­ties to move be­tween dif­fer­ent lev­els of re­stric­tions.

Dublin was placed on level three in an at­tempt to slow the rise in in­fec­tions, mean­ing that restau­rants and non-food pubs can only op­er­ate in out­door ar­eas or serve take­aways again, and Dubliners can­not leave the county, while the rest of Ire­land was put on level two.

How­ever, there are fears that at least eight other coun­ties could suf­fer the same re­stric­tions as Dublin as soon as this week, forc­ing swathes of the hospi­tal­ity in­dus­try to shut once more. “We could have 200,000 peo­ple lose their jobs in the sec­tor,” Cribben says.

Dan O’Brien, chief econ­o­mist at the In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional and Euro­pean

Af­fairs, says Ire­land has been an outlier in terms of re­open­ing the econ­omy.

He says the coun­try has been “more dra­matic” about the virus com­pared to its Euro­pean neigh­bours, which has led to a greater sense of trep­i­da­tion about re­open­ing cer­tain in­dus­tries.

A re­cent poll con­ducted by the depart­ment of health found that more than half of re­spon­dents were in favour of tighter re­stric­tions, while less than a third were against the in­tro­duc­tion of more dra­co­nian mea­sures.

“We talk about [coro­n­avirus] more and it’s more the fo­cus of ev­ery news bul­letin,” O’Brien says. “But I think it’s dis­pro­por­tion­ate not to live in some sort of nor­mal way. And clos­ing down busi­nesses, not giv­ing peo­ple the choice to as­sess risks for them­selves will ul­ti­mately be proven the wrong out­come.” His caveat is that it’s too early to de­ter­mine whether the “Swedish or New Zealand model” will be the cor­rect ap­proach. But while cases are ris­ing, hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tions and deaths re­main a frac­tion of the num­bers seen in the first wave of the pan­demic, O’Brien notes.

The Na­tional Public Health Emer­gency Team (Nphet), Ire­land’s ver­sion of the Sci­en­tific Ad­vi­sory Group for Emer­gen­cies (Sage), is largely re­spon­si­ble for the pro­longed clo­sure of non-food pubs.

Smith, from Gro­gans, says it is clear that Nphet does not think pubs are en­vi­ron­ments that are con­ducive to liv­ing with Covid, de­spite there be­ing only a hand­ful of cases linked with them since late June.

But Nphet’s cau­tious mes­sag­ing has struck a chord with many peo­ple, to the ex­tent that some pub own­ers have de­cided to stay shut for public health rea­sons.

Josephine Keat­ing, who runs Keat­ings Cor­ner House in Ca­her­siveen, County Kerry, says Nphet has done “great work”, but with the num­ber of cases “go­ing up and up” she will not be pour­ing pints any­time soon.

“I treat it as a war and I say we keep our head down. It’s a pan­demic, so I think about our health and our cus­tomers’ health,” she says. “Older peo­ple are be­ing par­tic­u­larly care­ful so are they go­ing to come into the pub? I don’t think they are.”

Keat­ing adds that the clo­sure of pubs has been ter­ri­ble for ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties be­cause they are one of the few so­cial cen­tres in the lo­cal­ity. “The iso­la­tion for some peo­ple now is ter­ri­ble. I feel des­per­ately sorry for older peo­ple be­cause they are los­ing out on the last few years of their lives.”

Oth­ers are keen to get back to busi­ness. So­phie Blake-Gal­lagher, who runs Rod­den’s Bar in Buncrana, County Done­gal, says it’s a “mas­sive re­lief to be able to re­open af­ter a very stress­ful few months”.

How­ever, she feels the gov­ern­ment could do much more to help the sec­tor get back on its feet, point­ing to the UK’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme as a good ex­am­ple of en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to spend cash in lo­cal busi­nesses.

The gov­ern­ment did an­nounce a €16m sup­port pack­age for the pub sec­tor last month – a sum in­dus­try lead­ers de­rided as “crumbs”.

O’Brien says bank­rupt­cies in the hospi­tal­ity sec­tor are in­evitable and he ex­pects the un­em­ploy­ment rate to soon start ris­ing above its 15pc level – it was just 5pc at the start of the year. An­other 15pc of the work­force is be­ing propped up by gov­ern­ment wage sub­si­dies.

With mort­gage hol­i­days and busi­ness rates sus­pen­sions set to end at the end of the month, the pub in­dus­try could face many ca­su­al­ties with­out fur­ther sup­port.

Smith gives a bleak fore­cast. “Pubs in Ire­land are the essence of ev­ery­thing that is great about this coun­try,” he says. “They’re about go­ing and hav­ing a chat and meet­ing your mates and hav­ing a bit of craic.

“But if we don’t get the chance to open here in Dublin, we’re look­ing at mass clo­sures. If that hap­pens, it will cause the city to lose a part of its soul and a big part of its tourist at­trac­tion.”

The re­open­ing of the Emi­grant Bar and Eatery in Athy, Co Kil­dare

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