Councillors welcome reopening of pubs

Criticism for derogatory ‘Wet Pub’ term

That rural pubs can reopen the shutters and begin serving their regulars again from next Monday, September 21, was welcomed by the elected members of Cavan County Council - even by those who don't drink.

A life-long pioneer, Fianna Fáil's Clifford Kelly questioned the reasoning to force the closure of all pubs, and subsequent staggered reopening in favour of those serving food.

“If they had been left open, there might not have been so many house parties,” he surmised.

Indeed the rise in prevalence of unregulated speakeasys and sibíns across the county was another matter highlighted on foot of a motion tabled by Independent Councillor Shane P O'Reilly to discuss the present situation affecting the sector.

He is demanding a review of pub guidelines taking into account rural isolation and mental health concerns, and secondly to scrap the Fáilte Ireland recommendations entirely.

Those guidelines stipulate that customers should be able to enter and exit a pub through separate doors with hand sanitiser available at each access point; while all customers are to be off the premises by 11.30pm, and people in smoking areas must remain seated.

A self-confessed man who “likes a pint” to unwind, he described the label of 'wet pubs' as demeaning.

“We are a country of rural pubs, where the pub is a social centre often of an entire parish, where people sit down and have a conversation, and it adds something to people's lives,” said Cllr O'Reilly, who struggled to comprehend a €20 million support payment to the FAI, but only €16m to publicans.

He asked that a letter be sent to the Minister to reassess the level of supports being paid.

His comments were supported by Cathaoirleach, Aontú's Sarah O'Reilly, whose partner is involved in the pub trade.

She described the regulations as “draconian” but welcomed the effectiveness of Garda checks, saying they kept people “on their toes” to ensure health restrictions are maintained.

Sinn Féin's Paddy McDonald said, for far too long, mental health was the “Cinderella” of the health service, and he too supported the role of local pubs in helping combat rural isolation.

TP O'Reilly estimated that turnover was down by half in his brother's pub due to Covid restrictions, yet costs had continued to rise.

Cllr O'Reilly considered it imperative that schools were reopened first, an “inevitable road” taken, and he too took umbrage with the term 'wet pubs'.

Independent Councillor Brendan Fay, owner of The Widows Bar in Belturbet, could argue he had more to lose than most. He also welcomed school reopenings, but mustered that, for some publicans, they could be playing “jingle bells by the time they get the taps back on.”

He commended the Council for the role it had played in rolling out the Restart Grants, which he said were “vital” for many now trying to buy back in stock. “Publicans really need this money,” he said, before seconding the motion to write to the Minister.

“Pubs are part of the fabric of Irish life,” Cllr Fay continued. “We're not wet pubs. Just because we don't serve food, it doesn't mean we're anything less. We're all publicans.”

There was support too for the motion from Cllrs Aiden Fitzpatrick and Patricia Walsh (FF).