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'I'm gutted' - defiant publican told to shut by gardaí

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'Pints are pulled: Gardaí leave Whelan’s Bar in Limerick yesterday.' Photo: Brendan Gleeson

'Pints are pulled: Gardaí leave Whelan’s Bar in Limerick yesterday.' Photo: Brendan Gleeson

'Pints are pulled: Gardaí leave Whelan’s Bar in Limerick yesterday.' Photo: Brendan Gleeson

Limerick publican Gearoid Whelan opened his "wet house" at 10.50am yesterday despite the Government requiring publicans not serving food to delay pulling pints until at least August 10.

Just over two hours later, gardaí arrived at Whelan's Bar on Maiden Street, Newcastle West, and requested that Mr Whelan close the premises.

Mr Whelan (42) said he was advised by two gardaí to cease trading before they handed him a copy of the Health Act 1947, Section 31A, which cites the temporary Covid-19 restrictions.

"We opened our doors at 10 to 11 this morning and we opened as a wet house, the same as we closed (last March). At 1pm the gardaí entered the premises and advised me to close under the Health Act 1947, so I'm complying with their advice and I've closed my doors.

"I don't agree with it, I still don't see (why). We are doing nothing wrong, there's nothing illegal going on.

"I've massive respect for the gardaí and we wouldn't have a business without them, so, for the moment, I'm going to close my doors."

Asked if gardaí had advised him he could face legal penalties if he decided to stay open, he replied: "Let's just say I was advised to close, yes, long term it might not be the best for me to stay open.

"I'm disappointed, gutted, but all I wanted to show was that we can do this.

"Everyone that was here this morning saw we can offer a Covid-safe, socially distanced, enjoyable atmosphere, for a couple of pints - without your €9 pizza that's going to keep you free from Covid."

During the brief opening, the pub served around 50 customers who supped pints without food.

Mr Whelan's mother Pauline greeted customers at the door, directed them to use hand sanitiser and collected their names for contact tracing.

She also took their temperatures.

"They're circling, they're circling," shouted one concerned punter, as a Garda patrol car passed by.

Pat Reidy, from Ardagh, was one of the first in the door "to support Gearoid".

Sitting at the bar reading a newspaper in his socially distanced chair, the 62-year-old described the request for wet houses to close was "an injustice".

"I think it is great the Whelans took the stance on this," Mr Reidy said.

"A big mistake has been made by the Government, and I hope they look at this and move on from it."

Another customer, Michael Devine from Newcastle West, added: "I live in a cottage in a little village so, rural areas have been decimated, and the only outing we had (pre-coronavirus) was Mass and a couple of pints in the local bar.

"Farming communities have been reduced to waving at each other as we pass cars going in opposite directions - that's what rural life has become since last March.

"I understand the premise for it, Covid-19, but it's just unbelievable."

Irish Independent