‘These are the weeks that matter’

Features

Publican Mike Byrne

Deep frustration at roadmap delay, eleventh-hour announcements and mixed messages

Analysis
Michael Gallagher

For the past week, Ireland has been gripped by one particularly emotive subject – the reopening of the indoor hospitality industry, or rather the non-opening of the indoor hospitality industry.
The roadmap laid down by the Government for the gradual reopening of Irish society had marked Monday, July 5, as the date pubs and restaurants could begin serving customers on their premises again. Last week, that message was rescinded, when Taoíseach Mícheál Martin announced a delay until at least July 19. That news was greeted with shock across the land. There were other caveats which added to the frustration of many. Government sources suggested that indoor dining and drinking might resume for those who could prove they had been fully vaccinated.
This was met by a chorus of protest from many sectors, including civil liberties groups, youth organisations, who asked how young, unvaccinated people could safely work in such an environment, and pub and restaurant owners themselves, who said such a system was unworkable.
The Government also put a stop to Confirmation and Communion celebrations, and this has caused frustration and no little anger in many parishes across the land.  Here, we chat to some of those impacted by the latest restrictions and hear about their shock and frustration.

Mick Byrne
Mick Byrne’s Bar, Castlebar
I’m totally browned off with it. We were geared up to open up and really looking forward to it. It’s quite clear that the powers that be don’t have a clue what they’re doing.
This vaccination-pass idea is a complete waste of time. I have no intention whatsoever of asking anybody whether they have a vaccine before they come into my pub. That’s a personal thing. There’s a lot of people who won’t be vaccinated for one reason or another and I have no intention of embarrassing them.
The Government say they’re going to make an announcement again in two weeks, but what are they going to say? Tony Holohan is saying the month of August will be a bad month again and there will be a rise in infections, so I can’t see us opening again before the autumn.
July and August are collectively our busiest months, and we were ready for good trade and good craic with Mayo going well, the Euros and the Galway Races coming up. This is the time for trade. These are the weeks that matter in business. Sport going well, the weather going well and people in the town on holidays. Once September comes, we’ll be totally reliant on our regulars again and while we’re blessed to have great regulars, July and August is the icing on the cake.
We put up with a lot to get to this stage, and to have it put back for two weeks was heartbreaking and I honestly cannot see it being any different on July 19.
I can certainly see the medical reasons behind the announcement, but why does it take Government so long to tell us? The dogs in the street knew what was happening but only when there was pressure applied did they come out and tell us.
Tony Holohan and Nphet have conducted themselves very well, but we’re kept in the dark and the Government are then trying to make excuses, which is annoying and hard to accept.
I agree with what Nphet are doing, and you cannot say they’re wrong, but there are only so many pubs that don’t do food, and we seem to be blamed, which is absolutely non-sensical.
Drip feeding us information and not giving us enough time to prepare – or not prepare – is just hard to fathom. We’re being taken for granted.
Holohan is doing a great job. I think everything he’s doing is spot on, but the Government have to carry out decisions in a proper, clear manner. There’s one minister saying one thing and another one saying something else. Micheál Martin comes on and makes a speech and then Leo Varadkar says ‘maybe this’ and ‘maybe that.’ That type of thing is maddening. 

Fr Charlie McDonnell
Westport Parish
We’re not disputing the medical facts laid out by Nphet at all. We understand the gravity of the situation, but we most certainly are unhappy with the messages from Government. Communion and Confirmation services may seem meaningless to some people, but to families and the Church, these are hugely important events and these latest announcements have caused a lot of sadness, disappointment and in some cases, anger.
The indecision, the mixed messages and the frustration around the situation is not good for young people. To an eight year old their communion day is one of the biggest occasions in their lives, and to have it ‘on again, off again’ is a massive disappointment.
Thankfully, in recent years, the Church has learned a lot, and the care of our young people is crucially important. Therefore, to see them messed around like this is concerning.
Everyone understands why measures have to be taken, but the mixed messages from Government and the poor timing of those messages leave a lot to be desired.

Frankie Mallon
An Port Mór, Westport
We’re all in shock. All our staff came in a week ahead of time and were working to get ready for the opening. Then the news came through, and there was absolutely nothing we could do. We just sat around looking at each other, and there was just nothing we could say. We just had to go home.
The Delta variant has hit us very quickly, and everyone is confused. We were hearing on the news that a large percentage of our population was vaccinated, and we thought we were in the clear. Then, this news comes out of the blue. To say we were stunned is an understatement. We’re more confused now than ever. Before Monday, at least we had a date and we were opening on July 5, but now we have nothing – we’re completely set adrift, because, as far as I can see, there’s no real plan being put in place for July 19.
We opened last summer when there was nobody vaccinated, and we didn’t have one case of infection linked to the restaurant. The most vulnerable and many, many more have been vaccinated now and we cannot open at all.
We didn’t have stock bought in, and the announcement came just in the nick of time in that regard, but we had spent a fortune getting ready for Monday. After being closed for months, the place needed a shake up, so we painted it all, bought new chairs, tablecloths, new pieces of machinery. We were moving forward, now there’s no plan in place.
Talk of the vaccine pass just creates more confusion for us. Who’s going to police it? Is this another job for us to do? If a table of four books in, does the person who books it have to scan in the four vaccine passes or do they produce them when they come in – and who does the responsibility lie with? We have enough to be worrying about than having to sort out all of that.
We were banking on making some sort of a recovery with the business in July, but now two weeks of that has been taken from us, and we don’t have a clue whether we’ll be opening then or whether it’ll be pushed back again.

Michael Ring
TD
July and August are vital months for the hospitality industry. I’ve been in contact with the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar telling him that if they don’t get these months then a lot of jobs will be in danger. The people in hospitality need people coming through the doors.
Nphet are there to advise – the Government is there to govern. What constituency were Nphet elected in at the last election? The Government should have made a different decision. This decision was wrong, this decision should be changed and the government should open up hospitality, and if some people don’t want to go in use restaurants that’s fine.
Outdoor dining doesn’t work in the west of Ireland. Three times a day the temperature changes, and one would need a coat and wellingtons to have a dinner outside at night time.
There are professional people questioning what Nphet are saying, and the Government should have got independent advice before making this decision.
I still believe hospitality should [have been allowed to] open [on July 5], and I believe the Government should look at their decision.

Noel Regan
Crocket’s Bar & Bistro, Ballina
We had made so many plans to go back to work and had worked so hard to be ready. Then, we’re hit by this yo-yo effect from the Government. All of this is having a huge impact on all of us, and to be told once again that we’re the problem is hard to stomach.
They’re telling us the problem isn’t house parties, but we must keep the bars and restaurants shut where proper safety restrictions would be in place. We work so hard to make things safe for people in a controlled indoor environment, and it’s all thrown back in our faces.
We’re asking the Government to come and look at what we’re doing – look at the measures we have in place and if there’s someone out of line then shut them. There’s no point having law without governance, but there’s no point having laws in place and then not allowing people operate within those laws.
We’re not happy with the decision-making of the government. We need our jobs, we need our sanity and we need to work again.