AS responsible members of the local community, publicans were more than willing to support the Government’s decision to close pubs last March.
The pandemic was arriving, people were scared, and everyone wanted to do the right thing.
Fast forward 12 months and nothing much has changed.
If, like me, you run a traditional pub that doesn’t serve food, then you only traded for 16 days back in late September. Food pubs were open for a longer period but now we’re all closed.
Where do we go from here?
Public health will always be the number one priority. We understand that basic point. There is no strong call for a reopening date, but what the hospitality sector desperately needs is a roadmap out of the crisis.
In fact, a roadmap is what the entire country needs.
Why can’t we be like Denmark, which published its roadmap a few days ago?
Like us, Denmark has been under a partial lockdown for the last three months. Once all their over 50s are vaccinated, it plans to reopen most of society there.
The Danes unveiled a plan for a return to normal which will see schools and universities, shops, restaurants, bars, libraries, museums and cinemas gradually reopen over a period of two months.
For the hospitality sector here, such a plan would give us confidence that we’re all heading in the right direction towards the end of a very long tunnel.
A proper roadmap would let us know how many people need to be vaccinated before we can begin to open up.
Other questions also need to be addressed, like how low the daily infection rate should be and what roles do hospital admissions and ICU numbers play?
There is a real despair among VFI members in Cork and across the country. Every day I talk to publicans who are fast losing hope.
It’s that despair that led us to launching the #NotDisposbale campaign on social media. There’s a sense amongst the hospitality sector that we’ve been forgotten about.
While we struggle to make ends meet, a recent survey found that 70% of people were growing their savings during lockdown. That’s a startling statistic compared to the 50,000 pub staff who have been on the PUP for more than 12 months at this stage.
The divide created last year by the Government, when it decided to allow food pubs and restaurants to open but keep traditional pubs shut, was a huge mistake that must not be made again.
When hospitality does reopen, it must be together. We can’t have a situation where there are winners and losers based on what you serve. The UK has dumped the meal provision and so should Ireland.
There is much talk about the economic boom the country will experience in the immediate aftermath of Covid. The irony is that many pubs and outlets in the wider hospitality sector are under threat and may not be here when people rush out of their homes to celebrate.
We need a vibrant nightlife in places like Cork and beyond, just like we need a strong tourism sector when tourists are finally allowed back in the country.
Given the longevity of the lockdown for our members, we will need more business supports not only while we wait to reopen but also once businesses are again trading, as it will take a considerable period of time to get pubs back on their feet.
If you asked most people late last year when they thought we would be coming to the end of this dreadful pandemic, they probably would have said April or May. Yet, as we head towards Easter that doesn’t look likely.
There was a big announcement from the Taoiseach last week about the possibility of lifting some restrictions yet, by and large, life will continue in lockdown for the foreseeable future.
This reality will be made all the more difficult by the fact England will be exiting its lockdown over the coming weeks and months. We will have to watch as, first, outdoor trading will resume then, on May 17, pubs and restaurants will fully reopen.
My only hope is that we won’t be too far behind.
Michael O’Donovan is VFI Cork Chairman and owner of the Castle Inn in the city.