Welcome to your January newsletter, 

I would like to wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year. It is not hard to beat previous Januarys when I think of this time last year, we did not get diners back indoors until the summer. It is fair to say that we are in a much better position this time around. Over the past 14 days a record number of cases have been confirmed. Our hospitals have 936 cases with 84 in ICU. However, the Omicron variant has proved to be mild, and I do understand that we have to take care of our most vulnerable in society, but I think the Government needs to decide very soon on how we are going to live with COVID. We have to ask ourselves are the current level of restrictions imposed on our business proportionate? I certainly do not think that the current threat warrants the current level of restrictions. When we look across the border 30 minutes up the motorway from my own business, bars and restaurants are operating in relatively normal un-restricted conditions. Waves of people are heading North to socialise.

Our Schools have reopened again, and the vaccination programme is being rolled out to children as young as 5. The pandemic has entered a different stage and what we need now is real leadership that will get the country operating efficiently again. We have been in and out of lockdown for the last few years and I really feel that they are not the solution. It is time to try a different approach rather than just imposing restrictions on a fragile industry. Ventilation has still not been properly examined, Co2 monitors are now a requirement but are not enforced. We need sound scientific guidance on airflow and ventilation. Grants to install these units would be a good investment from Government if it stops them from restricting us from trading. At least there would be revenue coming into the exchequer rather than going out. We have put robust measures in place and done everything we have been asked to do. Maybe it is time for Government to start listening to the professionals on the ground. This is not and will not be the last variant, there will be many more to come.

As Omicron ravages through the population, thousands of businesses have been forced to close due to absenteeism. Staff shortages were already a burden to businesses prior to this pandemic and with confirmed cases and close contacts the industry has never had such a shortage. All sectors are in the same boat. Not one business has escaped the serious problems Omicron has caused. The issues extend so much further than absenteeism. Customer cancellations have never been as high, especially last-minute cancellation from customers as close contacts. The rules for self-isolation need to be looked at if we are to plan and have a more efficient economy. Many countries have lower isolation periods, and it should be a more aligned approach.

On Tuesday 21st of December it was announced that CRSS would be available to those affected by the 8pm closure. The criteria was increased from 25% of 2019 turnover to 40% which is much more accessible to businesses. The scheme is open to new business that were established up to July 2021. The EWSS has also been extended to businesses that have been taken off the scheme but want to re-apply. We are aware that some daytime hospitality and newer businesses are currently excluded from supports and are addressing this directly with the Department of Finance and applicable Ministers in meetings this week. Please note that you must submit your Eligibility Review Form before the 15th of January. There has also been an extension to the tax debt warehousing scheme for liabilities arising up until the end of Q1. Hopefully these supports will go some way in keeping your business afloat until restrictions are loosened again.

Last Tuesday Minimum unit pricing of Alcohol came into legislation. I welcome this piece of legislation although it will affect retailers close to the North, I foresee consumers shopping North of the border, however, this piece of legislation should encourage more people into controlled drinking environments and should combat excessive drinking at home which contributed to other societal issues. Minimum unit pricing should not affect your purchasing at wholesale level.

I look forward to updating you again next month with hopefully a brighter picture, this variant is due to peak over the next week or so and hopefully the Government will see sense and give us an opportunity to trade under a better set of circumstances.

Best Wishes,

Mark McGowan – President