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Restaurateurs angry at shutdown threat over busiest period



Adrian Cummins

Adrian Cummins

Adrian Cummins

Restaurant bosses have told of their dismay at the threat of lockdown closures from December 30.

Owners, managers and staff are upset at learning that the Cabinet is likely to stop restaurants and other hospitality businesses from staying open for the normally busy days leading to new year celebrations.

As the pandemic figures continue to worsen, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has indicated he is 'minded' to accept the advice from health experts and the Government is expected to announce that a hospitality sector lockdown will start on December 30 - earlier than predicted.

"It would be devastating and heartbreaking to have to close so soon," said Eimear Killian, general manager of Brasserie On The Corner and Blake's Pub in Galway city.

The popular business had 40 staff before the pandemic hit and reopened with 28 staff when the lockdown was eased at the beginning of December.

"We want to keep the place open with bookings until January 2," she said.

"We're a safe, controlled environment. We want to stay open for our staff who are deflated that they are going to be out of work again.

"We need to know as soon as possible. Most of our stock is in already and we need to know about making orders.

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"The week after Christmas is normally a great week and closing so quick after will mean huge losses," Ms Killian added.

"We didn't think we would have to close so soon.

"We hope we will soon be allowed to reopen as soon as possible and stay open for the rest of the year.

"We deserve to be given notice of lockdowns. We all have lives, too. We've all been working so hard.

"Unfortunately, restaurants are the first ones to close despite having no cases.

"We all worked hard getting the place reopened and putting everything in place, getting all the staff back, and then to lose it all again. It's heartbreaking."

Sean Collender, co-owner of Dublin's Kinara Group, which runs Kinara in Clontarf, Kajjal in Malahide and Kinara Kitchen in Ranelagh, said they had lots of bookings up to the first week in January so the reports of an earlier lockdown were "disappointing".

"We had a feeling we could be forced into a lockdown again in the first week or two of January," he said. "It's extremely difficult and it's very hard on the staff."

Staff levels were at 90 before the pandemic and had climbed back up to 70 since. He said he hoped outdoor dining would still be allowed.

"We have a number of unhappy staff who had been hoping to work until mid-January at the very least. We will have to drop our staff numbers dramatically again and make a decision about what to do in January.

"I'm going to take a 'glass half-full' view on this and hope this will be the very last lockdown for the hospitality industry," Mr Collender said. "You have to hope the vaccine is the ultimate saviour in all this.

"We are in for another couple of very tough months ahead and I'll be doing everything I can to save our business and save as many jobs as possible and avail of any government supports that they really must supply.

"I'm going to be positive and say we've done it before and we'll have to soldier on and get through it."

Adrian Cummins, chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, said business owners did not expect the lockdown to happen so early.

He said they met Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and the Minister for Tourism Catherine Martin last Wednesday. The pair indicated restrictions would be reimposed in January, but "everything changed" within 24 hours.

"Every day matters for us in December. An average business could be down €10,000 a day if closed," said Mr Cummins.

"Our fear is this could all go on longer than people think. We are on life-support now and need substantial financial help from the Government. We need an emergency task force for hospitality to be set up immediately."

There are 2,500 restaurants and cafes in Ireland, employing 110,000 people. When pubs serving food and hotel restaurants are included, that rises to more than 5,000 businesses employing 230,000 hospitality workers.

"We have a huge amount of disgruntled staff in terms of mental health. We are not 'living' with Covid."

He added that banks were 'blacklisting' the industry and the Government must intervene.

"Owners are faced with huge worries about meeting costs. The Government needs to sit down with us and come up with a road-map for us."

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