Pub mogul Louis Fitzgerald believes the future of the hospitality sector is bleak as he revealed a “considerable” number of staff will be laid off at his venues from next week.
The Louis Fitzgerald Group, which operates more than a dozen pubs as well as two hotels, is one of the largest privately-owned hospitality groups in Ireland.
Mr Fitzgerald said the lay-offs will predominantly be in Dublin where so-called ‘wet pubs’ have remained closed for 200 days.
The Tipperary man owns some of the capital’s biggest landmark bars such as Kehoe's, The Stag's Head and The Quays.
Speaking to Independent.ie, Mr Fitzgerald said the company will be reviewing staff levels next week.
“The pub sector is in turmoil,” he said.
“There will be a considerable amount of layoffs from next week. Six months ago we thought things would start to return to normal soon but the reality is we’re further away than ever.”
Pre-Covid, he says the group employed nearly 1,000 people.
“We haven’t been given a chance to prove ourselves to the Government,” he said.
“By closing the hospitality sector all you’re doing is promoting house parties. Pubs are the most regulated industry in the country. If a train station was being given the same signals as the pubs have been, there’d be crashes all over the country. There’s a lot of inconsistencies out there. For example, I don’t understand why you can only have 15 people outdoors if you have a large terrace which could safely occupy more.”
The veteran businessman says the imminent threat of lockdowns makes it impossible to manage food and drink stock.
“It doesn’t look like there’s a good future ahead. Temple Bar is in a bad state, I was shocked when I walked through it. The number of homeless people there is also very worrying and sad to see. Something needs to be done to breathe a bit of life back into it.”
The Chawke Pub Group, which consists of nine gastro pubs including Searsons on Baggot Street and the Bank Bar on College Green, yesterday confirmed it is to lay off up to 300 staff.
A spokesperson for the Licensed Vintners' Association (LVA), which represents pubs in the greater Dublin area, said that 90pc of jobs in the pub sector in the capital are now gone.
Indoor dining is currently banned in Dublin due to the latest Covid restrictions after a surge in coronavirus cases in the capital. The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) is to meet today to decide on any further lockdowns and if the Dublin lockdown will be extended beyond October 12.
The Chawke group employs around 400 people across its venues in Dublin and Limerick.
Bill Chawke's Bar and Aunty Lena's Bar in Adare are continuing to trade as normal.
Charlie Chawke’s son David, who currently runs the Bank Bar, said he hopes the lay-offs are only temporary.
“I don't know what our staff are meant to do. We were told we’d be able to reopen on October 12 and now they’re putting a different spin on it. People have bills and mortgages to pay,” he told Independent.ie.
“The biggest issue is we used to get paid or reimbursed under the wage subsidy scheme five days later, so we paid staff and got the money back days later. Now it takes four to six weeks to get that money and they can’t give us an answer as to why that changed.
“We don't plan on closing anything for good, but I don't know why it's just our industry. Why is this not Europe-wide, why is it just Ireland where hotels, pubs and restaurants are really suffering.
“I’m not a doctor or scientist but I don’t know why we’re being treated the way we’re being treated.”
During the summer, Mr Chawke announced the venue would be taking deposits with all bookings due to last-minute cancellations.
"The no-shows and last-minute cancellations are breaking us. We definitely will still accept walk-ins, the city centre is a struggle but we really appreciate all of your custom and support," he wrote in a tweet.
The Old Orchard Inn in Rathfarnham, also part of the Chawke Group, had to temporarily close earlier this month after a staff member tested positive for Covid-19.
An LVA spokesperson said: "Before the pandemic hit there was 12,500 jobs in the pub sector in Dublin, we would estimate that well in excess of 90pc of those jobs are now gone.
"This is the impact that the hospitality sector closures are having and the fact non-food pubs in Dublin are yet to reopen having been closed since March. They have been closed for approximately 200 days at this point.”
Changes to the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) which resulted in many people working in the pub industry no longer qualifying has led to bars having to let staff go.
The LVA previously wrote to Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe asking for an urgent amendment to be made to the scheme to help an industry “already on its knees”.
As it stands, anybody earning less than €151.20 per week does not receive the subsidy.
“Anyone working 14 hours a week or less at that rate will not be covered by this scheme. That will immediately raise questions as to whether it will be financially viable for pubs operating at 50pc capacity or less to utilise these members of staff,” said Donal O’Keeffe, chief executive of the LVA.