‘Disbelief, confusion, frustration’ – Restaurants react to plans

Taoiseach defends ban on indoor dining for restaurants and gastropubs but not hotels

Restaurants have reacted to the Government’s latest plan to reopen the economy with “disbelief, confusion and frustration”.

Hotel and guesthouse restaurants will be permitted to operate indoor dining options from June 2nd but independent restaurants, coffee shops and gastropubs will be restricted to outdoor dining only from June 7th.

Restaurants Association of Ireland chief executive Adrian Cummins called on the Government to publish “medical and scientific evidence” deeming a hotel or guesthouse restaurant safer than other establishments.

“Restaurants, hotels, cafes and gastropubs have all followed and implemented the exact same safety protocols for diners since June of last year,” he said.


He described the decision to divide the sector into two categories as “anti-competitive” and “inequitable”.

In response to the criticism, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said there was public health advice providing for the measures relating to the hospitality sector and the Government had no problem publishing it.

He said that if the guidance for the sector was followed, it “augers well for hospitality in the summer”.

Mr Martin said the announcement that outdoor dining would be allowed at restaurants was “positive”, adding that the Government would consider easing restritions on a number of high-risk activities at the end of June for later in the year including nightclubs and casinos.

Mr Martin was asked if there was any sign of nightclubs reopening and people “dying to get back to Coppers”.

He said: “I don’t think I’ll make it to Coppers any time soon.”


Mr Martin said the medium term was very uncertain for indoor venues such as nightclubs, but he hoped it would be possible in pubs in July.

He said: “indoor is difficult – there’s no point in pretending to people it isn’t. Indoor is more dangerous than outdoor.”

But he said: “Vaccines are proving to be very impactful and that will inform decision in July.”

Picking up on the nightclubs question, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said: “Coppers has a large outdoor area and a nice outdoor balcony. You never know, Taoiseach, we might get there yet.”

The Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) said the Government must now ensure indoor trading could resume “as soon as possible”.

However, its chief executive Padraig Cribben said Thursday’s announcement was a positive first step and the federation was “extremely pleased that last year’s substantial meal provision is now abandoned and the artificial divide between pubs serving food and traditional venues no longer applies”.

Minister for Culture Catherine Martin said the Government was looking at the safe reopening of cinemas and theatres in June.

Ms Martin also said Cabinet agreed that her department, along with the Department of Health and the Department of the Taoiseach, will prepare proposals on the holding of a limited number of pilot large events for sport and music, including both indoor and outdoor.


Ms Martin was asked when “trial” events for entertainment and sport may take place, and it was also put to her that there was an anomaly if people were to be allowed to go into cinemas and theatres but not attend outdoor events.

She said she could not offer a specific date for the pilot events but said the details were being mapped out and she would get a report from the Return to Live Entertainment Working Group.

Earlier, Mr Varadkar said thousands of businesses will reopen and hundreds of thousands of people will be able to return to work.

He said that the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS), Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) and Covid-19 Restriction Support Scheme (CRSS) would remain in place until at least the end of June.

Responding to the Government’s announcement, Irish Hotels Federation president Elaina Fitzgerald Kane said the domestic tourism market was “a real positive last year and will be very important for the hotel sector again this summer”.

“Provision must also be made for vaccinated travellers from other primary markets such as the USA, who typically travel in the autumn, and would be very important in extending the season for many Irish tourism businesses,” she added.

Pat McCann, chief executive of Dalata, which is the largest hotel operator in the State, said he was “delighted” that hotels are set to reopen. “We look forward to a busy summer across our hotels,” he said. “June is an important month for our industry.”


Fergal Harte, general manager of the the Kingsley Hotel in Cork, said it was “fantastic” to have certainty on the plans.

“This has been such an uncertain time for everybody involved, and particularly for our staff. We have a lot of people who have been really unsure about their futures and their livelihoods and everything else, so it’s fantastic and we’re looking forward now to a hopefully really busy period.”

A Fáilte Ireland spokeswman said the agency looked forward to the return of domestic tourism this summer. “We welcome the Government’s announcement on the roadmap for reopening business and society, which has given us all hope for the future,” she said.

“While we know that reopening must be taken cautiously and on a phased basis in adherence with public health guidance, we look forward to taking the first steps towards recovery of the tourism industry with the return of domestic tourism this summer.”

Sean Connick, chairman of the Association of Visitor Experiences & Attractions, said: “Visitor attractions have proven that they are safe, controlled environments. Our members have made significant investment to ensure the safety of staff and visitors.”

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter