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The uncertain future for pubs as report shows 36 Sligo closures in 16 years

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There's been a huge jump in the number of pubs closing.

There's been a huge jump in the number of pubs closing.

There's been a huge jump in the number of pubs closing.

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Sligo has lost 36 of its public houses over a 16 year period according to a new report.

There are now 136 pubs in the county which has fallen from 179 in 2005.

Overall, a fifth of pubs in Ireland have permanently shut in the past 16 years, the 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 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.

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Indeed, almost one in five of those closures, 349, occurred during the pandemic.

County Laois experienced the most closures, with almost 31pc of its bars shutting in the 16-year period. County 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.

All the remaining counties had decreases of more than 20%. Six counties, Clare (24.7%), Galway (20.6%), Louth (20.3%), Sligo (24%), Waterford (23.5%), and Westmeath (24.4%) were in the 20% to 24.9% decrease band, while nine counties Cork (28.5%), Donegal (26.3%), Leitrim (26.4%), Limerick 29.1%), Longford (25.7%), Mayo (25.1%), Offaly (29.9%), Roscommon (28.3%), and Tipperary (26.3%) saw decreases between 25% and 29.9%.

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.

According to an economic and social analysis of the numbers revealed in the survey, economist Anthony Foley notes that public houses contribute to the culture and vibrancy of villages, small towns and rural areas in many ways.

They contribute to tourism and provide an extensive network of physical facilities and services needed by tourists and locals. Foley cites concerns for the impact of the decline on rural Ireland, when taken in the context of wider challenges facing areas outside Dublin.

When you consider decreases in the number of post offices, full bank branches, Garda stations, local retail enterprises and a wide range of other services and facilities, there are concerns about the commercial capability of small towns and villages with large levels of commercial building vacancy.

According to the analysis, Foley suggests there is likely to be a negative social impact arising from the trend and extent of closures, especially in rural and remote areas in Ireland.

Foley cites a number of reasons for the decline including non-replacement of pub operators on retirement or death, low levels of business volume and economic sustainability, regulatory changes such as tighter drink driving laws and enforcement allied with weak or non-existent public transport and population change and distribution, among others.

Paul Clancy, DIGI member and CEO of the Vintners Federation of Ireland, described the report as ‘alarming.’

“1,829 rural pub closures represent businesses that provide jobs, a hub in the local community for socialising and community integration and a cultural centrewhich has long been documented as among the main attractions for tourists visiting Ireland.

“The pace of decline increased as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic which saw the drinks and hospitality industry suffer the worst of all, with one of the longest lockdowns recorded globally.

“Considering this sharp decline and trend we’re witnessing, we need to monitor this industry carefully and ensure all the necessary supports are in place to contribute to stopping this trend. 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. Exasperated currently with inflation and the cost of living.

“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 over night fortens of thousands of business owners.”

Commenting on DIGI’s report, economist and Associate Professor Emeritus, DCU Anthony Foley said: “There is likely to be a negative social impact arising from the closure of the 1,829 public houses between 2005 and 2021. Pubs serve as a vital social outlet for many people, particularly in rural Ireland. With people living there faced by the spectre of rural decline, preserving the cultural heritage of the Irish pub in Ireland is arguably a progressive course of action.”


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