The announcement that pubs must continue with mandatory table service while not permitting customers sit or stand at the bar counter until next February at the earliest is a devastating blow to a sector that was expecting to see all restrictions removed this week, says the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI).
The VFI says maintaining restrictions will result in further pub closures as mandatory table service significantly reduces capacity in venues. Some publicans will also choose to temporarily close their businesses as they are unable to break even in the current environment.
The Federation says the decision not to ease restrictions is a direct result of Government failing to deal with the small percentage of people who remain unvaccinated and who have a disproportionate impact on hospitalisation numbers.
VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribben says: “The Government decision to keep restrictions in place until February at the earliest is another devastating blow to the pub trade. Over 92% of people are vaccinated so we could have easily removed mandatory table service by limiting entry to customers with vaccine passes. Instead, Government has guaranteed the closure of more pubs over the coming months.
“The return of normal trading hours is simply a fig leaf for the fact bar counters remain off limits. This restriction alone will mean pubs can’t operate at full capacity and will make continued trading impossible for many of our members.
“We also have to contend with the glaring anomaly of nightclubs reopening where, according to the Taoiseach, people will be permitted to dance while customers in pubs won’t be allowed sit at the bar counter.
“The pub trade has battled with uncertainty since March 2020 and today’s news will only deepen the worry for publicans and their staff. In a sector that is struggling to find and retain employees these developments will only exacerbate staffing problems.
“Where do we go from here? The Taoiseach says the current restrictions will remain in place for at least a further five months while business supports are ending just as the pressure increases on our members. If a 92% vaccination rate doesn’t get our members fully open then we’re in huge trouble.
“We thought this crisis was coming to an end on Friday but now face the prospect of severely curtailed trading through the busiest period of the year. Government cannot allow the sector to limp on in this fashion and must come back with a concrete plan for the pub trade,” concludes Mr Cribben.