The First and Deputy First Minister must take action to save pubs and brewers from extinction as Northern Ireland closes down in response to the spread of coronavirus, it has been warned.
The Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) has written to Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill on behalf of pubs, brewers and cider makers asking for financial help with staff wages, business rates and other costs during periods of forced closure in the coming weeks and months.
They have said the Executive must step in to safeguard jobs and ensure that businesses are able to reopen after the crisis.
In particular, the organisation is calling for a change in licensing laws to allow pubs and breweries to sell alcohol to take away, as well as lifting the ban on local brewing and cider-making businesses selling their products online. Deborah Mitchell, managing director of Get 'Er Brewed, has echoed the calls made by Camra: "We're selling a lot of starter kits, our online orders for these products are actually up by about 50%.
"However, the bulk of our business comes from the microbreweries and I'm very worried about that side of things. With the Republic of Ireland closing up at an earlier stage than Northern Ireland, we have already seen microbrewery orders dip and it's going to get worse, which is why it's so important the Executive puts in place measures to protect businesses."
Chair of Camra in Northern Ireland Ruth Sloan, said: "Pubs are at the heart of our communities and are vital in tackling loneliness, to our tourism sector, and providing a supervised setting for responsible drinking. Camra wants to see the Executive work with the UK Government to provide appropriate support for affected businesses.
"While the commitment to help with business rates is welcome, this must be for all pubs and as rates won't be enough to protect businesses from the drop in custom, we also believe pubs should receive help with other costs, such as staff salaries."
Ms Sloan also called for a differential rate of duty on draught beer served in pubs to help the sector compete with cheap alcohol sold in supermarkets to enable pubs to recover at the end of the crisis.