Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced a number of new restrictions last night, which come into effect on Monday, amid fears of a “massive rise” in Covid-19 infections due to the Omicron variant.
These include that all restaurants and bars, excluding takeaways or delivery services, must close at 8pm; that there are no indoor events after 8pm; and that capacity is limited to 50% of venue capacity or 1,000 people, whichever is lower. Attendance at all outdoor events should be limited to 50% of venue capacity or 5,000 people, whichever is lower.
Wedding receptions can take place after 8pm, but with a capacity limit of 100 guests.
In an address to the nation after Cabinet approved the new restrictions, Mr Martin said the challenge was to slow the rate of infections so it did not get out of control over the Christmas period.
He said that “none of this is easy”, adding that “we are all exhausted with Covid and the restrictions it requires. The twists and turns, the disappointments, and the frustrations take a heavy toll on everyone. But it is the reality that we are dealing with. We cannot wish it away, and there is no silver bullet to fix it.”
Fergal Harte, chair of the Irish Hotel Federation Cork branch and general manager of the Kingsley Hotel, said the news was a huge blow to hotels and guest houses.
“Public health has been our primary concern from the start of the crisis and we understand that Government are in a difficult position due to the Omicron variant, but once again, hospitality is really going to suffer as a result of the announcements this evening.” Mr Harte said.
“There’s no question that we will need extra Government support to help us through the coming weeks,” he added.
Michael Magner, owner of the Vienna Woods Hotel, said that the new restrictions were “deeply disappointing”.
He said reinstated support was essential.
“I think I speak on behalf of any business, when I say that if we can maintain our businesses, but more importantly, keep the people that we’ve employed, through government support, it means in that they have security of tenure within their jobs and that’s key.”
He said morale in the hospitality sector was low, and people are dealing with a lot of anxiety.
“We understand the government is in a very difficult position, but it’s just that we’re exhausted, and that’s the honest to God truth.”
Cork Chair of the Restaurant Association of Ireland and owner of CoqBull and the Cornstore restaurants, Mike Ryan said that the hospitality industry is getting to the state of “becoming beyond repair”.
“You can keep closing it and the more you close it the less places will come back and long term you’re just going to have the industry decimated.
“At some point there is going to have to be a realisation that if we keep doing this, no matter what support you put in place, places can’t survive because they won’t have the personnel to run it. They might still have the building and they might still be able to get some product but they won’t have the staff,” he said.
Mr Ryan said that people are once again putting their lives on hold “because of a lack of investment over decades in the hospital system”.
Echoing Mr Ryan’s comments, Seán McCarthy, one of the owners of Soho, Paddy the Farmer’s, Tequila Jack’s and East Village Bar and Restaurant, said that there is going to be “complete chaos” in the industry after Christmas.
He said that an earlier closing time will have an effect on the bookings of 2,500 people across his premises between Monday and Thursday next week, and the further 1,000 people across the premises on Christmas Eve.
“47% of my bookings are before 8pm but if they want people out by 8pm, my last sitting would be 6pm so that’s 32% of my booking I can feed. I lose 68% of my booking from Monday through to Thursday,” he said.
Owner of Sage restaurant in Midleton, Kevin Aherne, has taken the decision to close over the Christmas period, shutting the doors from December 23, a decision which he said was partly based on the fact of it being more important for people to spend time with their families over Christmas rather than operating at a loss.
He said that restaurant owners’ relationship with the Government up until now “has been very much on thin ice” and that people will “just go left instead of right” now that the Government has pulled the last piece of pie away from them.
Owner of the SpitJack, Richard Gavin, said that the whole industry was wiped out in the last lockdown and that he lost his motivated and driven team because they were unable to work for seven months.
“The last six months have been absolute hell trying to rebuild. We’ve been partially closed for the past few months because we haven’t been able to hire. We’re normally a seven-day a week restaurant, we’ve gone now from a five-day to a six-day and we were about to push to a seven-day again and now with this news it’s going to absolutely destroy our business.”
The Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) said last night that the 8pm closing time makes little sense and will lead to pubs closing their doors for the duration of restrictions.
Paul Montgomery, who runs the popular pub and eatery Clancy’s on Princes Street said at the moment, the industry is not making money.
“We are just breaking even, it is not paying us to keep the doors open.”
Mr Montgomery said he had “absolutely no confidence” in the authorities following the mixed messaging and empty promises and said he would not be reopening his doors in the new year if there are “half arsed measures” in place.
The Government said last night that the relevant business protection schemes will be reviewed in light of the latest restrictions of businesses capacity to operate and that there will be further announcement in due course.