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Irish pubs are about to reopen after one of many longest shutdowns in Europe

A man wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic walks past the closed Donelon & # 39; s Bar in the rural village of Dunmore in western Ireland on September 3, 2020.

PAUL FAITH / AFP via Getty Images

DUBLIN – Irish pubs will reopen on September 21 after weeks of delays, despite strict coronavirus restrictions on owners.

Ireland is one of the last European countries where "wet pubs" that do not serve food are still closed. These pubs have been closed since March when the pandemic hit and lockdown measures were put in place.

Under the original lockdown-locking schedule, pubs were supposed to reopen in August, but this has been pushed back repeatedly. Pubs serving food, restaurants and hotels reopened under restrictions in late June.

The new rules will place all pubs on a relatively similar footing, requiring table service and limiting group size. In cases where a distance of two meters is not possible, customers can only stay 105 minutes and all customers must be away from the premises by 11:30 p.m.

Pubs also need to adhere to local restrictions when they occur, which can mean they close again. The decision is welcome but long overdue, said Donall O & # 39; Keeffe, executive director of the Licensed Vintners & # 39; Association.

"We believe there was little justification for the government to repeatedly delay reopening," he said.

Following a cabinet meeting today, Irish legislator Simon Harris, who was Minister of Health when the lockdown began and is now Minister for Higher Education, said that while pubs will reopen, the experience will be different.

"The public health risk in such pubs is now no greater than the risk in any other setting such as a pub with food or a restaurant, because remember, what we are not planning on September 21 is again open pubs, packed bars, crowded places, "Harris said.

"We're talking about reopening a table-service pub and not having to serve chicken goujons to justify this."

The pub owners went through a lengthy process to get clearance to reopen, which very upset the trade groups.

The August delay for pubs came as the daily number of new Covid-19 cases in the country rose to an average of 120 cases per day, up from single and double digit numbers in July. Health officials have warned of increasing cases in Dublin and Limerick, which may result in pubs in these districts having to close if local restrictions are put in place.

To make up for frustration over the latest postponement, on August 28, the government introduced a pubs support package of 16 million euros ($ 18.9 million) in addition to the existing support mechanisms. This lagged behind the brand in the eyes of pub owners with trade groups calling it "crumbs".

It included a court fee waiver and a levy related to the renewal of pub and other liquor licenses that year.

Padraig Cribben, executive director of the Vintners' Federation of Ireland, told CNBC that around 9 million euros of the € 16 million package will cover royalty waiver, levy and associated court fees.

That leaves 7 million euros, around 2,000 euros per pub, which will be distributed through grants, said Cribben.

"We were pretty sure and realized that every company was closed from March to June 29th and we were looking for support from June 29th. Now if you take June 29th, it will be about 12 weeks for this to happen the intended coverage was around 150 euros per week. That won't cover too many costs. "

Cribben added that a more effective approach to licensing would have been to renew all licenses for 12 months rather than waiving the fees.

Overhead

Marie Mellet, the seventh generation of her family who run Mellett's Emporium in Swinford, Co. Mayo, said the support package does little to cover the costs pubs still have while they are closed.

"We have running costs. Insurance, lights, heat, security, pest control, the list goes on. Every pub is different, but for us it would be around 350-400 euros a week," she said. "The support package we received was 1,600 euros, which is enough for four weeks and we have been closed for (over) 25 weeks."

She added that royalty waiver does not put much-needed money in the hands of pub owners and "that's what we need now".

Pub owners also face potential mortgage defaults as a six month moratorium on mortgage payments expires in late September. Litigation with insurers has been brewing in recent months.

A man is talking on a cellphone as he passes Glynns Bar, the only open pub in the rural village of Dunmore, in western Ireland, on September 3, 2020. – In the pubs of Dunmore, in the west of Ireland, the Guinness glasses of dust gather and the barrels are piled dormant.

AUL FAITH / AFP via Getty Images

Closures

Matthew Hughes, who owns the Hughes Bar in Ballinasloe, Co. Galway, said there was a real danger that pubs might not weather this six-month storm.

He said pubs closed their doors for the benefit of public health but have now been left behind.

"To be honest, I think it's a slap in the face. We're doing it for the good of everyone," he told CNBC.

When pubs reopen, they will consider a ton of additional costs to comply with social distancing measures and other restrictions.

Hughes, who also works as an aircraft engineer, said he used the downtime to renovate his social distancing pub, which will have an impact on customer confidence.

"The most important thing in a pub is how you interact with your customers, especially in a rural setting. You come for news and information and you use table service, you don't have the same interaction," he said.

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