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‘Don’t get me started on the shebeens’

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WAITING IMPATIENTLY Marie Mellett was all set to open her pub in Swinford on Monday after five months of preparation.

Swinford

Oisín McGovern

The traditional Irish pub is at risk of dying a death unless the Government provide extra assistance to pubs that have yet to open, according to Swinford publican Marie Mellett.
‘Wet pubs’ like Mellett’s Emporium have now had their reopening delayed twice, much to the disappointment of many pub owners who had been preparing to reopen under new public health guidelines.
Indeed, pubs have had such a lack of communication from the Government that Marie herself only found out about the latest delay while on the way to Dublin to appear on RTÉ’s Prime Time.
When The Mayo News called to visit last Thursday, Marie insisted that the 223-year-old establishment on Market Street is able to reopen safely.
“There are more pubs open right now than are closed, that’s our bugbear,” she says.
“We would never go against any health advice. We’ve spent five months learning how to social distance and protect our staff and customers and we’re not even being given the chance.
“But, if we decided tomorrow to start selling burgers and chips then that’s okay. That’s where it doesn’t make any sense.”
She is also well aware that unsupervised house parties are going on not just in Swinford, but all over the county.
“House parties have always gone on … that’s what young people tend to do. But there’s a huge influx in house parties in the 21 to 60-year-olds. They’re having house parties with 20, 30, 40 people.
“Don’t get me started on the shebeens,” she added.
“People are making money on it and it’s not even a house party. What’s worse is that there are publicans supplying their customers with the equipment. I’d say to any publican who’s doing that to cut it out because you’re promoting the spread of the virus by giving equipment to a house where there’s no social distancing, no hand sanitizer, and where you’ve no idea who’s there, where they’ve been or where they’re going to.”
With ‘drink-only’ pubs having been completely shut since March 15, drinking habits have adapted to the circumstances. Marie says this could hasten the decline of the traditional Irish pub.
“Someone said to me that she has started going to house parties, and they take turns to host it every weekend. All their kids are the same age so there are maybe 15 of them there drinking. They don’t have to get a babysitter, the kids play together and they go home.
“She said: ‘We’re having such a good time together that I don’t know if we’ll go back to the pub when they open,’ and that worries me.”

Preparations
For the past few months, Marie and her father Joe – the sixth and seventh generation to take the reins in the establishment – have been busy renovating in the hope of reopening for the end of the summer season.
Despite not receiving any government guidelines, Marie has spent considerable money putting up stickers, hand sanitisers, temporary perspex screens, extra snugs and face shields emblazoned with the name of the pub. Even the newly-renovated toilets now have hands-free taps, which were installed for €310 a pop.
While not burdened by a mortgage or rental costs, Melletts are still paying around €400 a week in bills, which has left their savings depleted. With Taoiseach Micheál Martin refusing to guarantee that all pubs would reopen this year, Marie says it is vital that the €350 Pandemic Unemployment Payment is maintained while they are closed.
“It’s really concerning. We wouldn’t survive on less than the €350 a week because it’s still a lot less than when we were working.
“For Helen McEntee to come out and say anyone on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment needs to start looking for a job … we all have jobs, and we’re ready to go back to work, but the Government are stopping us on public health grounds.
“That’s fine, we’ll accept it … we just need commitment from the Government that they’ll support us through this time.”
Now having to wait at least another three weeks to get the go-ahead to reopen adds to the difficulties, Marie says.
“The stress of waiting, waiting, waiting for an announcement is not good on your mental health. We need to open to see if the business is viable or not.
“We bailed out the banks and now it’s time for the Government to bail out us. The Irish pub is the number one tourist attraction in Ireland and unless the Government want to see the death of the Irish pub then we need help, and we need it now.”