Publicans say they’ve been left in the dark on how they’re supposed to operate the new Covid certificate system which came into effect this week.
The scheme was confirmed by Health Minister Robin Swann, with all licensed premises expected to ask people for proof of vaccination or a negative test result before being allowed entry.
Although no legislation is yet in place to enforce the regulations, pubs and clubs are expected to have started asking for the proof, which will also extend to cinemas, theatres and conference halls, plus indoor events with 500 or more attending where any of the audience is standing.
Regulations for the scheme were only published by the Executive on Monday, after bars were supposed to have started operating it.
Stephen Magorrian, managing director of the Horatio Group of pubs, said it felt “unfair” licensed venues had been “put in the front line”.
“It’s just an added difficulty at a very difficult time,” he added.
“We’ve to introduce this new legislation today and we’re still waiting to see the final regulations, so it’s very, very difficult and it’s hard to understand.”
Mr Magorrian said his business would not be able to pay fines for not implementing Covid certification checks.
“We’ve used up our reserves we had in place already,” he said.
“We can’t afford to put our licence in jeopardy.”
He said customers were confused about what was required.
“We’re going to have to be advising and telling them, if they turn up with the wrong stuff, what they need,” he added.
Declan Jordan, manager of Rosie Joe’s pub in Derry, said the lack of clarity over how the scheme is to be operated has left the industry feeling angry and frustrated — again.
“I’m very annoyed,” Mr Jordan said.
“They are just telling us we have to start enforcing this as of today, but not legally until two weeks’ time, but they can’t tell us exactly what we’re supposed to do.
“We’re trying to operate a business and we’re trying to stay open. We might need to take another employee in just to look after the Covid vaccine process. I just need to know what I have to do so I can put things in place.”
Last week Mr Swann announced unlicensed premises like cafes and coffee shops will be exempt at this stage.
There will also be no enforcement of the regulations through fines for non-compliance until December 13.
Head of Hospitality Ulster Colin Neill said it will take at least the two-week period for owners to get to grips with the process.
“It’s too early to tell how many pubs have started this today but it will take some time to get used to what’s being expected,” he said.
“There are legalities around it all, and that means there will be a legal requirement to do it right.
“That puts a lot of pressure on venues.
“Staff will have to be trained in procedures.
“It’s the older generation I feel for in all of this, those who have been in the trade for years and years and can’t keep up with technology and have largely been left to themselves to work out what they’re supposed to do.”
First Minster Paul Givan called on the other Stormont parties to clarify why they voted in favour of what he described as a “shambolic” plan.
The DUP opposed the scheme when it was debated last week.
“They need to explain why they voted for something where there wasn’t an equality impact assessment, legal opinion there in terms of humans rights implications or economic impact assessments available to other ministers when they voted,” he said.
SDLP Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon said her party had been calling for Covid certification for some months “not because we want to do it, but because we believe that we have to do it in terms of minimising the risk in a number of settings”.
“The Executive did agree to the rollout of Covid certification in the hospitality sector. The Health Minister informed other ministers on Friday that he will be taking a phased approach to that as he works through some of the operational issues,” she added.
“As an Executive, we agreed the rollout of Covid certification across a number of settings, including cafes.
“I have asked the Department of Health for specific briefing on that so that I am very clear in terms of what we need to do next and when we are able to do it.”