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Frustration growing as Derry pubs are asked to meet ‘unachievable’ guidelines

'This is not the time to be playing with the livelihoods of business owners and we are demanding that the Executive intervenes and remedies this' - Hospitality Ulster

Frustration growing as Derry pubs are asked to meet ‘unachievable’ guidelines

The Magnet is one of the affected bars.

Frustration is growing amongst local pub owners who were preparing to open outdoor spaces tomorrow, only to be told at the eleventh hour that they cannot.

Unlicensed and licensed premises such as restaurants, beer gardens, and cafes can open outdoors as part of an easing of Covid-19 restrictions.

Indoor hospitality venues, including pubs and hotels, have to wait until May 24.

However, just as preparations were being made the police informed numerous Derry business owners that they are not permitted to open outdoor spaces unless they have a license.

Some bars have been using the same outdoor spaces for years without any issue.

Local bar owner, Tony O’Connor, will open his Link47 and 48 premises tomorrow.

However, he had planned on making use of outdoor spaces at The Magnet bar in Culmore and Molly Malone’s on the Northland Road.

Like other publicans, Mr O’Connor believed he was licensed to use space on his own land.

He explains: “A lot of people wouldn’t know this but because it’s on your property you can’t get an outside café license, that can only be done on public land.”

Tony is astounded that the government and statutory bodies aren’t working to accommodate bar owners during extraordinarily difficult times for business.

He says pub owners in England are being encouraged to make use of car parks and playgrounds whereas those in NI are having more and more obstacles thrown at them.

Solutions need to be found, Mr O’Connor says, but there has been a ‘lack of communication’ from Stormont.

This evening, SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole highlighted that inaction, saying it's ‘ridiculous’ that The Executive Office (TEO) has just relayed his concerns to the Department of Health.

“A fortnight late and more than a few dollars short. Two weeks after emailing TEO about outdoor hospitality space concerns, and a few hours before bars are due to open, they email to say... they’ve passed it on to the Department of Health.”

Decisions will come too late for some pub owners in Derry who were looking forward to welcoming customers back, but will now remain shut because of ‘unachievable guidelines’.

A spokesperson for Bennigans posted on Facebook: “Talk about getting kicked when you are down. The planning of re-opening the hospitality sector has been absolutely pathetic and unforgettable on every attempt so far.

“We have jumped through every hoop presented to us and still it is not enough.

“We, like many other bars have had to pull the plug at the last minute today as The Executive’s guidelines for re-opening are simply unachievable for 95% of beer gardens in NI.

“They mean that we risk our license and possible fines having had little or any guidance from anyone and a ridiculously small amount of time to prepare.”

It continues: “If you are one of the 160+ people who have a table booked with us over the coming days we will contact every single one of you to apologise for wasting your time and getting your hopes up for nothing.

“The staff and I were really looking forward to seeing our customers old and new this weekend but it's a while away yet.

“Good luck to everyone that does re-open this weekend. These are trying times.”

‘CHAOS’

Hospitality Ulster, which represents the industry, says that despite their repeated calls since Christmas for TEO to engage with the industry, the late clarification of regulations for outdoor hospitality has caused chaos and left many businesses unable to open and out of pocket unnecessarily.

With only 10% to 15% of hospitality businesses having access to outdoor space, the current regulations will mean even fewer premises will be able to reopen on Friday.

Hospitality Ulster says that its members are being forced to accept a set of rules that have not been consulted upon with the industry and, once again, expectations of what the Executive Office want to see - and what the sector need to do to get their doors open, are mismatched.

The organisation says that what we are now seeing is that the ‘misguided and draconian’ regulations are being interpreted in such a way that many who thought they might have been able to open, are being told they can’t after significant investments being made.

Colin Neill, Chief Executive, Hospitality Ulster comments: “This is not the time to be playing with the livelihoods of business owners and we are demanding that the Executive intervenes and remedies this.

“A level of common sense needs to be brought to this problem as the sector has worked so hard and taken every precaution to get the outdoor element open this weekend.

“We need the Executive to engage with us and be pragmatic about this real and present issue that we are facing in the next couple of days.”

The Executive Office and PSNI have been contacted for a response.

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