The planned reopening of all pubs in a fortnight is now in jeopardy after hundreds of people were seen flouting Covid-19 social distancing restrictions in Dublin at the weekend, Taoiseach Micheal Martin has warned.
Scores of people were photographed drinking as they gathered in large crowds outside pubs in the city centre on Saturday night.
Because of those scenes, the planned reopening of all pubs on July 20 is now under review.
"We have reports from the gardai because on Friday we asked [them] to do a major weekend operation" the Taoiseach said yesterday.
"Operation Navigation kicked in that evening and about five-and-a-half thousand pubs were inspected by the guards.
"The majority were compliant, but there were breaches of the regulations and social distancing clearly was not being observed in a number of cases.
"So we're going to have to review that, as pubs in general were due to open on July 20," he added.
"I think all of us have to behave responsibly in relation to this.
"The majority of publicans did, but quite a number didn't, and we are concerned about it. We'll be looking at this very, very carefully."
Donall O'Keeffe, chief executive of the Licensed Vintners Association, said the behaviour by irresponsible drinkers who put their own desire to have a good time ahead of the public health risk is not only inexcusable, it is now threatening the already precarious pub trade.
"It's disgraceful. We think it's really damaging for the pub trade and the image of the Dublin city centre," he told The Herald.
However, he said the issue of pubs reopening last weekend under Covid-19 restrictions is not to be confused with the problem of on-street drinking by people who are buying drinks from pub hatches and consuming them on the street or buying alcohol from off-licences and supermarkets.
"This has been with us for a long time," he said of revellers drinking in the street, in laneways or other public places.
He said it would be "grossly unfair" if pubs are not allowed to reopen as planned on July 20.
He said the majority of the 3,500 Dublin pubs that re-opened under strict new Covid-19 guidelines last week are complying with regulations.
He reiterated that he has no sympathy for those who flout the law.
"We think there is broad compliance with the restrictions and we feel that where businesses are flouting the law, the authorities need to come down hard on them," he said.
He added that the only way to tackle street drinking is to enact legislation making it illegal.
However, in the meantime he is urging young people to "cop on" so they don't ruin it for everyone else.
"Individuals must take responsibility for their actions. It's simply unacceptable," he said, adding that many pubs are already facing an uncertain future as a result of the pandemic.
While only those pubs serving food were allowed to reopen last week, all pubs can open from July 20.
However, Mr O'Keeffe said being forced to delay reopening would be "catastrophic" for some publicans.
"They would be closed for 18 weeks now and it would be grossly unfair if they weren't able to open due to people drinking on the street," Mr O'Keeffe said.
Justice Minister Helen McEntee yesterday urged "self-control" by those who gathered on the street to drink despite the pandemic.
She made the comment following a meeting with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris on the issue yesterday.
She also hinted at implementing "further measures" against publicans who disregard the reopening guidelines.
Mr Harris said the vast majority of the 6,000 pubs that were visited by gardai at the weekend were in compliance with the regulations.
Meanwhile, Dublin City Council chief executive Owen Keegan last night said patrols will be stepped to prevent such street gatherings in the future.