Looking back on an incredible year, Alan Gielty feels the Government took a distorted view of pubs, all the while allowing off licenses to trade and house parties to thrive.
The Achill-based chairman of the Mayo Branch of the Vintners Association of Ireland said pubs ‘seem to be the easiest whipping boy’ for concerns around the spread of Covid-19.
“The pub trade is the most regulated business in the country, you’re told when you can open and your told when you can close. You can be inspected by the guards, the fire officer, the health officer, or customs and excise at any time,” he told The Mayo News.
“A hairdresser can open at three o’clock in the morning if they want to, a pub can’t. Publicans will get on with and deal with it. At the end of the day it’s the safety of people. We don’t want to be branded as the ones that are breaching guidelines and any publicans that are breaching guidelines, the book should be thrown at them,” he said.
He is critical of the distinction made between gastro pubs, like his own, and ‘wet’ pubs - pubs which do not serve food - and argued there ought to have been greater restrictions for off licenses and, in particular, below cost selling.
“(Chief Medical Officer) Tony Holohan came out an said the virus and alcohol is a bad mix. They have never closed an off-license. They have never limited the amount of drink anyone can buy in a supermarket. Drink sales are down seven percent compared to last year, that’s all. Drink-related accidents increased when the pubs were closed. They need to take a serious look at where all this is coming for because it isn’t pubs. Pubs seem to be the easiest whipping boy.
“Below-cost selling is unbelievable. I cannot get cans of Bulmers as cheap as I can get them in Tesco, and I’m buying directly from Bulmers. People have this idea of people gathering on the street outside pubs falling all over the place, that’s not everywhere. You come down here to Achill, you cannot compare Dublin to Castlebar or Westport, and you cannot compare Castlebar or Westport to Achill. We’re tarred with the same brush as superpubs up in Dublin,” he said.
“You look around Christmas and the New Year, there’s going to be a spike in cases and that’s all down to house parties. We can control the amount of people that can come into a pub, we can control what they can drink, and we can tell them to leave after an hour and 45 minutes. The deals that are being done in supermarkets are encouraging people to drink and have house parties. As I said, the publicans will do what’s right for people, we’re responsible people, but we just can’t be the whipping boys all the time,” he said.