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All NI pubs must reopen soon or closures and lay-offs are inevitable, warns hospitality chief

All pubs across Northern Ireland must be allowed to reopen by the end of the month to prevent mass closures and lay-offs, it has been warned.

Under the latest rules, which came into force on Friday, only licensed premises that serve food are allowed to open.

However, the chief executive of Hospitality Ulster estimates at least 50% of pubs across Northern Ireland do not serve food, meaning they were unable to open and said they are "on their knees" as a result of the ongoing lockdown.

Colin Neill said that many will be forced to begin sacking staff and pulling down their shutters permanently in the coming weeks as they have run out of money, describing it as a disaster for tourism and local communities.

"I would appeal to the Assembly to announce a date for non-food pubs to be allowed to reopen," he said.

"These small, local pubs play a very important social role, they're what we're known for, but they've run out of money.

"By the end of July, they will have to contribute to furlough, they have to contribute 5% but it might as well be 50% because they simply can't afford it.

"The message I am getting from the industry is one of desperation. Many of them were only eligible for the £10,000 grant and most premises cost at least £5,000 a month on rent, which doesn't take into account all the other bills."

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Appeal: Colin Neill

Appeal: Colin Neill

Appeal: Colin Neill

Mr Neill was commenting as licensed premises that sell food were allowed to open their doors again on Friday.

"I think that, in general, it went reasonably well," he said.

However, he said a number of factors, including the weather and social distancing guidelines restricted the number of customers in pubs over the weekend.

He continued: "In a way, pubs that are indoors don't have the same issues that outdoor premises have in that you won't have people huddled together under an umbrella.

"There are also premises that are still adhering to the two-metre distance just as they get used to the new system and they're making sure everything works okay.

"This is the start of the journey and it is going to take investment to get things right, which is really tough given they haven't been getting any money.

"But businesses understand they can't be complacent, it is a privilege to be allowed to open and it is going to take effort from premises and customers as we can't police everywhere all the time," Mr Neill said.

Assistant Chief Constable Barbara Gray provided a positive assessment of the reopening of pubs.

"Although police did attend some licensed premises and spoke to the licensee and patrons, the vast majority of people behaved responsibly," the senior PSNI officer said.

Belfast Telegraph