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Coronavirus: Leading Northern Ireland publican would like to see bars open in July with social distancing

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Belfast publican Willie Jack pictured a his pub, The Duke of York, in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. All public houses in Northern Ireland remain closed.  Photo by Kelvin Boyes  / Press Eye.

Belfast publican Willie Jack pictured a his pub, The Duke of York, in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. All public houses in Northern Ireland remain closed. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Belfast publican Willie Jack pictured a his pub, The Duke of York, in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. All public houses in Northern Ireland remain closed. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

One of Northern Ireland’s leading publicans says he’d like to see bars opening their doors – while maintained social distancing – by July.

Willie Jack is the man behind the Duke of York, The Harp Bar and Dark Horse in the thriving heart of Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter.

His businesses, like many others, shut its doors well ahead of the Government mandated closure of non-essential businesses, and a lockdown across Northern Ireland.

“The pubs will be hit first. It’ll be a very slow road to recovery,” Mr Jack said. “Whether we could put on live music in the Harp Bar by December – realistically.

“The physical distancing is hard to implement. I understand the importance of the pub, across the whole of Ireland. We have a very good offering in the north.

“To make it all possible it would be a minimum of a year of rates free. If there is a cap on the numbers (value of rent free) it’s good for the rural pubs and I support that. It would be great if pubs could open in July. It’s important to communities.

“It’s a place where people like to talk. Even if it means us losing money, but at least opening the likes of the Duke of York – bringing a bit of brightness.

"Everyone will abide by the rules. Perhaps there would be no standing at the bar – people would collect their drinks and take them down to the table. Then, in a few months, more people would be gathering. We will need someone on the door.”

We hope for a happier future

Mr Jack says that some of Belfast’s busiest live music bars – which also includes his own pub The Harp – will find it most difficult to reopen, while trying to maintain social distancing.

“(We want to see) people smiling and being confident again. We hope for a happier future. I could reopen my whiskey shop and The Dark Horse, but we can’t compete with the big stores.”

He said, optimistically, he would hope to see his Duke of York bar – one of the city’s best-known pubs – opening its doors in July.

“I would love it to be open in July. It would be phased. The publicans will have to monitor and limit the numbers. It will be difficult to do that.

"But there is a new learning. If there is a queue in the toilet, people will wait, for example. It will be self-policed. In the good weather, we could open up the courtyard at The Dark Horse.

“I look forward to going back and pulling a few pints, and getting back to normal.

“I think restaurants will find it harder than pubs. Pubs with food may struggle at the start but there is a change of direction (needed) for food outlets.

“It would appear that our government and the island of Ireland has handled it extremely well. There has to be hope there. We have to thank people and take their guidance as when to open.

"Staff and customers have to feel safe.”

Belfast Telegraph