Pandemic, pubs and the pint of plain


PICS FROM A BYGONE ERA? Tom Lyons is pictured in Castlebar’s Humbert Inn on the last night of trading in the famous Castlebar establishment in 2006. Could the pandemic being expediting the closure of many more pubs in the west, with the need for social distancing and various other criteria?

Recovery from pandemic not simple for pubs and restaurants

Áine Ryan

SHOULD it be surprising that the hospitality sector is in turmoil after the last two years of lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic? As pubs and restaurants reopened for indoor dining last week (Monday, July 19), The Mayo News reported on the ‘caution and confusion’ expressed by two experienced members of the sector. The chairman of Mayo VFI (Vintners’ Federation of Ireland), Alan Gielty, an Achill publican, highlighted the eleventh hour tweaking of the regulations by Government whilst An Port Mór’s Frankie Mallon said he quite simply didn’t have the staffing levels to police the regulations.
Speaking frankly, Alan Gielty said: “I think government has managed all of this very poorly. I don’t know why the guidelines were not left like they were last year. Our members worked the system well regarding social distancing and recording the contact details of one member of a group. How are we expected to police whether a customer is presenting with a proof of vaccination certificate that is their’s and not someone else’s?”
He confirmed that the confusion over the regulations had left several Mayo publicans deciding not to reopen until there was more clarity about what was expected from them.
Tellingly, he also said he ‘now only plans to allow customers indoors if it is raining, which will leave the numbers significantly limited’.
Indeed, Frankie Mallon also said that if the weather became sunny again he would be bringing his tables outside. He told The Mayo News: “People have totally changed in how they want to dine because of the pandemic.”
In many cases those pubs and restaurants that didn’t have a connected outdoor space adaptable for drinking or dining were the ones whose shutters stayed down. However, in the case of a town like Westport, which has already developed to cater for a busy tourism season, some businesses have adapted so successfully, it seems likely that an al fresco dimension will continue.
But as local Fine Gael councillor Peter Flynn said recently, the local authority needs to up its game in supporting such initiatives. Speaking in these pages a few weeks ago, he observed: “Westport has four lanes of traffic still, whilst a few businesses having taken up the grants to use car-parking spaces for outdoor hospitality. What’s happening in the town is haphazard. It hasn’t helped that the county council wasn’t over-enthusiastic about this. It was easier just to leave it as it was. But we really do need to come up with pedestrianising Bridge Street on some level. That doesn’t necessarily mean it is fully pedestrianised. There was a lot of resistance to the widening of the footpaths at the Quay and look at how popular and successful it has been.”
The bottom line here is that the local authority’s financial support for outdoor infrastructure – which stipulates that it must be removable – needs to include weather-proofed pods. To be fair, Westport – as in so many other ways – has on certain levels really embraced outdoor hospitality but, unfortunately, weather conditions still dictate the level of comfort.

Weather-proofing businesses
THE weather will always be a fundamental issue though if proper financial supports are not made available for publicans and restauranteurs. This was abundantly clear when two other Achill publicans talked to The Mayo News in mid-June about reopening. Johnny Cafferkey of Lourdies Pub in Dooagh and Patrick Lavelle of Mickey’s Bar in Dooega both agreed ‘that outdoor drinking was not sustainable’ in the long term.
This is what Johnny Cafferkey said: “The weather has been poor all week and it went against us really with people having to drink outdoors. It was great being open but it is definitely not feasible to have outdoor dining or drinking, especially here along the west coast, the weather can be different from further inland and on the east coast. Saying that, people did not seem to mind last Monday but long-term people are not going to stay out longer than they can.” Both pubs were traditional ‘wet’ pubs and apart from 15 days open in September 2020, they had been closed since the beginning of the pandemic. Meanwhile, Mickey’s, situated on the Atlantic Drive, has been adapted somewhat for outdoor drinking. Speaking positively about the new facilities, Patrick Lavelle said: “We have a new place set up out the back of the pub and it is serving its purpose so far. We did the work about a month ago after we heard we could reopen. It is about six metres by five metres but is covered over and is well worth having.”

Family-run pubs
NEVERTHELESS, such rural pubs are not the size of the super-pubs found in cities and, even with innovative additions, space is limited. Moreover, the season is short in Co Mayo’s tourism spots for making the necessary profits to ensure sustainability throughout the winter. Isn’t there anecdotal evidence throughout the county of pubs that will not reopen again? In the words of Johnny Cafferkey: “My pub is not the biggest and if the restrictions are too severe I won’t be able to put too many in it, it is as simple as that,” said Johnny.
So, an obvious question is: Has the pandemic simply expedited the death of the traditional family-run pub? With no bar service allowed again according to the regulations of this reopening, the sight of a row of old fellas sitting with a pint and a half-one whilst chewing the fat about the problems of the world is now consigned to those coffee table books on an Ireland of yesteryear. The Wild Atlantic Way had already become more Mediterranean in its drinking and dining habits since the Celtic Tiger years.
To adapt a phrase used by the inimitable satirist Myles na gCopaleen: “The pint of plain is (no longer) your only man.”

‘If workers are not safe, no one is safe’

Áine Ryan

CLEARLY, the pandemic has simply exposed ongoing and fundamental issues that need to be resolved in the hospitality sector. Unfortunately, the results of a new survey by Unite makes for grim reading.
This is the union which represents many members of a sector that was already grappling with a plethora of problems about staffing conditions, terms and pay, before the extended lockdowns caused by the pandemic further fractured it.  
Low pay, insecure contracts, poor working practices bullying and discrimination are all issues highlighted by the respondents.
Should it be a surprise then that more than half of those surveyed said Covid guidelines were not followed in their workplaces during the pandemic restrictions?
The wide-ranging set of statistics outlined are telling of the state of the industry. Here are some of the results: seven in ten saw no prospect of staying in hospitality long-term; just over 30 per cent said that their wages were reduced when they returned to work after lockdown; after reopening in 2020, none of a list of safety resources had an implementation rate of more than 51 per cent; 56 per cent said they earned less than €12.30 an hour, the living wage; 70 per cent cited a lack of breaks; 70 per cent said they experienced bullying, with up to 55 per cent not reporting incidents for fear of repercussions or disbelieving that anything would change.
Of course, this survey is only a small snapshot and there is plenty of evidence of excellent employers and managers out there. Results also showed that 51 percent of workers received induction safety training; 42 percent had access to a constant supply of masks and sanitisers; 46 percent confirmed that social-distancing requirements were implemented.  
Fifty per cent reported not getting their tips.
Entitled, ‘Hidden Truths: The Reality of Work in Ireland’s Hospitality and Tourism Sector’, the report surveyed 291 people from 20 different locations in the country over a four-week period during this June. The majority were hotel, bar and restaurant workers with a small number working in cafes, tourist attractions, entertainment venues and other catering outlets.
Commenting on the results of the report, Unite’s tourism and hospitality co-ordinator, Julia Marciniak, said, the survey helped to expose ‘a solid evidence base for what hospitality workers have always known: the sector is dominated by low pay, insecure contracts and poor working practices, bullying and discrimination’.
“It is clear we need to reboot the sector to ensure it provides good jobs. As indoor hospitality reopens, it is particularly worrying that over half of those who responded to Unite’s survey reported a lack of adherence to Covid safety guidelines, with nearly 55 per cent lacking easy access to hygiene facilities. The pandemic has shown us that if workers are not safe, no one is safe.”