Pubs which claim to be serving food valued at a minimum of €9 are serving customers bag of chips from the local takeaway, issuing dummy food receipts, placing phantom food orders, and using empty pizza boxes to feign meals, according to two local publicans.
Annette and John Gaynor run Gaynor's Pub in Wexford town and Annette says the €9 rule has seen many pubs 'pass themselves off as gastro pubs' so that they can continue to operate.
'We all know the fallout from this,' she said. 'This was the worst decision by far by the powers-that-be. The €9 rule opened the doors, pardon the pun, for some wet pubs to pass themselves off as gastro pubs.
'These wet pubs became food pubs overnight, resulting in them being able to open via this loophole: using tactics such as serving a bag of chips from the local takeaway, issuing dummy food receipts, phantom food orders, empty pizza boxes to feign meals, the examples are endless.'
Annette and John chose not to 'pretend to be a food pub on principle' and Gaynor's remains one of approximately 3,500 bars which has yet to reopen.
And Annette says the Government's decision to separate pubs into two distinct categories is 'a joke'.
'It is a joke to think that a customer in a wet pub is more at risk of contracting the virus than a customer in a so-called food pub. Having a bag of chips on your table with your pint does not protect you any more than just having your pint.
'What was the Government thinking when they decided to allow this to happen? Did they not realise the loophole would be abused; did they not realise customers would flock to these pubs in big numbers? There was no logic behind the segregation of pubs.'
By deciding not to reopen, by remaining closed, Annette and John have placed themselves in financial peril, and Annette says without proper support from the Government the pub industry will be decimated.
'We need financial support from the Government - we mean real money - and we needed it yesterday,' she says. 'Loans are not good enough - loans have to be repaid - how can we do that if we are not trading?
'We need VAT refunds or grants in order to have any hope of surviving. The Government talks about all the supports that are available, none of them means cash in the bank.'
'Drastic action needs to be taken by the Government to prevent the permanent closure of pubs across the country.'
Expressing their 'sheer disgust' at the way they and their fellow publicans have been treated by the Government, Annette says it as an 'insult' to suggest they are incapable of adhering to guidelines when they do reopen.
'It is an insult to us to infer that we are incapable of operating our business in a safe manner. The Government's narrative has been constantly connecting the contraction of the virus to pub environments, linking pub opening to increased health risks and deliberately brainwashing the public into thinking that pub closure will flatten the curve unlike every other measure available to them.
'Today, five months on, we feel like scapegoats for NPHET and the Government,' Annette says.
Rather than curtail cases of the coronavirus, Annette and John contend that by keeping pubs closed the Government is inadvertantly causing a rise in numbers.
'The adverse consequence of the availability of cheap drink, combined with pub closures, has led to house parties of huge numbers and illegal shebeens popping up all over the place,' Annette says.
'Surely, offering customers a safe, controlled pub environment is preferable to these uncontrollable gatherings?'
And while hope remains that wet pubs will be able to reopen by the end of the year, Annette says the impact of the past five months will be far-reaching right across the trade. 'There is another concern: the stress caused by this imposed closure. The risk to our physical health has been well discussed in the announcements by the Government but what will be the fall-out from the mental anguish of the pub closure for the owners and staff of these 3,500 businesses?'