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Slap in the face - pubs left in the dark on reopening with just 10 days to go

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The Swan Bar in the city centre has been busy preparing to reopen its doors

The Swan Bar in the city centre has been busy preparing to reopen its doors

The Swan Bar in the city centre has been busy preparing to reopen its doors

Delays in publishing guidelines for pubs due to reopen in 10 days' time have been described as a "real slap in the face" by a leading organisation in the sector.

The Vintners' Federation of Ireland (VFI) said the majority of rural pubs are yet to open, particularly those along the western seaboard.

In total, 3,438 pubs are due to restart business on July 20, but the VFI said they "urgently require" publication of pandemic safety guidelines.

Many will be hoping to cash in on domestic tourism as people turn to staycations as an alternative summer holiday over the coming months.

It comes as gardai revealed 26 pubs already opened since June 29 could face prosecution for breaching Covid-19 health regulations, or licensing laws.

Pubs serving food and restaurants were allowed to reopen as part of phase three of easing restrictions by the Government.

Officers found customers drinking alcohol but no evidence of food being served, or receipts to show food had been sold, at 26 pubs opened during phase three.

Gardai also said there was a lack of adherence to public health advice, such as allowing large groups at one table, with little to no social distancing, no advisory signage, and no Covid-19 contact tracing being recorded.

Files will now be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions, gardai said.

A total of 6,830 checks were conducted on 2,785 on licensed premises between Friday, July 3, and Sunday 5 as part of Operation Navigation.

The majority - 2,759 - were complying with regulations and licensing laws.

Cooped

Vintners' Federation of Ireland chief executive Padraig Cribben, said: "We've been saying for weeks publicans need to follow the public health guidelines that were published to allow pubs serving food to reopen on June 29.

"We're glad to see gardai have found the vast majority are complying with the regulations, which allows people to get out and enjoy some food and drink after months cooped up.

"It's unfortunate that 26 publicans - out of a total of over 7,000 - could face prosecution.

"While a very small number, it sends a clear message that any publican abusing the guidelines will face sanction. We don't want the actions of a tiny minority impacting the entire pub sector as it prepares to reopen on July 20.

"Our members have acted very responsibly since the crisis began in March but the delay in publishing the reopening guidelines for pubs due to open in 10 days' time is a real slap in the face. Publicans need those guidelines today."

Industry sources within the hospitality sector said: "The 26 pubs have put an entire industry at risk of being closed down again.

"The sooner there's a proper inspecting regime in place to give immediate sanction to close down a premises breaking the rules - to gardai or environment health officers - it would be welcomed across the hospitality industry."

Deputy Garda Commissioner John Twomey said: "We remain concerned a minority are potentially operating in breach of the regulations. In doing so, they are putting the health of their customers and staff and everyone they come into contact with after at risk of getting Covid-19.

"We're sending a clear message to such premises that we will be opposing their liquor licence renewal applications in September unless they come into compliance.

"In addition, the public has shown great restraint and responsibility to date in adhering to the public health guidelines.

The reality is that Covid-19 is still here. We all have an individual responsibility to ensure we continue to play our part in reducing the spread of Covid-19 to protect our family, friends and neighbours."

Mr Twomey also reminded publicans that under liquor licensing laws, licensed premises require a declaration of suitability from a member of An Garda Siochana in order for its liquor licence to be renewed.

Meanwhile, the county with the largest number of unopened pubs is Cork, with 473 premises still not opened.

Adapt

This was followed by Galway (273), Tipperary (223), Kerry (221), Mayo (218) and Donegal (180).

The VFI said despite being due to open within days, the pubs still did not know how they would need to adapt their businesses to ensure they comply with the public health requirements.

The delay is "also causing anxiety in some rural communities," a VHI spokesman added.

"Many of these unopened pubs serve as the only gathering locations or hospitality venues in their area."

Vivian Walsh, owner of The Old Grainstore in Westport, Co Mayo, said she had been making a "substantial investment" by renovating the outside area of the pub to increase capacity.

However, despite this spend "we don't know what the guidelines will state. With just over a week to open, to find ourselves in this situation is simply incredible," she said.