Belfast Telegraph

Quarter of pubs in Northern Ireland facing closure - bankruptcy forces closure of bars in Downpatrick and Lurgan

By Rachel Martin

One in four pubs in Northern Ireland is struggling to stay open, a survey has revealed.

A leading voice in the hospitality sector admitted "every day is a battle", particularly for rural and small town bars.

A major report on the industry found 24% of pubs were operating under "significant financial distress".

Last year, 25 pubs and bars were closed down. But just over halfway through 2016, a further 19 have shut.

The findings emerged from research carried out by insolvency practitioners Begbies Traynor.

Last week, Paul Kelly of the Quoile Tavern in Downpatrick, was declared bankrupt, just weeks after James Patrick French of JP's Bar in Lurgan suffered the same fate.

However, JP's has been reopened under new ownership.

Last year, Grace Neill's - the famous Donaghadee pub reputed to be the oldest in Ireland - closed its doors before eventually reopening under new management.

Between April and June this year, a total of 64 pubs and bars in Northern Ireland were deemed to be operating in financial distress.

The proportion of businesses struggling in the industry was up by 5% on the same period last year.

Over the past year, the total number of pubs trading here dropped from 298 to 268.

The figures also showed a higher proportion of pubs were struggling in Northern Ireland than in other parts of the UK.

Across the UK as a whole, 21% of bars were operating under significant distress, compared to 24% here.

One publican who did not wish to be named told the Belfast Telegraph: "The industry is in so much trouble, and the help from banks is non-existent."

Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, which represents pubs here, said increased operating costs posed the biggest challenge for bars.

"It's a tale of two cities really - you've got the pubs in Belfast city centre that are doing well, but outside of that bubble rural and urban pubs are finding trading conditions to be really challenging.

"Costs are rising for pub owners. Rates are becoming a major burden - they're tied to turnover, so when your turnover goes up, your rates go up, as do licences for Sky and BT Sport.

"It's not unheard of for some businesses to pay as much as £1,500 a month in licences alone.

"Pubs are the centre of a lot of communities. By supporting them, we're not supporting an increase in drinking.

"They have a lot of benefits - they provide a centre for the community and a venue for meetings."

"So often, pubs are not limited companies. So it is not at all like when a big factory goes bust and the managers' property is still safe.

"So often, it's something that has been in the family for several generations, and there's a real feeling of guilt about letting that go.

"These are not just businesses that popped up 12 months ago and now are gone."

However, the weakening pound could provide relief for pubs in border areas.

Mr Neill explained: "The impact won't be immediate because long stays are planned months in advance, but trade from day-trippers will start to increase now.

"We're not haemorrhaging parties in the same way we were, whether it's birthdays or wedding receptions."

Belfast Telegraph