By Cate McCurry, PA
The reopening of indoor hospitality marks the end of an “extremely challenging” period that began in March 2020, according to Ireland’s publicans.
Indoor dining in pubs and restaurants reopened across the country on Monday for those with proof of immunity to Covid-19, marking a significant step for the hospitality sector.
More than 3,000 pubs reopened on Monday, with 25,000 staff signing off the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) and heading back to work. For many, it is the first time they have opened their doors since March 2020.
VFI president Paul Moynihan, who runs his family pub in Donard, Co Wicklow, said: “The reopening of indoor hospitality marks the end of an extremely challenging 16-month period that began on 15th March 2020 when all pubs were instructed to close in the face of the advancing pandemic.
“It’s only fair that pubs with no outdoor space are allowed to reopen. While outdoor trading has been a success for some publicans, reopening indoors gives businesses a chance to make ends meet.”
However, the VFI has also cautioned that new guidelines from Government designed to curb the spread of Covid-19 “will make it very difficult for publicans and staff to manage their indoor businesses.”
“Our message to customers is simple: Please work with us as we get used to these new guidelines,” Padraig Cribben, VFI chief executive said.
Mick Ryan, owner of Ha’penny Bridge Inn in Temple Bar, welcomed customers indoors for first time since the start of the pandemic.
Mr Ryan, who has owned the Dublin pub for 31 years, said he is struggling to hire staff.
“We can’t get the staff back to work. The PUP (Pandemic Unemployment Payment) is ridiculous. We can’t get the staff back,” he added.
“We can’t get someone on the door checking people in, so we will have to go in and out checking it ourselves. We have four staff, but we used to have six.
“We have no cleaners – we can’t get the cleaning contractor back because they have no staff, so we are doing the cleaning ourselves.
“We have been selling drink outside for a few weeks and before that we sold takeaway pints. You have to do something, you can’t sit around every day,” Mr Ryan continued.
“All the pubs in Temple Bar are struggling for staff, restaurants are struggling for staff. It’s a problem all over the country. People have gone on to do other things and I don’t blame them.
“We have a bar upstairs that we spent €150,000 renovating before the lockdown that was never opened.”
Speaking this afternoon, Taoiseach Micheál Martin urged the public to remain careful in the coming weeks.
“We have made good progress in the last six months in reopening sectors of society, so we want to protect that progress,” he said.
“Even though we are reopening indoor dining, we still have to be very, very careful.
“There’s a Delta variant that is highly transmissible and we have to protect ourselves.
“The ideal scenario is a continued rollout of the vaccination programme, combined with sensible, precautionary behaviour on all our part.
“That’s where we can defeat this virus.”
It comes as more than 5.5 million doses of the Covid-19 have administered across Ireland.
Almost 70 per cent of the population is now fully vaccinated, and almost 80 per cent has received the first of two doses.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said: “A huge thanks to all the vaccinators and the staff in our vaccine centres across the country, as well as the GPs, pharmacists and all involved.”
The guidelines for the reopening of indoor hospitality were signed off by Government late on Sunday night.
Last-minute changes to the regulations require pubs and restaurants to take the contact details for the lead person at a table, after proposed guidelines stated that details of every customer were needed for contact tracing.
Patrons will be required to produce a copy of a Covid certificate to show they are either fully vaccinated or have recovered from the virus in the last six months.
The EU Digital Covid Certificate (DCC) or the HSE Covid-19 Vaccination Record can be used for proof of vaccination status when entering pubs, restaurants, cafes or food courts.
There are no time limits on indoor dining but premises must be clear of all customers by 11.30pm.
A maximum of six people over the age of 13 are allowed at each table, however the limit does not include children aged 12 or younger. The total combined capacity at a table cannot exceed 15.