‘I don’t understand why there’s a problem’: Donnelly defends laws to record meals

Taoiseach says it was ‘overstating it’ to claim it was a communications calamity

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said that there will be no additional administrative burden on pubs and restaurants under the temporary measures requiring restaurants and pubs serving food to retain records of all food orders for 28 days.

They are already keeping a til receipt for VAT purposes he told RTÉ radio's News at One, these receipts are kept for up to six or seven years, they just need to make it available for inspection for 28 days.

The new rules, which came into effect on Thursday, will compel restaurants and pubs serving food to make a record of all meals ordered. They must be able to make the records available to a member of An Garda Síochána for up to 28 days after the meal.

However, the move has prompted furious criticism from industry representatives as well as members of Government who say the controversy reflects the absence of a coherent new plan to deal with the Covid pandemic through the autumn and the winter.


However, Mr Donnelly said that he did not understand the reaction of the Opposition and members of his own Government to the regulations. “I don’t understand why there’s a problem. The regulations were published online on Tuesday.”

He said that the new regulations would help enforcement against “the tiny minority” who were flouting the rules, and it had been brought in as a temporary measure until the wet pubs reopen.

The only places that will be asked to show the till receipts will be pubs which are suspected of flouting the regulations, he added. Details will not be required of everyone at the table, just the lead name and number which is required for contact tracing.

Responding to the confusion surrounding new laws Taoiseach Micheál Martin said it was “overstating it” to claim it was a communications calamity.

“The Government has no interest in knowing what people are eating,” he said, saying the regulations had been designed to deal with rogue operators who were serving drink but not food. Like other Ministers, he insisted that it would not place an extra burden on publicans and restaurateurs.

He also said that the regulations would soon become redundant, once so-called ‘wet pubs’ were allowed reopen.

“Communications could have been better (around the regulations),” he admitted but added it had got interpreted. He dismissed the suggestion Mr Donnelly was a liability to the Government, saying it was not fair to blame one individual as the decision on this issue was a government-wide one.

Asked how the new regulations would deal with pub crawls and excessive drinking, Mr Martin pointed to personal responsibility that applied to everyone in relation to their behaviour.

“We do not want in a microscopic way to regulate people’s behaviour. We want to get a fair situation for all that are operating.”

‘More hassle’

Earlier, Minister of State at the Department of Business Enterprise and Innovation Damien English has said that the new law requiring restaurants and pubs serving food to record all food orders for 28 days was not about what a person ate, it was proof that they did eat.

Mr English told RTÉ television’s Prime Time that the measure was to enable public health teams as well as the gardaí to monitor compliance with Covid regulations. He acknowledged that the new rules would mean “more hassle” and “more paperwork.”

The new rules, which came into effect on Thursday, will compel restaurants and pubs serving food to make a record of all meals ordered. They must be able to make the records available to a member of An Garda Síochána for up to 28 days after the meal.

“The public health advice is that if we open the pubs serving food under certain regulations and guidance - it’s not what they ate, it’s proof that they did eat,” Mr English said.

“There’s two reasons here, one the advice is that they record the time people entered, who they are and a contact number. In addition to that now you have to also keep proof of purchase of food and that’s for two reasons because the regulations say there has to be purchase of food.

“This is to enable the health authorities, public health teams as well as the gardaí to monitor compliance with the regulations. The regulations are there to protect all of us, but also to reopen business.

“I accept it’s more hassle, it’s more paperwork. It’s difficult as it is, but it if helps us reopen the pubs that’s what we have to do.”

The new regulation was there to protect people, said the Minister, to help reopen businesses and to “ensure a level playing field.”

Most businesses would record this information anyway, he added.

Furious backlash

The Government is facing a furious backlash from publicans and restaurants over the new regulations . Both the Restaurants Association of Ireland and Licensed Vintners Association have written to the Data Protection Commissioner seeking a view on the new requirements, while Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry hit out at what he described as "Stasi" guidelines.

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris acknowledged there was a lack of clarity in relation to the new law. Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast Mr Harris said the records of peoples’ meals would be kept through receipts, and that it was important that such measures were communicated with stakeholders.

The former minister for health was critical of the rhetoric of some politicians. “The use of loaded language has definitely gone too far, we’ve seen bizarre terms with peculiar historical connotations - I think people in the Oireachtas need to mind their language. I think there’s been a lack of clarity in relation to this.

“The Government doesn’t care if you had a cup of coffee or a desert or whether you went for the banoffee - or as one publican asked me last night if you went for the garlic sauce or the pepper sauce.

“What it is about is basically a bit of common sense prevailing here, the reality is, as of today the law is you can only open if you’re serving food as well.

“I want to get back to a situation where we can move back to where we need to move back to, where we try to work out a way of living alongside the virus, where we actually get more businesses back open. Where we do get our pubs open. The Government is working on a new national plan to live alongside this virus for the next few months.”

Mr Harris said that the new law was a temporary measure to enable the provisions that were already in place to be enforced, “but I do think it’s important that our state agencies communicate with the stakeholders.”

Mr Harris said he agreed with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar “we should fund a way to open pubs. I fully agree with Leo on this - we obviously have to do it in a safe way “with very strict restrictions” and at a time that was right.

“When you look across the EU now there are many countries that are seeing a lower prevalence of the virus who are managing to open pubs.” Mr Harris said he was getting worried about the wellbeing of people.

“We need to get to a point where we trust each other, trust businesses, trust people and individual responsibility along with the State continuing to do its part with testing and tracing as well.”


Labour leader Alan Kelly has called on the Data Protection Commissioner to closely examine the new law saying it was “completely and utterly bonkers”.

He told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland he worried that the Cabinet had signed off on the new rule. The Government needs to keep the public onboard, this was “a step too far” and was nonsensical to have to keep records for 28 days.

“When did eating food become linked to public health measures?” he asked.

The new law was just “too draconian”, he said. There were enough measures already in place to deal with publicans breaking regulations.

Mr Kelly said that the Government had “gone off reservation” and had gone too far and they were going to face public backlash.

Earlier on Morning Ireland, Adrian Cummins, chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI), said the nub of the issue was how the new measure had been communicated to the industry and the lack of consultation.

“This should have been communicated after the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday when it was signed off. There was no announcement on August 18th around the new regulations for six at a table, hand sanitisers. This came out of the blue.”

Mr Cummins said that restaurant owners want to adhere to public health advice in the best interest of Ireland, but there was a lot of fear in the sector and the new law was a further regulatory burden.

There needed to be further clarification whether the record needs to show that a person had a meal or if a table had meals with alcoholic drinks, he said.