President’s Report August 2021

Welcome to your August newsletter,  

July proved to be a very challenging month. Our reopening date was originally the 5th of July which was postponed due to the Delta Variant. NPHET estimated 20k cases per day with a large increase in ICU admission. The advice given to Government was that it was better to proceed on the side of caution & refrain from lifting anymore restrictions. Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon had stated “Delta would rip through an un-vaccinated population”. There was a rise in case numbers but not exceeding 2k cases per day and hospital admissions have not increased as pre-empted. After extensive lobbying efforts to reopen the sector, our Association along with industry colleagues in the IHF, LVA & VFI discussed with Government what would be required to get our doors back open. NPHET would only allow our reopening under two conditions.

The first was to open our doors to vaccinated customers only & those who have recovered from Covid-19 or we reopen our doors when a critical mass of the population is vaccinated which could be October or November. Many businesses in the hospitality sector had been closed for over 500 days such as food service businesses in shopping centres or city centre locations that do not have space to allow outdoor dining. There is a myriad of businesses that cannot operate without getting back inside and our role in the Association is to lobby on behalf of all members and it was very important to me and our Council that there was an option available to those businesses that can only serve indoors. As this was the only card being dealt it was in our best interest to try and make this work and get open.

The reopening guidelines were produced by Failte Ireland at the eleventh hour on Friday the 23rd of August less than 72 hours before our scheduled reopening, again not enough time to implement the procedures, update our teams, invest in Co2 monitors or even have them in place by the Monday we reopened. We were barely able to catch our breath. Once again this shows the absolute lack of understanding our leaders have of what it takes to reopen a business. The planning and logistics involved in organising supply chain, human resources and having a business ready is no easy task. We are now one week into serving indoors now and although it is still early days and we have had decent weather to continue outdoors, feedback has been very good from businesses and time will tell how the public and businesses respond.  Various issues have arisen following publication of the guidelines, one in particular was that a rule was put in place that would only allow table service for businesses which would not work for fast food businesses and carvery or buffet type restaurants. We quickly engaged with Failte Ireland and this guideline was amended to allow such businesses to trade without that restriction in place. The Failte Ireland guidelines are a live document and they will be amended from time to time so keep up to date and follow the RAI update emails for more information. Other issues that are causing concern is the EWSS, we have been assured that this subsidy will not be pulled from under our feet. Once a business can show a deficit of 30% year to date vs 2019 the subsidy will remain in place.

There has been resistance from a cohort of the public that were against this proposal for indoor dining for the unvaccinated or recovered as they felt it created a societal divide and their civil liberties were affected. There have been threats of protests to businesses and there is a co-ordinated campaign from these individuals of writing fake reviews and making unscrupulous reservations to cause financial damage to businesses that are desperate to get their doors back open viably. We have informed the Gardai and they are urging business owners to report any of these incidents so that the full power of the law can come down on these disruptors. Proof of vaccination or immunity upon entry is clearly a public health measure and if this is what it takes to allow the hospitality industry to reopen, in the context of a pandemic I do not think it is all that bad to have to show a vaccination cert to protect our citizens and the economy. I would like to pose the question to NPHET as to an end date or metrics on when these measures will be lifted as they have added labour and administrative costs, it is time consuming to have to check certs & IDs etc.

The shortage of staff is very evident not just in Ireland but across Europe. This is down to several issues such as some staff not returning to Ireland, and some will not return at all. The uncertainty of working in the industry and the perception of unsecure employment has had an impact on people making the decision to change career and so it will take time for us to rebolster our workforce through training, recruiting, and maintaining our current staff.

As frustrating as the last month was in terms of the uncertainty of getting open, we can now finally look forward to a period of recovery. Paul Reid has said it is “the final countdown” as walk in vaccination centres are available this weekend. Our CMO stated “Young people are lining up to get vaccinated and solidarity continues to be the hallmark of our response” this is all very positive news and so I look forward to the day we can further ease restrictions and get back to what we do best.

I look forward next month’s report.

Best Wishes, Mark McGowan -President

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