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Coronavirus: Hospitality industry fumes at Executive's last minute decision

'We were promised we wouldn't be kept waiting until the last minute, but that all proved to be false'

A restaurant who accepts the need to remain closed for another two weeks has criticised politicians for keeping the hospitality industry waiting.

Donal Doherty, who owns Harry's Shack in Portstewart, said the last-minute decision was not good enough.

While close-contact businesses and unlicensed premises can open from next Friday, restaurants, pubs and hotels must wait until November 27.

Mr Doherty accepted he would have to keep his shutters down but hit out at what he called "political point-scoring" within the Executive.

"We were promised we weren't going to be kept waiting until the last hour, but all that proved to be false," he said.

"I decided a week ago we wouldn't reopen because the Covid numbers were so high.

"My brother-in-law works in the Covid ward at Altnagelvin and they are inundated.

"But we're able to get 80% of our staff wages paid and although there have been delays, we will get grant payments for being closed.

"November is already one of the quietest weeks of the year anyway, so there's no need to be open when all that's on offer."

Mr Doherty added that shutting for most of the remainder of the month could also protect weeks of vital Christmas trade.

Arthur Cufaj, who owns the Castello Italia restaurant in Carrickfergus, said he felt the hospitality industry was being unfairly singled out.

"I feel that medics have presented things as hospitality versus everybody," he added.

"I really think it's unnecessary and unkind to blame everything on us.

"It isn't our (industry's) fault that the NHS is overwhelmed and underfunded.

"We're not putting the people in the hospitals, but we're being made to carry the can."

On the distinction over licensed premises, he said: "I don't see people dancing around restaurants after having a glass of wine.

"I think a cafe is just as dangerous as any restaurant.

"It's been heartbreaking for us. We're trying our best. We've only had 14 weeks of trading this year and the rest has been money lost."

Eugene Kelly, the owner of The Slemish Bar in Ballymena, said business owners were furious over the lack of the notice.

"These people have had weeks to think about this. We thought we were getting to open this Friday, then it was Saturday," he explained.

"This week alone we had to send back eight kegs. Diageo (the drinks company) was kind enough to take them back off us for the third time this year."

Mr Kelly added he did not think keeping curfews for bars and restaurants was practical.

"People won't come out at 9pm just to be put out an hour later," he told this newspaper.

"They'll organise house parties or sit at home and drink their heads off, which will cause a big hit to the NHS.

"People who come into my bar are measured drinkers."

Belfast Telegraph