'Small minority' of pubs not following guidelines should be closed - Vintners chief

"It's unacceptable that people are allowed to drink alcohol on streets and laneways, in public places in or around the city centre," said CEO of the Licensed Vintners Association, Donal O’Keefe.

The CEO of the Licensed Vintners Association, Donal O’Keefe has described the situation in Dublin city centre at the weekend when large groups of people were drinking on the street, not observing social distancing, as “shocking” and “irresponsible.” 

“We're hugely concerned that an irresponsible few could damage the entire industry - it's very damaging for the reputation of pubs in Dublin, what's going on, it's very damaging for the image of the city," he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

"It's unacceptable that people are allowed to drink alcohol on streets and laneways, in public places in or around the city centre.

“We are calling on the gardaí to try and deal with this situation. It's really concerning from a public health perspective and it's really concerning for the recovery of our business.” 

Mr O’Keefe said it appeared that at the weekend there were a number of pubs selling draught beer through windows while some people were buying their alcohol in advance and then arriving in the area.

“It's a shocking situation, it's disgraceful business, this should not be happening.

"But selling alcohol, pints out through a window or a hatch is actually legal - that's the weakness in the legislation.

“It was inconceivable three months ago that pubs would be involved in this type of business, we always want our customers to come to the premises, have use of the facilities, our staff, our service.

"This situation was never contemplated, but it's causing huge problems in town now.” 

Mr O’Keefe said it was the issue on on-street drinking was separate from the reopening of pubs adhering to the new Fáilte Ireland guidelines.

“This is a separate issue of on-street drinking. It's been there forever at a low level, but has reached very serious, very worrying, very dangerous proportions over the last days.

“The gardaí need to deal with that - the law is clear - if alcohol is sold for takeaway, it cannot be consumed within 100 metres of the premises, that's difficult for pubs to enforce, but they should.

"The pubs that are knowingly allowing that alcohol to be consumed on public streets and laneways around our pubs should stop that business. 

The gardaí must intervene now to deal with this.

The chief executive of the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI) Padraig Cribben has said that gardaí should make it clear to pubs not observing Covid health guidelines that there will be “significant objections” when it comes time to renew their licences.

The overwhelming majority of publicans were acting responsibly, he told RTÉ radio’s Today with Sarah McInerney show.

It was a “small minority” who were not following the guidelines, they should be called out and their premises closed, he said.

Gardaí calling to those publicans and telling them there will be objections when their licences have to be renewed, would “bring them to order.”

Mr Cribben also said that if all pubs had been reopened at the same time there would not have been the crowding seen at the weekend.

To open only 45% of pubs meant there were big crowds eager to get in.

Public Health expert Professor Joe Barry added that the problem was predictable because of the weakness in the current legislation.

He said he had a certain amount of sympathy for pubs as the Fáilte Ireland guidelines were very hard to enforce.

“It says if people go to pubs and get drink ordered, and have it, even on the premises, they've got to give their contact details because the only way our public health colleagues will be able to follow up outbreaks which will happen is if they know who has been in contact with the people who are infected.” 

Prof. Barry said that most young people don't observe social distancing while “lots of members of the population are taking it very seriously and are staying away from pubs.” 

There are two things that needed to be done, he said: “I hear that gardaí and the HSA are going to be inputting into the review of what's working and not.

"I think public health people need to be involved in that review today with the Cabinet, because at the end of the day we all want an orderly return to normality.

“What happened last night will probably happen again - there are lots of weaknesses in the system which was inevitable.

Unfortunately it is going to lead to more spikes and that is something that none of us in the country want.

Consultant Dr Laura Durcan, who had personally witnessed the scenes in Dame Lane at the weekend also called for a change in the rules with regard to take out drinks.

It was unfair to expect gardaí to be able to control crowds of the size seen on Saturday night.

It would be better to see people going into the pubs where they would have to abide by the rules, she said.

While it was technically easier to distance oneself outside, that had not happened.

These people were on top of each other. Pubs need to take responsibility, they need to stop take out drinks.

Dr Durcan added that there was a need for “a strong national voice on what is acceptable and appropriate behaviour.”

Her concern was for what would happen in the next nine to 14 days when people begin to manifest symptoms or if they did contract the virus, did not manifest symptoms and unknowingly spread the virus.