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‘Now you can bring your child to a hotel, but not to a play centre’

Indoor play centres across the country say they are in ‘crisis’ with no roadmap to reopening 

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Tish Gill of The Wild West Indoor Play Village in Westport, Co Mayo. Photo: Michael McLaughlin

Tish Gill of The Wild West Indoor Play Village in Westport, Co Mayo. Photo: Michael McLaughlin

Tish Gill of The Wild West Indoor Play Village in Westport, Co Mayo. Photo: Michael McLaughlin

Children’s indoor play centres across the country are still closed, and with no reopening date in sight the sector is in crisis, according to industry association Play Activity Leisure Ireland (Pali).

Our industry is in crisis, landlords are closing in on us, we cannot reopen, and we’re warehousing debt,” said Tommy Gill, CEO of Pali, which represents more than 130 members nationwide, mostly family-owned businesses that provide family play facilities.

They welcome 200,000 family members each week to their facilities in the summer months and employ more than 3,000 staff.

Mr Gill said that over half of their members’ landlords are demanding full rent in arrears, increasing current rent or giving notice to terminate rental agreements. Insurers continue to demand high premiums even while closed, and financial supports are not enough to meet mounting debts.

“Since October, we have been begging the Government to get us to sit at the table and help draw up the guidelines for children to come into our places and have safe play. You can bring your kids to a hotel, you can bring your kids to a pub for a pint, but you cannot bring them to socialise,” he said.

“It was pretty annoying to see a quote from Micheál Martin this week saying that kids have a right to play when we’re begging him to meet and discuss how we can help put those guidelines together.”

Tish Gill owns The Wild West Play Village in Westport, Co Mayo, which caters for toddlers and children aged up to nine. She started the business, which also has a sensory room for children with special needs, in January last year.

“It’s just tough, getting calls asking are we open. Why aren’t we open if indoor dining is allowed with children?” she said.

“Why can’t a play centre open up? People are knocking on the door saying, please open – can we not come in for half-an-hour?”

Denis Lynch manages The Planet Family Entertainment Centres in Cork, Galway, Ennis and Athlone.

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The centres offer children’s play facilities, bowling, laser tag and pool tables.  

He argued that play centres operated safely before the last lockdown with disinfecting fogging machines, temperature checks, hand sanitising stations, restricted numbers and set session times.

It “defies logic”, he said, to see other sectors such as hotels, restaurants and pubs reopening and allowing in unvaccinated children when play centres remain closed.

“We have lost faith in the integrity of the process. In our opinion, this Government’s handling of reopening is riddled with inconsistencies. Essentially, we are being discriminated against on the basis of being a minority group with weak lobbying powers,” he said.

Karen Yore has owned the Best O’Matz play centre in Kells, Co Meath, for 12 years.

When indoor hospitality resumed last summer, indoor play centres were allowed to reopen.

This time around, indoor play has been excluded.

It’s just difficult to keep your head up,” Ms Yore said.

“We just want some sort of map to reopening, some kind of indicator. We just feel forgotten.”

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