Dublin government facing tough opposition to proposals for 5pm curfew in hospitality
Huge opposition to public health recommendations to introduce a 5pm on curfew on the hospitality sector is stirring on the Government backbenches.
Cabinet is set to meet this afternoon ahead of an address to the nation by the Taoiseach on the need for more Covid-19 restrictions amid serious concerns over the Omicron variant of the virus.
It comes after fresh recommendations from Nphet, calling for a 5pm curfew on hospitality and a cap on capacity at large outdoor events of 50%, or 5,000 people.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin will fly home from Brussels following a European Parliament summit to hold a sub-Cabinet committee meeting with coalition leaders Leo Varadkar and Eamon Ryan and chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan at 1.30pm.
Arts and Culture Minister Catherine Martin, not normally present at sub-Cabinet meetings, will join them.
A full Cabinet meeting will get under way at around 3pm.
But former ministers, TDs and several senators have rushed to condemn the plans.
A group of seven Fianna Fáil Senators have said the proposed 5pm curfew for hospitality is “a step too far” and have called on Government to reject it.
The party’s leader in the Seanad, Lisa Chambers said the recommendation by Nphet would drive people to house parties, and leave many businesses unviable.
She said: “We feel that people are going to socialise in any event over the Christmas period, and they will go into their homes and to house parties, and not into regulated spaces.
“The view is, with the caveat that we’re not pubic health experts, that it is a safer environment in a pub, in a restaurant, where Covid certs are being checked, where there’s minimum numbers at tables, where it’s table service and it is a safe and regulated environment, with already an early closing time in place.
“We also fell that the 5pm closing time for many business will mean, in effect, that they can’t open at all.
“You think of many rural pubs which often open at four or five o’clock in the evening, it’s an evening business, it’s an evening trade.
“So a 5pm closing time effectively means they can’t open at all. For many businesses, it just becomes unsustainable and unviable to operate a business in hospitality where you can’t open beyond five o’clock.”
Senator Pat Casey, who owns a hotel in Glendalough, Co Wicklow, said the hospitality sector “will not survive” if the proposals are implemented.
He added: “Every time our industry takes a hit like it did today, like it did two weeks ago, it has a huge impact on the viability of that industry.
“We’re here again in Christmas week, like we were this time last year, where most of our industry have to let staff go.
“That’s going to happen again. Most of my colleagues will be meeting staff and letting them go.”
The group said they wanted to “send a message” to Government, but insisted they would ultimately support whatever decision it takes.
Former agriculture minister Barry Cowen also criticised the proposals, calling instead for a “9 or 10pm curfew” with a “weekly review of figures.”
He added: “Ramp up boosters with updated Covid certs for entrance to all indoor events.
“People open to compromise not confrontation in interest of public health.”
But Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has urged people to remain calm.
He tweeted: “420 in hospital today. Down 40% from peak a few weeks ago. We were winning the fight against Delta.
“Now Omicron is coming when we are at our most vulnerable – winter, Christmas, flu season.
“It’s a cruel virus.
“We’re all feeling anger, frustration, dismay, depression but that cannot deflect us from making the right decisions to keep our people safe.”
Mr Varadkar said the Omicron variant is “beginning to show in the figures, unfortunately”, highlighting figures showing there were 5,124 positive swabs out of over 30,000 tests on Friday, with a 15.76% positivity rate.
“Highest daily number of positive laboratory swabs since January if not ever” he tweeted.
Minister Ryan said Nphet’s recommendations, which stakeholders in the hospitality sector have called a de-facto closure, have not yet been agreed, but that action is needed.
“None of the details are agreed yet.
“Nphet have set out in their letter their recommendations.
“There may be variations on that.
“The key thing is that we do have a surge coming,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
“All the international advice is that this new variant is more transmissible and could escape some of the vaccines.
“We still don’t know the level of health risk it carries.
“There will still be a level of socialisation. We can and will meet family.
“It is still a social Christmas.”
Mr Ryan said he expects Mr Martin will address the nation on the new measures on Friday evening.
“I would expect it is likely this evening.
“We need to give people certainty and we will,” he said.
“People are conscious, and we are very aware, that the new variant is a risk.
“We will still have a social Christmas but it needs to be in a careful way.”
The Vintners Federation of Ireland has said the 5pm curfew is “closure by another name”.
Chief executive Padraig Cribben told Newstalk Breakfast: “This is an absolute bombshell that nobody had anticipated.
“In essence, it is the equivalent of full closure for most businesses.
“Ninety-five percent of the business is done post-5pm in most outlets.
“There are many outlets around the country that don’t open until late afternoon.”
He said if the Government implements the recommendations, it will be “closure by another name”.
“If they do implement them, they have got to act like it is full closure and put the necessary supports in place,” he added.
Deputy Government chief whip and Fine Gael TD Brendan Griffin tweeted: “The 5pm suggestion and the way it has been floated has caused enormous worry and stress to so many people and is an insult to our business people and workers in hospitality…
“After nearly two years of this, the vast majority of people know how to reduce risk and stay safe…”