A Cork publican has called on the Government to publish a clear roadmap for the reopening of hospitality after lockdown.
Michael O’Donovan, owner of the Castle Inn on South Main Street and Cork City Chair of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) said that there are many factors to be considered before reopening and has called for a timeline to be given “to get some kind of idea of what is going to happen going forward”.
His comments come following a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht on Tuesday where the VFI and the Licenced Vintners Association (LVA) outlined their views on the impact of Covid-19 on the hospitality sector.
They were joined by the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) and the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) in seeking extended and enhanced State support for the suffering industry.
Speaking to The Echo, Mr O’Donovan said: “We just want the parameters, if what percentage of the population needs to be vaccinated before reopening is what they’re looking at, or hospitalisation numbers, ICU numbers, community infection rates, we just want to get some kind of system in place that will allow us to gauge going forward at what point can we aspire to get back to business.”
He said that many factors come into play in preparation for reopening, and said that while he understands specific reopening dates cannot be provided right now, an idea is needed for publicans to plan.
“We’ll have to rehire staff. We know there’s going to be a shortage of staff so we’ll have to advertise and try and attract people to our premises so that will take time. Then we have to retrain the staff in all procedures and regulations that will be there so it’s not just as easy as to start.
“We need lead time and that’s what we’re asking is to just see the roadmap so we can get some kind of idea of what is going to happen going forward in the next few months and that we can start preparing and engaging with staff.
“Our suppliers as well, the breweries, in particular, need a couple of weeks to start brewing and packaging and getting in products and getting it out into the distribution channels. So, for us to get open we need those breweries back up and running so they need a couple of weeks to get themselves sorted out.”
He said that while the VFI knows the virus does not stick to any plan, that “the base of where we’re going” is needed now and can be tailored within the coming months.
Mr O’Donovan said that he was “very disappointed” with Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn’s comments in relation to summer which he said left many publicans stressed.
Speaking during Monday evening’s NPHET briefing, Dr Glynn said: “Hopefully we will have disease levels at a much lower incidence overall.
“From that perspective, I think we can look forward to a good summer that’s premised on outdoor activities.”
He said, however, that “no one is saying that we can return to normal on July 1”.
“I was very disappointed hearing Dr Glynn’s comments about whether we could have a meaningful outdoor summer,” Mr O’Donovan said.
“I spent my whole night Monday night and again Tuesday morning on the phone with stressed-out publicans across Cork.
“We’re in Ireland, we’re down here in the south-west corner, yes we get nice summers but it’s difficult to survive a summer trading period if you just have to live off outside catering.
“The amount of investment that has to go into getting a place kitted out for outside catering and dining and serving is quite substantial.
“We missed out on trading last summer in 2020 and if we miss out again in summer in 2021, and restaurants will be the same, we just won’t survive winter because whatever cash revenue that was built up in the bank is now gone and if we don’t have that meaningful trading during summer we won’t survive another winter of this.”
Mr O’Donovan said that “we need to start seeing hospitality entering the conversation in Cabinet” and that going forward, a roadmap will need to be given in late April for the sector to know what summer is going to bring.
VFI chief executive Pádraig Cribben also told the committee on Tuesday that the “artificial divide” between pubs that serve food and those that do not have created unnecessary divisions and pressures and called on the Government to scrap the distinction between those premises that serve food and so-called wet pubs.