Belfast Telegraph

Stark warning for traders as five establishments go under

By Clare Weir

Another three publicans and two restaurateurs have been declared bankrupt - including the man behind the counter of Belfast's well-known Celtic Bar - prompting an industry leader to warn those in the trade to innovate, tighten their businesses or face ruin.

Vincent McElkerney of the Celtic Bar in the Falls area of Belfast, David Heaney of Mullan's Bar in Londonderry - which was gutted in a fire in 2008 and has remained closed since - and Gerard McGill of Felix's Bar in Strabane have been listed as bankrupt through a creditors' petitions.

Declan Walsh of McGeowns in Crumlin submitted a debtors' petition and is also bankrupt.

John James Lyttle of Sopranos in north Belfast was served with a creditors' petition while Jason Foody, who helped run Foody's Lodge in Donegal, submitted a debtor's petition.

Scores of pubs have gone on the market since the beginning of the year on the instructions of receivers and administrators, including the Park Inn on Belfast's Old Park Road, the Ramble Inn on Lisnevenagh Road between Ballymena and Antrim and the Charleville Inn in Belfast.

Colin Neill, president of trade body Pubs of Ulster has warned that the situation has not yet reached crisis point.

"The rise in the number of bankruptcies in the pub trade in recent months is very worrying and the industry is facing a very difficult future," he said "The pub trade faces a range of financial pressures that many other aspects of the retail alcohol industry do not. This, in addition to entertainment licenses, insurance, electricity and other business costs means that most pubs face extortionate overheads just to open day to day.

"Pubs also face unfair competition from the large supermarket chains, some of which are offering below cost alcohol prices, which has been a major contributing factor behind the fall in customer numbers experienced by many pubs.

"The industry also has to contend with unfair competition from irresponsible registered clubs and restaurants that operate outside their license, having a direct negative impact on law abiding pubs and restaurants.

While many pubs will be able to weather these difficult times by tightening their business, immediate action is needed by the Assembly to help protect an industry which not only plays an important role in the local economy, but is also a vital part of communities throughout Northern Ireland."