There has been a huge backlash to the now confirmed decision to delay the reopening of the hospitality sector for the coming weeks.
The Government decision, delivered by the Taoiseach, Michael Martin at lunchtime, is based on advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), that the incidence of the Delta variant in Ireland, which poses a significant risk, particularly to those who are not yet fully vaccinated is rapidly increasing. For this reason, a cautious approach is maintained, with an emphasis on lower risk activities.
However, those involved in the industry are understandably frustrated and angered by yet another delay in reopening.
The Vintners' Federation of Ireland (VFI) have flatly rejected the approach by Government and specifically the NPHET advice to Government that only the fully vaccinated should be admitted to indoor hospitality venues. The VFI says the plan is unworkable and that it will only increase pressure on publicans and their staff.
Padraig Cribben, VFI Chief Executive, said, “There is confusion and overwhelming anger among our members as to how pubs in the North can open safely for indoor trading since 24th May while the UK Government is removing all restrictions in the next three weeks stating that ‘we must learn to live with Covid’. Why are we taking such a markedly different, more conservative, approach?
“Figures from the UK reveal that while case numbers are rising across Britain on a pro rata basis there are fewer hospital admissions, which is their green light for removing all restrictions. There is nothing to suggest we will have a different experience so to increase restrictions here as the rest of Europe opens up is simply perverse.
“The summer season is here and with no date for reopening indoors our members will be wondering how long it will take to implement a vaccine admission protocol. There will be huge concern this will become a talking shop with ongoing delays. Is that the actual desired outcome of Government and NPHET?
“The way Government has dealt with pubs over the past 15 months is shocking. So many reopening dates postponed or delayed and now this unworkable plan that will create a two-tier society that can only lead to animosity towards publicans and their staff, who are effectively being asked to become agents of the state,” said Mr Cribben.
A definitive date to open up indoor hospitality, as well as a clear and ambitious plan from Government in order to ensure the long-term sustainability of this opening, is now urgently required, according to Patricia Callan, Director of Drinks Ireland.
She said that the decision today, with no clear plan, has cemented Ireland’s position as an outlier in Europe with regards indoors hospitality. From July 2, when Greece opens indoor hospitality, the UK and all other EU countries will allow dining and drinking inside venues with measures in place.
“We are disappointed by today’s announcement and the continued disruption to one of the worst-affected sectors in our economy. The default position to lock down or delay reopening of the hospitality sector, with very little notice, is no longer appropriate in the context of the vaccine roll-out and our position as a clear outlier in the EU.
“We need a long-term plan for the sector beyond keeping it shut and providing supports. Relying on proof of vaccination or recovery alone is unfair. Other countries have moved to living with Covid and have rolled out antigen testing and other measures like ventilation to allow their sector to open and these must be considered also.”
Chambers Ireland has today also called on Government to provide a high level of certainty to businesses, now facing a further delay to their reopening, as to when they can re-open. This includes the provision of clear timelines, certainty on supports and the principles guiding Government decision-making.
Speaking this afternoon, Chambers Ireland Chief Executive Ian Talbot said, “There is an expectation among impacted businesses that certainty on timelines, financial supports and the rationale for a further delay will be clearly communicated. Businesses across Ireland have made significant investments in hiring staff, preparing a safe environment and purchasing stock in anticipation of the next phase of reopening. In such a fluid situation, timely provision of information is key.
This is not a moment for ambiguity. There is scepticism as to whether a short pause in reopening will be sufficient and this can cause deep anxiety among both employers and employees. Government must be realistic in setting out the path ahead, even if the news is not easy to hear in the short term. The alternative is further uncertainty and anxiety.”
Aontú Leader, Peadar Tóibín TD, slammed the government for their eleventh hour betrayal of pubs and restaurants, and another instance of government outsourcing decisions to NPHET.
He stated, “Ireland is alone in all of Europe in the banning of indoor dining and drinking. This is an absolute disgrace. Many of these pubs and restaurants are closed for over 430 days. They are closed longer than their counterparts in any other European country.
“Tens of thousands of hospitality staff are out of work. Many are being pushed into poverty and debt. Many businesses are in a Zombie state, depending on Government supports to survive. Aviation and tourism are also suffering because of this government’s refusal to embrace simple Rapid Antigen Testing”.
“The Government have provided no scientific evidence to indicate that indoor dining in Ireland is more dangerous than anywhere else in Europe. It is jaw drawing that the government is making these decisions with no reference to scientific approach of every other country. The Government are scared of making a decision”.
“The opposition are practically silent. They will complain about the edges of this decision but they will not challenge the govern head on. Sinn Féin seems to stand for sitting in the fence these days”.
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