The Irish Times view on reopening the hospitality sector: anomalies are part of the deal

A degree of inconsistency is inevitable if clubs and venues are to reopen safely

The hospitality industry has been among the worst affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Hotels, pubs, restaurants and nightclubs were forced to close their doors for long periods, laying off staff and in some cases going out of business altogether. It has been an exceptionally stressful time for those in the sector. Today, with the latest stage of the reopening, some businesses, including night clubs and music venues, will reopen for the first time in more than a year-and-a-half.

But relief at that prospect has been tempered by rapidly worsening trends, with Covid case numbers and hospital admissions rising significantly and ICU units again coming under pressure. What was to be the final step in the definitive reopening of the hospitality and entertainment sectors has instead become something much more uncertain and precarious. Taoiseach Micheál Martin has made clear that there is no guarantee that new restrictions will not have to be introduced at a later date.

In revising the plan for today’s reopening, the Government has attempted to maintain as many restrictions as possible without making it unviable for businesses to reopen. Social distancing, mask-wearing and the use of the Covid cert will continue to be a feature of nightlife into next year.

The resulting hotchpotch of restrictions and protocols has become the focus of debate in advance of the reopening, with publicans and venue owners complaining of anomalies and inconsistencies in the new rules. The Vintners’ Federation asked earlier this week how it was safe for 200 people to be dancing in a nightclub when eight people cannot throw darts in a pub.


Such questions are understandable, and some of the concerns will have been addressed by the guidelines issued by Government yesterday after consultation with the industry. But to expect that there will be no inconsistencies – that there will be “equality of treatment” as another industry group put it – rather misses the point.

At many stages in the pandemic, it has been Government policy, based on public health advice, to differentiate between settings depending on the nature of mixing that takes place there and the needs of individual businesses. The overall aim is to keep opportunities for disease transmission as low as possible without allowing businesses go to the wall. On paper the more sensible precautionary step would be to halt the reopening of indoor gathering spaces entirely. It may yet come to that if current trends persist, but for now differentiation – and, yes, some inconsistency – is the compromise.

The industry can play its part by doing a better job of enforcing the Covid cert and sticking to the letter and the spirit of the new guidelines. By doing so it can play an important role in ensuring the progress of recent months is not reversed.