‘Light at the end of the tunnel’

IMPERIAL hopes to host Cavan nightclub pilot

A local pub and nightclub owner has described the latest easing of Covid curbs as “light at the end of a long and very dark tunnel”. But Donal Keogan, proprietor of the Imperial Bar and Nightclub in Cavan Town, still warns of “unknowns” for the embattled bar industry and challenges to a return to Ireland’s once-thriving, night-time economy.

He spoke to The Anglo-Celt earlier this week as the cabinet was signing off on its latest roadmap for the further easing of restrictions up to October 22.

Like everyone involved in the pub trade, Donal eagerly greeted reports over the past week hinting at how Ireland may soon exit what many hope is its last lockdown.

“It’s a definite step in the right direction,” Donal tells this newspaper: “After a tough year and a half closed, and tougher for others, it’s light at the end of a long and very dark tunnel.”

Part of reopening will see a pilot nightclub event staged at Temple Bar’s Button Factory next month.

With tens of thousands attending live games in Croke Park in recent weeks, the live entertainment sector had pleaded with Taoiseach Micheál Martin and his Government to allow a return to indoor concerts and gigs.

Instead of limiting the event to the vaccinated, attendees... Instead of limiting the event to the vaccinated, attendees at the Button Factory will take PCR tests before and after, with details also provided for contact tracing.

Donal is open to hosting a similar pilot event at his Imperial nightclub should the scheme be extended to other areas of the country.

For Donal, who invested close to €2 million revamping both the bar and its nightclub in 2015, word that indoor venues can only use up to 60% capacity for the time-being is an outcome he’s willing to “take on the chin” - for now.

“It’s a start,” Donal says definitively, acknowledging there are a lot of pubs across Ireland for whom the announcement has simply come too late.

“We’re lucky, we’re a long time in business and have been able to ride this out the way we have done. Some will say, pre-Covid, small pubs were finding it very difficult anyway, but [the virus and lockdown] put a final nail in the coffin.”

Despite his optimism, Donal warns of a myriad of challenges that must yet be overcome by the night-time economy ahead of “switching the lights back on”.

“Young people haven’t danced since March 2020, and we’re now in October 2021. Is their way of socialising going to be different to what it once was? There is a lot of worry there, and will things come back the way they were pre-Covid?”

He adds, “getting people back to work”, will be another struggle, with the transition from Pandemic Unemployment Payments to Jobseekers’ Allowance set to begin next week.

“Getting security people back, how many will come back, will they feel safe? Bar staff to work later hours too, we’re talking 4am. Taxis as well, there are huge issues getting people home. There is a lot more to it than just opening the doors and letting people walk in. It needs to be happen hand-in-hand. There are a lot of unknowns there still,” regards Donal, who also owns Slattery’s on Dublin’s Capel Street.

The final unwinding of restrictions will include a phased return to the workplace for all from September 20.

From September 6, larger crowds will be allowed gather for religious ceremonies and sports events, but masks are still likely to be required in the health and retail sectors and on public transport.

Reacting, Donal says: “The good news is we seem to be getting there. The vaccination campaign looks to be working, and hopefully, come October 22, we’ll all be in a position to get back to as near normal as we can.”

The latest Covid figures at time of going to print showed 355 people in Irish hospitals with COVID-19, with more than 60 in ICU. That included 10 cases being treated in Cavan General, three of which were admitted over the weekend, and two persons with Covid being cared for either in Intensive or a High Dependency Unit. Following a rise in Covid cases in some areas of the county, the HSE operated a walk-in testing centre at the Virginia Show Centre last weekend. Prior to that, the 14-day incidence rate in the Bailieborough-Cootehill LEA was three times the national rate, and it was joined by Ballyjamesduff among the top 15 LEAs out of 166 nationally for heightened infection spread.