A Belfast publican is angry after being told he can’t reopen just two days before the Covid-19 restrictions are eased in Northern Ireland.
Pedro Donald, who owns the Sunflower on Union Street in the city centre, said a Belfast City Council team visited the premises yesterday to inspect them ahead of the commencement of outdoor hospitality on Friday.
Mr Donald said the council officials told him his outside bar facilities did not currently comply with the anti-smoking legislation.
He said the lateness of the decision was particularly difficult to take.
“We are going to lose even more money, as we have a pile of stock to pay for and we are not allowed to sell it,” Mr Donald told the Belfast Telegraph.
“The staff here were genuinely really looking forward to coming back to work, seeing each other again and getting back at it.
"It is a kick in the teeth at the last minute.
“Why didn’t they even come and do these inspections two or three weeks ago, before we bought our stock and did all these things?”
Yesterday Hospitality Ulster slammed the Executive Office for a “late clarification” of the regulations for outdoor hospitality.
Colin Neill, its chief executive, called on the Executive to meet with the body to resolve the issue.
“This is not the time to be playing with the livelihoods of business owners and we are demanding that the Executive intervenes and remedies this,” he said.
“We need the Executive to engage with us and be pragmatic about this real and present issue that we are facing in the next couple of days.”
Belfast City Council confirmed it had inspected the Sunflower.
It said its officials had advised the bar what adjustments would be required for it to be compliant.
“Throughout the last year, council has been working with businesses and engaging with owners to provide support and advice in relation to the regulations set out by the NI Executive,” it said.
“While we very much welcome the easing of restrictions which will allow licensed and unlicensed premises to reopen, council has a statutory obligation to ensure compliance within the Coronavirus Restrictions, set by the NI Executive.
“We recognise that the regulations are complex and appreciate that businesses will need support and guidance on how they can operate safely, in a way which meets the requirements of the regulations.
“We will continue to work with business owners to try to address any concerns and give them the assistance they need.”
In a statement on Wednesday evening, the Health Minister Robin Swann said: “I have seen today the comments from the hospitality sector as regards confusion about outdoor spaces.
"This is hugely disappointing. Recognising what colleagues in that sector have been through, I ensured that - in our regulations - there was no change to the position from that which applied last year. This was to ensure that as we moved into a controlled and phased reopening, there would be clarity and certainty as regards that position.
“For my part, this is a key part of facilitating the hospitality sector to open in a safe and controlled way - as much as the sector must be clear about how they are to operate, customers and staff must be sure that this is by reference to a stable and robust position.
"This is an important part of ensuring customer confidence. There is no point in the sector opening if customers are not prepared to use it, and know they can do so in a safe way.
“I would make a plea to colleagues in local government, supported by TEO as necessary, to move quickly to engage with the sector, explain the position and find solutions - by reference to material that has been available since last year, and which is consistent with other parts of the UK.”