Northern Ireland news

Republic's pubs asked to close as growing number in the north pull down the shutters

A video from a packed pub in Dublin's Temple Bar district sparked a backlash over the weekend
Ryan McAleer

ALL pubs and bars in the Republic have been ordered to close to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak.

The government is also calling on all members of the public not to organise or participate in any parties in private houses or other venues which would put other people's health at risk.

Earlier, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald called for the immediate closure of pubs claiming that social distancing measures to contain coronavirus have been ignored.

A growing number of pubs around the north moved to voluntarily pull down their shutters on Sunday. Popular bars in Co Tyrone and Derry city were among the first to publicly announce the safety measure.

Last night, publicans in Dublin's Temple Bar announced a complete shutdown with immediate effect.

The move means no bars will be open in the area for St Patrick's Day, one of the busiest days in the tourism calendar.

Andrew Short said his pub in Omagh, The Blind Cobbler, had put safety ahead of profit in deciding to close.

"It is a very tough decision for us to make, but in our hearts we know it is the right one," he said.

Similarly, McAleer's Bar in Dungannon said it would close until further notice for the safety of staff, customers and the community.

Two others to close in the county, so far, are Tomney's in Moy and The Whistler's Inn in Sixmilecross.

In Derry City, the list of closures include Peadar O’Donnell’s, Blackbird and The Grand Central.

Hospitality Ulster yesterday issued fresh advice for pubs, urging them to restrict numbers to ensure two metres of space between unrelated parties.

But Mary Lou McDonald said the rate of community spread of Covid-19 called for “drastic measures”.

Later, in a statement the Irish government said: "Following discussions with the Licenced Vintners Association (LVA) and the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI), the government is now calling on all public houses and bars (including hotel bars) to close from this evening (Sunday 15th March) until at least 29 March.

"The LVA and VFI outlined the real difficulty in implementing the published Guidelines on Social Distancing in a public house setting, as pubs are specifically designed to promote social interaction in a situation where alcohol reduces personal inhibitions.

"For the same reason, the government is also calling on all members of the public not to organise or participate in any parties in private houses or other venues which would put other people's health at risk."

Earlier, the Republic's health minister Simon Harris described a video taken inside a packed pub in Dublin’s Temple Bar at the weekend as “an insult” to medical professionals.

Meanwhile, Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill has warned that the industry is at a financial tipping point.

Speaking ahead of a meeting with First Minister Arlene Foster on Monday, Mr Neill said: “Our sector is being hit first; will be hit the hardest; and may not recover at all, if government does not act now.

"We are about to see the jobs and livelihoods of many in the hospitality sector go to the wall unless government takes some of the pain and introduces measures to match the unprecedented times we are in."

The body has called for a range of measures, including a potential rates holiday, a cut in VAT and deferred payments for other taxes.

"This isn’t an issue that is happening elsewhere, this is a disaster on our doorstep, and the NI Executive has it within its power to take decisions to help," continued Mr Neill.

"Failure to assist will see significant job losses; establishments having to be sold off or boarded up; and the economy suffering with VAT and Tax takes down massively as many outlets will be no longer around. They simply can’t let that happen."

Support packages for businesses have already been announced in the Republic and Scotland, which is preparing to grant 75 per cent rate relief for firms. Last week’s UK Budget also contained a rates holiday for many small businesses in England.

Rates are a devolved matter, but Finance Minister Conor Murphy has said it would cost around £200 million to do something similar in the north.

Mr Murphy is due to announce the Stormont budget in two weeks.

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