Two prominent Athlone publicans have rebuked proposals outlined by both the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI ) and Licensed Vintners Association (LVA ) aimed at convincing public health officials to permit bars to open six weeks earlier than as originally planned.
Speaking this week, Declan Delaney of Sean’s Bar, stated that the perennially popular pub wished “to distance” itself from the statement issued by the representative groups.
Under the Government’s road map to recovery, pubs are not scheduled to reopen until August 10, but both the VFI and LVA have written to the Government detailing strict protocols for staff and customers to enable pubs reopen while bearing due credence to public health guidelines.
Under the proposed measures, bars will become dispense venues only with no sitting, standing, ordering, payment or drinking at the bar allowed, while table service will be a requirement with pubs only serving customers seated at tables.
The numbers on the premises would be confined to no more than four per every ten square metres, with a maximum of six persons permitted at any one table.
Customers will be required to use hand sanitiser upon entry and remain seated at all times, staff will be requested to maintain a safe distance from customers when taking orders and to wash their hands thoroughly every thirty minutes.
Outdoor spaces will be utilised to enhance social distancing measures, with procedures implemented to ensure safe use of toilet facilities, which may include limits on the numbers using the facilities at any one time. There will also be no live music or DJs.
Gardaí/HSE will have the power to close any business who is flouting the public health guidelines.
Reacting to the VFI/LVA statement, Declan noted that it was an “irresponsible” announcement given the health crisis which the public are faced with at this present time.
Querying as to how the VFI/LVA arrived at such guidelines, Declan emphasised that it was the responsibility of all publicans in this situation to lead by example.
“We have to consider the wellbeing of the public, our staff and of course, the future of the bar trade. As such, we should be following the advise of NPHET and doing our utmost for the wider community. It is the public health experts who will decide what industries open initially.
“We should only open once the medical experts say it is safe to do so and then we will need to have the necessary procedures in place to regain the public’s trust. We have one opportunity to get this right, because as it now stands, the public are quite rightly anxious with regard to visiting a bar again,” Declan remarked.
Noting that he would love to open Sean’s Bar in the imminent future and return to a working environment, Declan stated that it is paramount that the pub does not open hastily.
“What would be completely unfair is forcing a publican to open when it is not safe to do so. For example, if we acknowledge that the average rural pub boasts 100 square metres of space (bar counter excluded ), based on the detailed guidelines you would be permitted to have forty persons on your premises. Has this been costed with regard to extra staff and security measures? How is this a viable proposition?,” Declan added.
Declan is of the opinion that gastro pubs should be permitted to open as restaurants once they adhere to the relevant guidelines.
“We need the VFI/LVA to fight our cause on a number of issues, namely, reduction of VAT, commercial rates and wage subsidy schemes. The industry will need grants to reopen. We need the insurance companies to honour policies. This pandemic has changed the bar industry forever.
“We need a strong voice to act upon all these measures to ensure as many pubs as possible survive. The measures announced by the Government last week are simply not good enough,” Declan asserted.
Echoing similar sentiments, Gillian Mullan, Proprietor, The Snug Bar, called the joint VFI/LVA statement “premature” adding that it did not reflect the opinion of the publican majority.
“Obviously, we would like to reopen our business as soon as possible but not at any cost! The proposed plan would put most publicans out of business within a couple of weeks and certainly wouldn’t entice customers to socialise in pubs again.
“It is crucial that we carefully consider a suitable strategic pathway to reopening that is realistic for both the pub owners and their customers. Athlone publicans did a great job in closing our doors on March 14 in the interest of public safety.
“We have listened to the experts and followed every instruction to the letter. Now it is in our hands to fight for our businesses and ensure the reopening is just as smooth as the closures.
“We will all work together again to ensure a safe and realistic approach to our reopening and look forward to the sound of music, laughter and good fun in our pubs again,” Gillian commented.