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Coronavirus restrictions could force 25% of Northern Ireland eateries to shut for good

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Warning: Colin Neill

Warning: Colin Neill

Warning: Colin Neill

A quarter of restaurants, along with some pubs and hotels, may never be able to reopen after the coronavirus lockdown, it has been warned.

Colin Neill, of Hospitality Ulster, said the sector was in dire straits, with money promised from the Government not arriving quickly enough.

Venues were ordered to close as Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a nationwide lockdown to attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a scheme to allow businesses that cannot operate to furlough staff, while locally Economy Minister Diane Dodds is launching a grants programme for hospitality businesses.

However, Mr Neill said it was taking too long for the money to come through.

He added that 10 to 15% of pubs, 15% of hotels and 25% of restaurants were at risk of never opening again.

"The immediate part is the lack of any money because it is 24 days today since Boris Johnson closed us," he told this newspaper.

"The average restaurant or small pub will have probably about two to three weeks cash flow in reserve. That ran out and we have staff not getting money as businesses have no money to give them.

"Even if you lock up, there are fixed costs such as the alarms, security and insurance. All of that goes on. People are at their wits' ends."

Mr Neill said he had received assurances from Mrs Dodds that grants would be paid as soon as they are verified, which he described as helpful.

"But the two schemes don't open until the 20th. That's another week and people just can't eat," he added.

Mr Neill also warned that the sector would need support after the lockdown was lifted and pointed to the costs of restocking and adapting to any new social distancing measures.

Belfast has experienced a surge in the hospitality sector in recent years, with an increased number of tourists supporting more hotels, restaurants and pubs.

"We were going to be one of the biggest drivers in the economy and we have had the rug pulled from below us," Mr Neill said.

"We don't talk about reopening, we talk about rebuilding. It's so hard to know where this is going to end up, or if there is going to be a second lockdown.

"How does this industry survive? Without the Government's life support, it won't."

Belfast Telegraph