Northern Ireland

Stormont ‘passing the buck’ on Covid entry checks, nightclub manager says

Nightclubs will re-open in Northern Ireland on October 31
Nightclubs will re-open in Northern Ireland on October 31 Nightclubs will re-open in Northern Ireland on October 31

A Belfast nightclub manager has expressed concerns about having to police Covid entry checks in the absence of a mandatory passport system.

Sean Duffy, general manager of Love & Death in the city centre, said he feels Stormont is “passing the buck” on to the nightclub sector ahead of the planned reopening on October 31.

The Executive has advised venues to introduce their own Covid entry checks but has stopped short of bringing in a mandatory system similar to the one operating in the Republic.

The issue has divided the administration, with the SDLP and Alliance Party calling for legally enforceable Covid passports for nightlife venues.

Work is continuing on developing an official certification system for Northern Ireland but DUP First Minister Paul Givan and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill have insisted they do not want to compel the sector to enforce mandatory checks at this point, preferring a “partnership approach”.

Meanwhile, the British Medical Association (BMA) has questioned whether the reopening of nightclubs should even go ahead as scheduled, given the continuing high rates of Covid-19 transmission in the community and the mounting pressures on the health service.

Mr Duffy said his venue has yet to make a decision on whether to make proof of vaccination or Covid status a requirement of entry from Sunday.

“I think if we do decide to it’s going be very tough to police,” he told the PA news agency.

“Do our security staff do it, do I do it, do I get a medical professional in to do it, who does it? Are the guys up on the hill going to come down and show us how to do it?”

Mr Duffy said he has concerns about the concept of customers having to prove vaccination status on entry, but added that if such a system is to operate it should be a “legal requirement”.

“It feels a little bit of passing the buck almost,” he said of the Executive’s approach.

“I was in Dublin a few weeks ago and Covid passports or certification scans down there work very, very well and are very easy – very, very quick to get in and out.”

He said an unregulated system will be open to abuse.

“I don’t think it should be forced on the industry that has been first to close and last to open to enforce them (to ask) ‘Are you vaccinated, are you not vaccinated?’

“It’s just going to cause a bottleneck, it’s going to cause disruption.”

Mr Duffy added: “If someone comes in without a mask and says ‘Sorry, I’m exempt from it’, how do I challenge them? Legally, I can’t.

“So how do we do the same with Covid tests?

“I could take a Covid test, for talk’s sake, and it be negative and hand it to someone else (to show at the door). It would be false proof but on a point of contact it’s proof.

“Is it a picture? Do they bring it with them? Is it a certification that comes with the NI gov app? How do we check? I think it’s a real tough one to police.”

Mr Duffy said he feels Stormont has provided clarity on other reopening mitigations, such as where masks should be worn.

He also acknowledged that ministers have had a “tough time” navigating the pandemic and overall have done a “fair enough job”.

Love & Death has been able to operate as a bar since restrictions on the hospitality sector eased earlier in the year. However, social distancing has reduced capacity by almost half and customers have had to remain seated.

Those restrictions will all lift on Sunday and the upstairs part of the venue will be able to operate as a nightclub again for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

Mr Duffy said the sector has been hit hard by the Covid-19 emergency.

“It really has had quite an impact on revenues, as most of our hospitality neighbours have had over the last 18 months as well,” he said.

“It’s been a difficult trading time for us all.

“When you’re looking at venues closing down throughout the pandemic, bigger venues and more secure venues than an owner-operator venue like ourselves, then, yeah, the stress is always there to make sure the business gets from one week to the next, and that we’re viable to be open.”

He added: “Come Sunday I hope they come in their droves, I really do.

“I think the whole way through the night it’s going be a super high that people are here enjoying themselves, our DJ is playing tunes, people are up again, giving them a real feel-good factor.

“I haven’t had a dance in 18 months – it will be a happy time to see people up enjoying themselves again.”