RESTAURANTS AND PUBS serving food are to be free to reopen from next Friday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has confirmed this evening.
The confirmation came as Martin outlined the government’s plans to move the country from Level 5 restrictions to Level 3 from next week.
The phased plan includes a part-reopening of the hospitality sector but pubs that don’t serve food will not be allowed reopen their doors in December. Takeaway drinks-only will be allowed from so-called ‘wet pubs’.
Under the plans, hotel restaurants will also be open to non-residents from next Friday.
Businesses that can’t reopen are to receive a double payment of the government’s Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) for a three-week period beginning 21 December.
The CRSS is a cashflow scheme to support businesses forced to close that was announced last month.
The decision to reopen indoor dining was approved at Cabinet today and essentially goes against the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) which had advised that restaurants remain takeaway only.
Announcing the decision this evening, Martin said that “gastropubs operating as restaurants with their own kitchen” are allowed to reopen.
The move means that pubs which had partnered up with nearby restaurants to provide food will not be allowed to reopen. This move had been trailed in recent days and was described as “vindictive” by the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI).
The decision not to allow all pubs to reopen will disappoint publican groups that had argued the decision would lead to the permanent closure of some pubs.
Answering media questions about the distinction between pubs that do and do not serve food, Martin said it was his view that if wet pubs were to reopen “we would be looking at far higher numbers far faster in the coming weeks”.
“Unfortunately we’re not in a position to recommend the opening or to allow the reopening of wet pubs and the evidence is fairly strong,” the Taoiseach said.
Some of the work commissioned, some of the data that’s compiled by EY, if you look at the local electoral areas towards the end of September you see 10 days after the opening of wet pubs, the numbers going up pretty significantly.
In his address to the nation, Martin acknowledged that the pubs remaining closed would be “deeply frustrating for business owners in this sector”.
“I fully accept their goodwill about respecting guidelines,” he said.
But the reality is that reopening indoor hospitality carries risks. And there’s only so far, we can safely go.
“I want to reassure them that additional supports, over and above what is currently in place will be made available to owners to help them into the new year, and prepare for their eventual reopening.”
Reacting to this evening’s news, the the VFI said that “publicans are now being treated as second-class citizens within the hospitality sector”.
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“The trade has experienced a series of ever-deepening depressions over the past nine months but this latest decision by government to keep pubs closed while the rest of the hospitality sector reopens is the worst by far,” VFI chief executive Padraig Cribben.
The Taoiseach said he is trusting business owners and customers to act responsibly when the country reopens next week but his message to publicans is ‘we don’t trust you’.
“Pubs are some of the most regulated businesses in the country, while publicans must renew their licence annually. It’s not in their interest to ignore the guidelines as they know it could lead to a loss of their licence and livelihood.”