Bar & Drinks news

Delayed reopening a ‘catastrophic blow for many local pubs’

Colin Neill, chief executive, Hospitality Ulster.

Hospitality Ulster has said that the Northern Ireland Executive must now step in and deliver a financial rescue package for staff and owners of traditional non-food pubs to avert mass redundancies and business closures as the new indicative date for reopening moves to September 1.

The organisation has stated that the call not to reopen traditional non-food pubs is a decision that deprives people of the right to earn a living. It is the Executive’s responsibility to step in with a financial rescue package for staff and business owners or be held to account for job losses as many are faced with financial ruin with the opening date kicked down the road.

Hotels, restaurants, and pubs serving food have been operating safely since July 3, while responsible non-food pubs have obeyed the rules and remained closed without an income and without any additional financial support from the Executive.

These businesses have been hanging on by their fingernails and, as the job retention scheme now requires employers to contribute, the decision to keep them closed leaves them with no choice but to make staff redundant. Many of the pubs will never reopen their doors.

For weeks, Hospitality Ulster has proactively suggested the introduction of additional safety measures, including the implementation of a specific track and trace system in pubs and has called publicly, time and again, for the power of closure for any establishments who flout safety guidance. All these precautions and measures which have been offered up as solutions have been discounted by those making reopening decisions.

The pressures heaped on traditional non-food pub owners and staff during the coronavirus lockdown phase have been immense. Now owners have reacted angrily and say that they feel the Executive has simply walked away from the problem, abandoning them.

“It is devastating news that the reopening of traditional non-food pubs has been pushed back, despite the rest of the hospitality sector reopening safely, albeit at reduced capacity,” said Colin Neill, chief executive, Hospitality Ulster.

“The safety measures agreed by government and implemented by our members will help to reduce the spread of the virus, not the pie and chips you are currently required to have with your pint. Non-food pubs can operate under the same safety measures as food-let premises.

“If the Executive are concerned about compliance, they should, as we have repeatedly suggested, take the powers to close anyone that blatantly ignores the guidance – not keep everyone closed, just in case. Some people speed, but we don’t stop everyone else from driving.

“It is in our very best interest that we do everything in our power to help curtail the spread of coronavirus. Public health comes first, and we have extensive guidance in place and being implemented, creating the safest possible environments and we have offered to do more.

“It is now not difficult to imagine that thousands of people who work in, or own, traditional pubs will struggle to pay their mortgages and support their families as they are forced to be let go. Investment and aid right now by the Executive will mean that thousands in the sector stand a chance, otherwise the ripple effect will have huge consequences. We are talking thousands of job losses.

“We now need an immediate and swift response from our political leaders whose decision has effectively removed the livelihoods of thousands of people.

“We are urgently seeking Ministerial engagement and call on them to help save the jobs and businesses across Northern Ireland. This cannot wait until the next Executive meeting scheduled for two weeks’ time.

“The Executive support for our industry to date has already saved thousands of jobs, but to now leave our traditional pubs to wither on the vine would see much of that support wasted.”

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