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Coronavirus: Some pubs closing voluntarily in Northern Ireland putting onus on health

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Shutters down at The Sunflower in Belfast city centre

Shutters down at The Sunflower in Belfast city centre

The Hatfield Bar on the Ormeau Road in Belfast closed yesterday

The Hatfield Bar on the Ormeau Road in Belfast closed yesterday

The Courthouse in Lurgan

The Courthouse in Lurgan

The Rose & Crown in Belfast

The Rose & Crown in Belfast

Lesa McCann of The Cellar Bar in Lurgan

Lesa McCann of The Cellar Bar in Lurgan

The Errigle Inn on the Ormeau Road

The Errigle Inn on the Ormeau Road

Shutters down at The Sunflower in Belfast city centre

Pub owners across Northern Ireland have said there are more important things than money as many close their doors for St Patrick's Day and beyond amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The voluntary closures come after the Irish Government requested that bars in the Republic close until March 29. There are currently no plans to do the same in the UK.

Pedro Donald, owner of The Sunflower in Belfast city centre and The American Bar in the docks, has taken the decision to close both pubs indefinitely.

"It was a big decision but people's health and wellbeing is obviously more important than money," he said.

"My staff are all off and they will get paid the full whack because it's not fair that they lose out.

"My only hope now is that, in turn, I get my help from the government, the banks and the landlords. If everybody plays their part then we will all get through this."

Also in Belfast the Ormeau Road's Hatfield House, Rose & Crown and The Errigle Inn are all closing today.

In Co Armagh a number of bars in Lurgan have decided to pull the shutters down despite St Patrick's Day being one of the most financially important days of the year.

Proprietor of The Cellar Bar in the town Lesa McCann discussed the decision with her 86-year-old father Patrick and 80-year-old mother Anne before deciding to close for the day.

Ms McCann's elderly parents both live above the pub, increasing her concerns over the spread of Covid-19.

"At the minute I'm the only one allowed to go up and down the stairs but even at that I find that I am putting them at risk by going up and down," she explained.

"We have always had a very high hygiene practice within the business but we have really upped it.

"Hopefully the bars in the surrounding Co Armagh and further afield will take it on board and go with this as well because of our elderly people, our infirm people and our sick people - I myself have asthma.

"Even though everyone loves St Patrick's Day and it's one of our best days out, it's just one day. It's a day that I know pub owners rely on to get them through the next few months."

Ms McCann, like many publicans, has the added problem of what to do with the extra food and drink brought in for St Patrick's Day.

While a number of the drink suppliers will take kegs of beer back, Ms McCann hopes that instead of throwing out the food, she can supply it to her more elderly customers.

"What I'm hoping to do, if we do have to close, is try and make meals for some of our elderly customers and send them down to them," she added.

"This is people's lives at stake but we just need help from the government and local councils. The whole country needs to work together. The south is doing it and the north needs to help it.

"It's not just about saving a pound, it's about saving lives."

Paul McConaghy from Thomas McConaghy and Sons, which owns Lurgan's Courthouse Bar, Ashburn Hotel, Beehive Bar and The Woodville Arms, felt the government should have made the decision to close the pubs rather than owners making the difficult decision themselves.

"This shouldn't be laid at any sort of business person's feet," he said.

"The Government should have stepped up and said that it's time to act.

"In this business we're all very responsible people and if that's what the government had told us to do, I firmly believe everybody would have done it."

Admitting that closing the doors of the four bars on what is one of the busiest days of the year is a "huge financial blow", Mr McConaghy said that it isn't simply about the money.

"When you see people taking this decision without direction from the government or local bodies, I think a lot of pubs need to be commended for taking that action," he said.

"We plan to open again on Wednesday morning but we are monitoring the situation and the senior management will be meeting to discuss the best way forward from here."

The Blind Cobbler in Omagh has also closed temporarily in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus in Co Tyrone.

Father and daughter owners Andrew and Laura Shortt agreed that for the sake of the safety of their staff, families, customers and the wider community, profit must be put to one side.

"It's a really tough decision for us, but in our hearts we know it's the right one and we'll come out the other side knowing that we did the right thing," said Ms Shortt.

The pair added they will continue to pay their staff and will review the situation on a daily basis.

Belfast Telegraph