‘Reopen like North’ say publicans ahead of Government hospitality announcement

The vast majority of publicans want to be allowed reopen like Northern Ireland where all hospitality outlets will open together this week without any division between food and non-food pubs or the requirement for a substantial meal, a new survey reveals. The Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) says the upcoming Government announcement about reopening hospitality must include a coherent plan that provides confidence for its members and the 50,000 staff employed by pubs.

This coming Friday (30th April) pubs in Northern Ireland will reopen for outdoor trading then three weeks later they can resume indoor business. A similar scenario in the Republic would see outdoor resume on 28th May and indoors on 18th June (assuming a four-week lag in ROI vaccinations compared to the North).

Pictured close to the border in Clontibret were Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) members Brian Renaghan, owner of Renaghan’s Bar in Clontibret, Diane Kendrick, owner of The Coach House and Olde Pub in Glaslough, Co Monaghan and Ray Aughey, owner of The Squealing Pig in Monaghan Town.

While the Northern Ireland reopening strategy is viewed as the best way forward there is huge concern amongst publicans, particularly in border areas, that customers will flock north when beer gardens open this week while currently there is no date for opening pubs in the Republic.

The survey findings are published as the Government prepares to reveal its reopening plan for the hospitality sector this coming Thursday.

Padraig Cribben, VFI Chief Executive, says: “The survey of VFI members reveals an overwhelming demand for the Government to follow the Northern Ireland reopening strategy. Given the North is planning to fully reopen its pubs and hospitality sector in May it would be crazy to have two different systems in place on the island.

“Similar to the reopening plan in England, the North has abolished the much-derided €9 meal and all hospitality outlets will reopen together. Even Simon Harris, who was Minister for Health when the substantial meal provision was introduced, has called for it to be abolished and for traditional pubs to reopen alongside food outlets.

“The clear message from the survey is that publicans want to be treated equally with their hotel and restaurants colleagues. Government cannot spilt the sector like they did last year when traditional pubs were forced to remain closed while food outlets reopened. Our members are worried by media reports referring to ‘outside dining’ and reopening dates for hotels and B&Bs without any mention of pubs. Our message is clear, the hospitality sector must reopen together.

“This week will highlight the peril facing the pub sector as outlets in the North will reopen beer gardens. There is genuine concern customers will flock north while our members have to sit back and remain closed. The imminent Government announcement must provide a coherent strategy for pubs through indicative dates for both outdoor and indoor trading. The trade is desperate for a plan that that injects confidence into the sector.

“Reopening pubs is not something that can happen overnight. Our members need indicative dates to allow them plan, rehire staff and get their pubs ready. Suppliers will need time to ramp up brewing and organise deliveries,” says Mr Cribben.

The VFI is calling for pubs to be allowed reopen for outdoor trading on 28th May followed four weeks later by indoor trading on 18th June.

“It’s generally agreed our vaccination programme is four weeks behind the North’s. If we follow a similar reopening plan this would mean outdoor trading could resume on 28th May while indoors could restart on 18th June. Our rate of vaccinations is improving, we now have 95% of over 70s vaccinated and these numbers will only increase over May. The Government reopening strategy must acknowledge these facts,” says Mr Cribben.

“Even if we achieve those dates our survey reveals a trade worried about a recovery over the remainder of 2021. We welcome the Taoiseach’s comments that a new support package for the hospitality sector will be introduced but we urgently need to see the details as many publicans are now facing permanent closure,” he concludes.

VFI Member survey

  • Survey was completed by 1,002 VFI members
  • 91% of members favour using the Northern Ireland reopening strategy
  • 87% support calls for reopening outdoors on 28th May followed by indoor trading on 18th June
  • 92% believe the ‘substantial meal’ provision should be abolished
  • Over 60% believe hiring staff will be a major issue
  • 63% know of publican who has permanently closed their pub
  • Majority of publicans are pessimistic about a recovery in second half of 2021