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Nightmare for pubs, sport and music as 'summer cancelled' by Harris warning


Restaurant owner Jules Mak has kept his Dublin 6 business running by operating a takeaway service. Photo: Arthur Carron

Restaurant owner Jules Mak has kept his Dublin 6 business running by operating a takeaway service. Photo: Arthur Carron

Restaurant owner Jules Mak has kept his Dublin 6 business running by operating a takeaway service. Photo: Arthur Carron

Publicans have demanded a meeting with Health Minister Simon Harris after he indicated the summer could be cancelled for them as he ruled out lifting restrictions on mass gatherings.

His remarks have thrown the GAA championship and music festivals such as Electric Picnic into doubt. In an interview with the 'Sunday Independent', Mr Harris said it was "unlikely" that "very large" gatherings will take place this year.

He also warned that he did not see a return to "packed pubs" in 2020.

It comes as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar suggested today that pubs and restaurants will be the last thing to re-open when the Government unwinds social distancing measures.

Mr Varadkar said he understands it is a “very worrying time” for publicans and restauranteurs due the impact Covid-19 emergency measures are having on their businesses.

However, the Taoiseach said: “Chances are that as we reopen the economy, as we reopen society, things we're going to reopen last for obvious reasons are going to be mass gatherings and places were people congregate and could pass on infection and that’s a real difficulty for them, and I appreciate that.”

He said pubs and restaurants will not be closed until a vaccine is found but said he could not say when they will re-open.

This has raised questions among festival-goers and left many wondering whether the annual Electric Picnic festival, scheduled to take place this September 4 in Stradbally, Co Laois, will still go ahead.

Event organiser MCD Productions said it was too early to say yet whether the three-day festival would be cancelled and that it was awaiting further direction from the Government.

"We have to wait and see if it can go ahead. We are waiting for the guidelines, if they are the same as Germany and others then we will move it back to 2021," said promoter Denis Desmond.

Meanwhile, the Licensed Vintners Association has described the prospect of pubs not reopening this year as a "nightmare scenario".

Chief executive Donall O'Keeffe said: "That is the absolute nightmare scenario for the entire pub sector. If that happens, then most pub businesses in this country will be out of business for good."

Vintners Federation of Ireland chief executive Padraig Cribben said his members "need answers". "We're asking Minister Simon Harris to meet with representatives of the pub sector to discuss a pathway out of this crisis for our members," he said.

Adrian Cummins, chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, said the reopening of restaurants should be explored because they could keep in line with World Health Organisation guidelines.

"VAT rates should go to zero, rates should be written off during the crisis and PRSI should be reduced in half, plus we would need a grant aid support," he said.

Jules Mak, owner of Mak at D6 restaurant in Dublin, said that while his restaurant had stayed in business with a takeaway service, more support was needed from the State.

"We're doing our best but rates are through the roof," he said. "We'd need help to keep going, even though the takeaway is busy, costs are still very high and Dublin City Council rates in Ranelagh are astronomical."

A shadow has also been cast over sporting events, with the GAA's various championships in serious doubt after Mr Harris's comments. Spokesperson for Galway LGFA John McDermott said that it had been "extremely hard" for players and supporters.

"There's a lot that's missing in terms of the social side and all the players do really miss it. The most important thing is that everybody stays safe now," he said.

"We're kept busy with online coaching, but it's extremely disappointing for the ladies who have put in so much hard work over the years."

First communions and confirmations have also been postponed and Bishop Brendan Leahy in Limerick urged children to send drawings or write a letter to him.

"Send me in a drawing or write to me to let me know about what they are learning about Jesus or the Holy Spirit," he said.

Stepwise plan

Health Minister Simon Harris told the Sunday Independent last weekend that he hoped schools will re-open, possibly for one day a week, at the end of the current lockdown period in May.

Mr Varadkar said he would “prefer not to speculate” but said the Government is working on a “stepwise plan” for lifting restrictions.

“I really understand that a lot of people are starting to find the lockdown and starting to find restrictions very difficult and I'd prefer not to raise hopes or raise expectations, only to dash them,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said his comments “could” be interrupted as rebuke of Mr Harris but insisted they were not and said he shared the minister’s hope that schools could reopen.

He said the plan is to lift some restrictions and review the impact of them every two weeks.

He warned that restrictions have been lifted in other countries and had to be re-imposed due to further outbreaks of the virus

Mr Varadkar confirmed a Cabinet sub committee on the Covid-19 emergency is today discussing whether to introduce further travel restrictions.

“We need to keep our airports open, we need to keep our ports open, we need supplies to come in and out and as we do essential workers to be able to come in and out. We also need Irish citizens to be able to return home, we also need to make sure that it's done in a way that minimises the risk of the transmission of the virus,” he said.

The Taoiseach also admitted testing of nursing home staff and residents should have started sooner.

“Would it have been a good thing if we had done it sooner? Yeah I think it would have but last week and the week before we had a massive backlog of tests, and they were tests done on people who actually had symptoms so even if we had done them sooner we wouldn't have got the test results and that's just the reality of the situation,” he said.

He said the Government has been examining six separate issues at once since the start of the pandemic. They include testing , hospital capacity, social distancing measures, addressing the economic impact of the virus and assessing congregated settings such as nursing homes, prisons and direct provision centres.

“It's never been a case of prioritising one or the other. We have been trying to do all six of these things all at the same time and we have run into problems with all of them at one point or another and we will continue to do,” he said.

Irish Independent

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