Steady decline in rural areas and 349 bars closed during the pandemic – industry report
A fifth of pubs in Ireland have permanently shut in the past 16 years, new research shows.
Traditionally a focal point for communities across the country, pubs in rural regions in particular have long been under economic pressure.
A report released yesterday by the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland (Digi) shows that 1,829 pubs closed between 2005 and 2021. That period covers the rise and fall of the Celtic Tiger era and the subsequent financial crash, as well as the Covid crisis.
Indeed, almost one in five of those closures, 349, occurred during the pandemic.
Co Laois experienced the most closures, with almost 31pc of its bars shutting in the 16-year period. Co Meath was the least affected, with just a 1.4pc decline.
But in 15 counties the number of pubs declined by between 20pc and 30pc. They include Roscommon with a 28pc fall, Offaly at 30pc, Tipperary at 26pc and Co Clare with a near 25pc drop-off. Twenty-six per cent of pubs in Co Longford shut in that period, while Kerry suffered a decline of just over 15pc and it was 25pc in Mayo.
In Dublin, just over 4pc of pubs shut in those 16 years.
Irish Distillers corporate affairs director Kathryn D’Arcy, who was recently appointed chair of Digi, said the level of decline across the country is “stark”.
“The Irish pub has been in steady decline for years, and these stark figures once again highlight the need to secure the sustainable future of our pubs,” Ms D’Arcy said.
She added new Government measures need to be introduced to support pubs.
Digi wants a reduction in Ireland’s “high excise rate”, which it says would help to underpin the sector.
Ireland has the second highest overall excise tax on alcohol in the European Union, behind Finland. Ireland has the highest excise tax on wine, the second highest on beer, and the third highest on spirits.
Excise tax on alcohol here has been maintained at elevated levels in an effort to meet public health objectives.
A report published last year by the Health Research Board, a state agency, found that in 2019 the average person in Ireland aged 15 and over drank 10.8 litres of pure alcohol a year. That is the equivalent of 40 bottles of vodka, 113 bottles of wine, or 436 pints of beer.
It noted that since a quarter of adults don’t drink at all, consumption rates among those who do drink are actually much higher.
It added that Ireland ranks ninth amongst the 38 members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ( OECD) for alcohol consumption and eighth in the world for monthly binge drinking.
The Health Research Board also noted that there were 1,094 alcohol-related deaths in Ireland in 2017. More than 70pc of those who died of alcohol-related causes were under the age of 65.
The Digi report on pub closures is based on licence data from the Revenue Commissioners, and was written by economist Anthony Foley, professor emeritus at Dublin City University.
“Our high alcohol excise tax is a cost and slows the growth of these businesses and impacts their day-to-day operations and bottom line,” said Paul Clancy, a Digi member and chief executive of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland.
“We are calling on the Government to reduce excise tax to support the industry with meaningful measures that will be felt immediately and reduce costs overnight for tens of thousands of business owners,” he added.
In the last Budget, excise relief for independent small producers of cider and other fermented beverages was introduced.