Cork publicans have expressed their concern and uncertainty ahead of a decision about the reopening of pubs without the need to serve food which is expected later today.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) is due to meet this morning ahead of a Cabinet meeting during which the roadmap to reopening society and business will be discussed by the government.
Publicans who feel they have been left in the dark as the only sector yet to reopen its doors, are worried that they will be subject to the further closure of their establishments due to the rising number of Covid-19 cases seen over the last number of days.
Cork city chairperson of the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI), Michael O’Donovan, “hopeful” for the reopening of pubs on August 10 but said that the rise in case numbers is “a major concern”.
The owner of The Castle Inn on South Main Street in the city centre believes that pub owners are capable of controlling their environments in what is a “highly regulated industry”.
“We can see all the bars that are open since June, and to date we’re not aware of any case coming from any bar,” he said.
“We’re a highly regulated industry so if we’re given the guidelines we’ll follow the guidelines and people should feel safe and welcome to come to bars.
“It's a frustrating time for us publicans that are still closed because we hear of people holding house parties and there’s no control or social distancing in those environments but all those measures can be implemented in the bar scenario and it’s a safer environment for people to engage with each other.
“It’s really unfair how we've been treated for the last eight weeks and the way that the Government handled the situation the last time when we were going to open, waiting until Thursday night to tell us, that was so stressful,” he said.
Mr O’Donovan said that pubs are now coming under financial stress and that “a lot of people are forgetting that the six month mortorium on loans ends at the end of August” and that if the pubs do not reopen, publicans are still left with loans they have to pay off.
Owner of the Tap Tavern in Kinsale, Brian O’Neill said that if the Government “just told pubs one way or another” that they would at least have answers.
“We’ve a small little pub and a big outside space and if someone said to us the most you can have is 20 people, I'm the person who can police that very easily and people could even make bookings for their hour and 45 minute slots also, we can do all those things.
“I understand that the people making the rules don't know what's happening from day to day either but we need answers,” he said.
Owner of An Spailpín Fánach and VFI member John O’Connor said that he will be holding his breath ahead of today’s decision on the reopening of pubs and that if the government decides not to do so, that the country should go back to phase two of the roadmap.
“Personally, I think if they don't open up the pubs next Monday I think maybe they should go back to phase two and lock it all down again for a month or whatever and mop it up and get back to normal because if it’s not working the way it is now with some pubs open and some not, it’s not helping.
He said that he is feeling 50/50 about whether or not pubs will get the green light and that “the case numbers the last two days aren’t helping”.
West Cork councillor Danny Collins who owns the Boston Bar in Bantry said that he’s “not too confident about pubs reopening” but is remaining hopeful ahead of today’s Cabinet meeting.
“I think it’s ridiculous the way they are treating the publicans as if we can't run our businesses and they can reopen every other business.
“If they give us regulations, then we’ll abide by them but hopefully they will see sense and let us reopen because the bars and restaurants serving food are doing what they’re told and we would do the same,” he said.
Owner of the Tap Tavern in Kinsale, Brian O'Neill, has held off on ordering stock this time around because “the number of cases are worse than they were three weeks ago”.
“We’re in a position where we can police ourselves and meanwhile there’s house parties going on around the country.
“We want to do the right thing too, we want to keep people safe.
“The numbers aren't in Cork, the numbers aren't in Kinsale, the whole country is being punished for where the big numbers are,” he said.
Noreen Gannon of Gallagher’s Gastro Pub on MacCurtain Street and who has been open serving food said that she “sincerely feels” for colleagues in the industry who are still closed.
“The numbers are going up a little bit but the pubs aren't even opened so why are they being blamed when there’s house parties going on and why is that not being addressed?
“People are taking themselves into a house where parties are taking place and nothing is being done about it,” she said.
Cork city chairperson of the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI) and owner of The Castle Inn on South Main Street in the city centre, Michael O’Donovan said that pub owners are “in the same scenario again” as they were two weeks ago.
“I have until Wednesday lunchtime to decide about stock so we've been asking the government to make the decision and tell us because it will just put us in the same scenario again.
“Even for our own mental health it's not good to be going through the stresses of this every two weeks and I hope we don't ever repeat what happened the last time,” he said.
Cork publican Benny McCabe owns a string of bars and pubs in the city with The Oval, Sin É and Mutton Lane yet to reopen to customers.
“There’s a lot of people out there and all they want is a pint and a chat, they're not going to get up on the table singing Sweet Caroline,” he said.
“We know it's a serious virus but a couple of people having a beer in a public house, I don't see the harm.
“It’s pushing people into the house parties and raves. There's a huge difference between drink and company and at the off licences you see long queues and no social distancing in place which would make you scratch your head.”
Well-known entrepreneur and publican Ernest Cantillon said that he does not think pubs will reopen by August 10 which he said would be “very unfair” to the pubs who have remained shut.
He said that although he doesn’t see why “city centre pubs can’t reopen” after seeing some team up with other businesses to offer food to their customers, that there are “some who have never served food and have an older clientele with no interest in eating at a bar”.
“It’s very hard to justify putting your own economic gain above the greater good but in the same breath it's very unfair that they feel singled out,” he said.