There has been widespread dismay following Tuesday’s announcement that pubs will not reopen next Monday (10th) as planned due to concerns over the rise in Covid-19 cases across the country, with many local publicans critical of the decision.
The Chairperson of the Roscommon Town & District branch of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland, Larry Brennan, who is also the co-owner of Down The Hatch in Roscommon town, said the decision has added to local uncertainty.
“It’s very, very frustrating that pubs, who had been gearing up to reopen, are not even sure if they’ll be able to open in three weeks’ time. It’s hard to understand because bigger pubs serving food are now open. I don’t see the difference between a pub serving food and one which doesn’t, as long as social distancing measures and proper guidelines are in place,” he said.
Larry pointed out that most pubs have now missed the busy summer holiday season which will lead to increased financial pressures during the quieter months of autumn.
“This decision could mean that some pubs will never open again,” he added.
Larry’s comments were echoed by publicans across the county. Sarah Jane Coffey, the proprietor of Coffey’s Bar and shop in Lecarrow, described it as “a dark day for publicans”.
“There are almost 4,000 family businesses that have not traded for five months. The health guidelines are paramount but there seems to be an abdication when it comes to balanced decision making.
“This (running a pub) is already a dying trade and sympathy from Leo Varadkar and other politicians won’t pay the bills,” she said.
Coffey’s’ staff have been busy preparing for reopening and Sarah Jane was confident that she could provide a safe environment for customers.
“We’d have no problem practicing social distancing here. We would have had to lose seats at the bar of course but our tables are well spaced, and we have a marquee and furniture for outside too.
“We’re so disheartened by everything. We have missed five Bank Holiday weekends, the local Pudding and Porter Festival, and other local events. Last Saturday night there were 22 boats in Lecarrow Harbour but we’re turning business away left, right and centre.
“We are hoping that we will reopen in September and then we’ll be banking on the weather being good to make up for some of the business we have lost this summer,” she added.
Sarah Jane called on the government to provide compensation to those pubs affected by the closures and warned that livelihoods as well as local communities were in jeopardy.
“I am the fourth generation here at Coffey’s and our pub, which will be in business for 102 years next October, is at the heart of the local community. We miss our loyal customers. They’re like a family to us here,” she added.
The disappointment was shared in Strokestown, where Willie Compton runs The Central Bar. Willie said there is a feeling that the pub industry is being shut down in rural Ireland.
“The decision to keep pubs closed is not wise because the market has now moved to house parties where there is no supervision whatsoever. That has been highlighted in the number of Covid cases among those under the age of 45.
“If pubs had been left open there would have been a level of order and control. The situation regarding house parties is daft and we have seen that in the large increase in alcohol sales at off-licences,” he said.
The Central Bar was also preparing to reopen, and Willie said that protocols are in place to ensure the safety of customers.
“Public health is the most important thing and clients need somewhere safe to go. There is not the same level of risk in a controlled environment like a pub as there would be at house parties. A lot of work has been carried out here so that we can adhere to the guidelines.
“All we want is a level playing field. What’s coming out of all of this is the lack of interest from the government when it comes to pubs. There seems to be an unpublished agenda to put people back drinking at home. It’s an industry that’s being shut down. I’m disappointed for myself and other local pubs because rural pubs are a social outlet within communities,” he said.
Well-known Creggs publican, Michael O’Roarke, was also disillusioned with Tuesday’s decision.
“It’s a bit silly when you think about it. Pubs were already struggling to get people in the door before Covid-19 and places in rural Ireland like Creggs don’t have the population to have big crowds in pubs anyway.
“It feels like we’re suffering because of issues in bigger towns and cities. There should be one rule for everyone. It’s not fair half-promising something and having publicans investing money to get ready to reopen and then being told they can’t reopen,” he said.
Like many other local publicans who had spoken to the Roscommon People in the past week, Michael was left wondering what the future would hold for the industry in rural Ireland.
“You would wonder what will happen. We have no choice for the moment though, we just have to obey the rules and see where they take us”.