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Better policing and enforced closing times needed for pubs and restaurants – Health chiefs

'Fury and despair' as Taoiseach warns no guarantee that pubs will reopen this year

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The Norseman pub in Temple bar, which remains boarded up since March. Photo: Arthur Carron

The Norseman pub in Temple bar, which remains boarded up since March. Photo: Arthur Carron

The Norseman pub in Temple bar, which remains boarded up since March. Photo: Arthur Carron

Pubs and restaurants should be closed by 10.30pm and be more “robustly” policed, public health officials recommended to government.

Yesterday, it was announced that the reopening of pubs would be delayed. As a result, 3,500 'wet-pubs' have been prevented from getting back to business next Monday.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that there is no guarantee pubs will be allowed to reopen this year. This news has been met with "fury and despair".

A spike in cases of the coronavirus across several counties outside of Dublin was behind health advice not to move into the next phase of reopening the country.

Public health officials also recommended to government that pubs and restaurants should be closed by 10.30pm and be more “robustly” policed.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) advised a “cautious but measured approach” to entering into the final stage of the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business which including postponing the reopening of pubs.

It insisted restaurants and pubs that serve food should be closed by 10.30pm. However, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar yesterday said “the customer should be off the premises by 11pm”.

“It’s 11pm but obviously they can stay open for takeaways and deliveries and for staff to clean up and all that,” he said.

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Education: Norma Foley said she understood pub owners’ difficulties. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Education: Norma Foley said she understood pub owners’ difficulties. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

Education: Norma Foley said she understood pub owners’ difficulties. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

In its advice to Government, Nphet said: “Restaurants and cafes (including pubs/bars/hotels serving food) are required to close by 10.30pm than for take out or delivery service.”

Nphet also insisted all staff in pubs and restaurants should wear face coverings if they are not working behind protective glass.

“Nphet emphasised that in recommending the reopening of these premises in late June, it was on the basis of strict adherence to the detail and spirt of public health guidelines, and on the basis that the intended premises are controlled restaurant environments,” it said.

“Nphet recognises the vast majority of such premises have adhere to the guideline in place, but also calls for continued robust inspection and enforcement of these arrangements when necessary,” it added.

The public health experts also warned against easing restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings.

The Green List of countries to which it is considered safe to travel has been cut by one-third. And it will now be mandatory to wear a face covering in shops.

Asked whether pubs will be able to open before the end of the year, Mr Martin said: "A lot depends upon the prevalence of the virus and how high a number we get or how low [it goes].

"If we nip this in the bud, there may be prospects, but we can't give any guarantees right now."

He would commit only to reviewing the ban on pubs on August 31.

The news was met by anger by groups representing publicans, who said it had become "increasingly obvious" that the Government did not have a plan for the industry.

In a joint statement, the Licensed Vintners' Association (LVA) and the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI) said the sector was facing a "full blown crisis" that would place "intolerable pressure" on publicans, staff, suppliers and all their families.

Owners of gastropubs and restaurants, which have already reopened, were also annoyed by the latest set of health rules that demand they close by 11pm.

Meanwhile, the three Government leaders, Mr Martin, Leo Varadkar and Eamon Ryan, back-tracked on plans to ease restrictions on outdoor gatherings to allow more people attend GAA matches.

Until hours before the Cabinet met, it was expected the rules would be changed to allow 500 rather than 200 people attend outdoor events.

However, after a meeting with acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn, it was decided to ditch plans to ease the restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings.

Ministers said the National Public Health Emergency Team's (Nphet) analysis of the spike in cases suggested it could go higher rather than lower in the coming days and weeks.

The Cabinet was also told there would be serial testing put in place for people in direct provision as well as other vulnerable communities including the homeless and Roma.

There is serious concern about the rising number of cases linked to direct provision centres.

Separately, ministers were told restaurants and pubs should adhere to "the spirit" of the guidance in place, meaning they should close to customers at 10.30pm and have no customers on site at 11pm, according to a Cabinet source.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said: "It's 11pm but obviously they can stay open for takeaways and deliveries and for staff to clean up and all that. But the customer should be off the premises by 11pm.

"What we want to stop is what was kind of happening, which is pubs or restaurants were kind of operating almost as pubs so that's a risk."

The Restaurants Association of Ireland said it was seeking an urgent meeting with the Taoiseach to discuss the rationale for the new guidance.

"Restaurants are now one of the safest social outlets in the country and by closing restaurants at 11pm you will drive people to impromptu house parties," said the association's chief executive Adrian Cummins.

"The loss of an hour will be the difference to people making wrong decisions and will affect the economics of viable businesses," he added.

Taoiseach Mr Martin said he understood publicans and other businesses would be "very upset" but said the priority was to "save lives", look after the vulnerable and ­"reopen our schools".

"The life chances of our children depend on us getting the schools open in a safe way," he said. He asked the country to continue to "have patience" in the fight against Covid-19 and to follow all the public health advice in keeping the virus under control.

Education Minister Norma Foley said she understood the difficulties that publicans and other businesses found themselves in and was very sympathetic to their concerns, "but this is what the public health experts have advised and we have been guided by public health advice thus far".

More than a week on from the publication of the roadmap for re-opening schools, Ms Foley expressed confidence that the planned full re-opening would happen on target.

She said there had been "a very positive engagement and a desire to make things work coming from schools, parents, students and general society.

Government sources said a new "medium to long term" roadmap would be drafted in the coming weeks to set out how the country could "learn to live with the virus".

The new roadmap will seek to set out how the country can manage a rise in new cases while allowing schools and businesses operate as near to normal as possible.

The new roadmap will be developed by Nphet in conjunction with officials at the Department of the Taoiseach.

"The virus isn't going to go away and the new plan will be looking at how we deal with it on a medium- to long-term basis," the source said.

"Places like Germany and Denmark are interesting examples where they opened everything including schools and pubs while containing outbreaks and clusters as they arise," they added.

A Cabinet minister said: "We may need to, as the WHO says, learn to live alongside the virus at a certain level."

At a glance: What rules change … and what will stay the same

  • Plans to reopen pubs that do not serve food have been put on hold for the second time, despite pressure from the industry. This situation is set to be reviewed again in the next three weeks - on or before August 31.
  • Bars, nightclubs and casinos will also remain closed until this review happens at the end of the month.
  • Restaurants and pubs that serve food are allowed to open under current guidelines and restrictions. However they will now face a so-called 'curfew' and have to close their doors at 11pm.
  • The current restrictions on numbers attending indoor gatherings (50) and outdoor gatherings (200)will remain unchanged. Hopes of raising outdoor gatherings to 500 people, which would have been a boost for spectator sports, have been dashed for now.
  • Face coverings will be mandatory in shops and shopping centres across the country from August 10. They are already compulsory on public transport.
  • The so-called Green List of countries that could be travelled to and from without movement restrictions has been shortened from the previous number of 15 to 10. The countries that were removed from the list yesterday were Malta, Cyprus, Gibraltar, Monaco and San Marino.

Irish Independent


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