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Stormont urged to speed up reopening of 'wet pubs'

Pressure on Executive increases after Republic gives the green light to bar owners

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Back in business: Marie Mellett gets ready to reopen Mellett’s Pub in Swinford, Co Mayo

Back in business: Marie Mellett gets ready to reopen Mellett’s Pub in Swinford, Co Mayo

Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

Back in business: Marie Mellett gets ready to reopen Mellett’s Pub in Swinford, Co Mayo

Pressure has been ramped up on the Stormont Executive to follow the Republic of Ireland's lead and set a date for the re-opening of 'wet pubs'.

The go-ahead to re-open pubs in the Republic which do not serve food was given at a cabinet meeting in Dublin yesterday.

The plan is subject to local restrictions, but licensed premises will be able to open across the border from September 21.

Belfast Chamber of Commerce President, Michael Stewart, who has built a career in the hospitality industry, said the time is now right for Stormont to make the decision to announce a date for re-opening north of the border.

"Of course this will put the pressure on," he said. "I don't know if it was a deliberate policy when restrictions were being lifted, but Stormont always seemed to follow a lead from the Republic on hotels and restaurants. We need to see the same thing happening now for our pubs." The pub industry veteran said it's now time for politicians to "stop treating licence holders as worse than children".

"There is an awful lot of disquiet in the industry as to why they have not been permitted to open their doors," he said.

"None of the owners can understand the science behind why a pub serving food can re-open but a pub without food can't.

"By September 21 they will have gone half a year without any income and that's an awfully long time to try to survive.

"I'm no medical expert, but the Executive now needs to make an informed decision based on the medical evidence. I, like many pub owners out there, am at a loss to understand why local pubs in our towns and villages across the country have been told they have to stay shut.

"It seems ludicrous where we have hotels, schools, all our shops open for business, but there seems to be no trust in publicans.

"They are responsible licence holders. They need to be given the chance to prove that. If they are not law abiding once the doors open then the authorities have the option to close them.

"I know there is a fine line between lives and livelihoods, but I have watched our city centre come back to life bit by bit. There's some sense of normality returning. This is the logical next step and it needs to happen by September 21, if not before.

"If there is no decision then the very least they must do is put some sort of financial package in place to ensure pubs survive until they can re-open."

Pubs not serving food have been closed since March 23 over the concerns over social distancing, the longest closure of pubs in any European country.

Pub owners have had to put up with several false dawns over the past two months, and watch on as every other business got back to work.

Drinks-only bars had been given an indicative date of September 1 for reopening, but on August 26 the executive announced that had to be postponed due to "increased transmission".

Hospitality Ulster has warned that many traditional pubs may never reopen unless the Executive takes action soon and had a 'positive' meeting with Stormont junior minsters on Monday to discuss measures to allow the safe re-opening of pubs.

Belfast Telegraph