‘There’s a lack of understanding of the business’: Pubs frustrated by late timing of re-opening guidelines

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New guidance on the re-opening of pubs was published by Fáilte Ireland last night.

PUBLICANS HAVE EXPRESSED their frustrations at the length of time it took to publish guidelines which will allow them to re-open later this month. 

Guidelines published by Fáilte Ireland last night confirmed that pubs which re-open on 29 June will be expected to serve “substantial meals” that cost at least €9, but will be allowed to impose one-metre social distancing in some cases.

The advice is based on draft guidance from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) to safely reopen the sector.

It follows intensive discussions between Fáilte Ireland and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, following guidance from the HPSC, to ensure the tourist body’s concerns, and those of the industry, were addressed.

It means pubs now know the guidelines they must adhere to in order to open under Phase Three of the government’s roadmap for re-opening the economy, which is expected to begin on 29 June.

Donall O’Keeffe of the Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) welcomed Fáilte Ireland’s release of draft guidelines earlier this week, saying it would give the sector much-needed stability after more than three months of closure during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But speaking to TheJournal.ie yesterday before the full guidance was published, he criticised the way the information had been slowly leaked, saying that this had sown confusion within the industry.

He also noted that the guidelines were not suitable for pubs which do not serve food but which are set to re-open in Phase Four, starting on 20 July. 

“We certainly want to work to preserve the atmosphere in the pub. We will obviously follow the guidance, we will take obligations to protect public health very seriously.

“But we have no clarity on what guidelines are going to be issued for pubs opening on 20 July. It’s extremely frustrating.”

Clarity for publicans

Under the guidance published last night, pubs will be permitted to implement one-metre distancing in controlled environments where two-metre physical distancing is not possible.

However, they will have to ensure other risk mitigation requirements have been met and that pre-booked time slots are in place.

Customers may only be allowed to stay in a premises for 105 minutes, with an additional 15 minutes between bookings to allow for adequate cleaning and to ensure customers leave and enter without mixing.

Businesses will also be required to collect the contact information of the ‘lead’ member of the customers’ party.

And in a development that was flagged on Tuesday night, pubs will be expected to serve “substantial meals” that cost at least €9.

Fáilte Ireland explained yesterday that the spending guideline was based on the 1962 Intoxicating Liquor Act, which states a “substantial” plate of food is one which a person would expect to be served as a main midday or evening meal.

The guidelines, which will be circulated to publicans, give clarity on how pubs can reopen at the end of the month.

But Joe Sheridan, a pub-owner based in Dunmore, Co Galway, whose pub is expected to re-open on 29 June, also told TheJournal.ie yesterday afternoon that the timing of the guidance was not ideal for many pub owners.

“If you have a gastro pub, you have maybe between 14 and 15 premises and a couple of thousand square feet, with kitchens and accommodation that has to be all cleaned down, painted, and to have standard procedures put in place,” he said.

“We don’t even know what the guidelines are, so that pub can’t even get carpenters to do work yet. Screens can’t be put in, and you can’t move furniture.

“They don’t know the rules pertaining to the segregation and zoning of food preparation in that new environment. It shows that there is a lack of understanding of the business.” 

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Pub-going experience impacted

Although welcoming the significance of the mooted measures, Donall O’Keeffe warned that they would have an impact on customers’ pub-going experience and were not suitable for pubs opening during Phase Four.  

“It just doesn’t work for us; it doesn’t work for our customers or doesn’t work for the business,” he said.

“One of our big advantages is informality. You don’t need to book, you can just rock in and stay there for a long time. It’s not how Irish people socialise.

“If you meet up with friends in a pub or go out on a Friday night, that might be a couple of hours. For the night-time experience, it simply won’t work.”

Meanwhile, a medical expert also suggested that there is a lack of evidence to support the introduction of the 105-minute rule in pubs.

Professor Anthony Staines, Professor of Health Systems at Dublin City University explained that the only way to stop the risk of Covid-19 was to stop it circulating.

“There’s no magic in this. You’re not safe for 90 minutes but then suddenly after that you’re all going to die,” he said.

“It’s a continuous risk and it has to be continuously judged. The risk of a random person in a pub being infected is not very high, but it’s up to each individual to decide for themselves.”

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