New VFI President, Padraic McGann is looking forward to his two-year term in office. The Galway man, who has spent a lifetime in the trade, says pubs will continue to play a vital role in Irish society long into the future.
A new President is a fresh opportunity to examine the aims and aspirations of a member organisation like the VFI. The incoming President will bring a different perspective and Monivea-based Padraic McGann is no different. He says he will bring passion and energy to a job that will see him travel across Ireland engaging with members over the next two years.
Padraic is the fourth generation of McGanns to run the family pub in Monivea, Co Galway. Although he spent his time working as an advertising sales rep for the Irish Press newspaper group in Dublin, eventually he moved back to Monivea along with his wife Eileen and family to take over the pub from his parents.
“We had ten great years,” he says now about the 1980s. “We extended the pub and built a nightclub in 1984, which did great business for a decade.”
He remembers the buzz around the place, particularly organising photos to appear in local newspapers of prominent Galway people in the club.
While he rode the crest of a wave, Padraic is open about the difficulties he faced in the 1990s when, through a combination of ill-health and taking a lease on a pub in Dublin, his business ran into difficulties.
His story will be familiar to many. Running one pub, Padraic decided to open a second premises to hedge against any downturn in Monivea. He decided to expand by taking the lease on a pub in Mulhuddart. There were delays in securing planning permission to extend the premises and ultimately it cost Padraic his business.
“I talk to people now who are facing losing their business and who need advice,” he says. “I say I went through it all long before the Celtic Tiger went bust so I understand what they’re going through.
“There’s nothing worse than chasing your losses and as someone who has been in that position I hope other publicans having financial problems feel they can approach me, I would be very happy to help in any way I can.”
Looking Ahead To The Next Two Years
When asked about what he hopes to achieve during his time as President, Padraic says he wants to start by listening to members and the NEC. “I have my own ideas about what represents progress for the VFI but I think it’s important to take on board the views of the wider membership,” he says.
He comes to the job at a time when there is more optimism in the country, as the economy approaches full employment and various surveys reveal consumer confidence is high. It’s a far cry from the recession of the past decade but the new President recognises this surging economic performance doesn’t necessarily filter through to every publican.
“We’re performing well in cities and major urban areas like Cork, Kilkenny and Galway,” he says. The Wild Atlantic Way is a huge success and I know from visiting places like Donegal that publicans in these areas are benefitting from an upsurge in activity.
“We can’t forget the publicans who are situated outside cities and tourist hotspots. They are struggling and in my time as President I hope to see a better deal for them.
“To put that in context, as a publican running a small rural pub I know the business wouldn’t survive only for the fact we don’t owe any money. There are many publicans in a similar position. What’s going to happen when they want to retire?”
The Galway publican says pubs in rural areas play a huge civic role that needs to be supported by government. “The small publican is here to stay,” he says. “I’d like to see official recognition of the role they play in towns and the vital service they offer to the community. It could be in the form of a tax break that encourages the local publican to maintain the service he offers.”
There are always new challenges to face, but he is confident the VFI is well-placed to meet them. “I thought the Good Friday legislation was a fine piece of work,” he says. “It was a long slog but we got there in the end and although it’s only one day in the year it all helps.”
Other pieces of legislation Padraic will have to tackle during his time in office is the Public Health Alcohol Bill and the ongoing debate around drink driving. “Minimum Unit Pricing is something that can’t come quick enough,” he says.
“I’m really excited about the role. I’m going to give it every ounce of energy I have and at the end of the two years I hope members can say ‘he gave it everything he had’”.
Padraic mentions a five-year plan for the Federation as one of his early ambitions. “I want input from as many people as possible, we need NEC fully engaged with the process. The exchange of ideas is so important,” he adds. “We’ll sit down and see what’s achievable.”
Padraic says he is naturally optimistic but acknowledges there are many challenges to be faced.
“If you want something you have to go for it,” he says. “The VFI is a team that needs to come together and decide what’s best for the Federation.”