Cautious Northern Ireland pathway out of lockdown leaves hospitality fearful of more business failures

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Cautious Northern Ireland pathway out of lockdown leaves hospitality fearful of more business failures

Related tags: Northern ireland, lockdown, Coronavirus

Hospitality businesses in Northern Ireland have 'a genuine fear' more firms will collapse after the Executive's pathway out of lockdown failed to confirm when the sector can unlock.

The plan for lifting restrictions, announced yesterday (2 March), is broken down into four stages, but does not follow specific dates.

Under the initial stage, dubbed the 'Cautious First Steps', curfew restrictions on takeaway services will be lifted and those venues, such as cafes, which do not serve alcohol will be able to reopen for table service and host up to six people from two households.

Premises where alcohol can be consumed, excluding wet-led pubs, will be allowed to reopen with social contact rules in place under the next phase.

Wet-led pubs and limited entertainment relaxations will be able to reopen with table service under the penultimate phase, with bar service not allowed to recommence until the final phase of the plan.

Nightclubs will also get the go ahead to reopen in the last phase of the pathway plan.

The Executive will review progress every month, which means that, if there are no setbacks, Northern Ireland should progress to the final stage by summer.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said the pathway would see a 'gradual and careful' reopening of the economy.

However, trade body Hospitality Ulster says the sector has been left 'frustrated' by the lack of even nominal reopening dates, as well as the decision to once again target wet-led pubs for extended closure.

“We welcome the activity undertaken by the Executive so far in bringing forward this roadmap," says Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster.

"However, it has been some time in coming and disappointing to see that parts of hospitality have been earmarked to reopen after non-essential retail and with no mention of an additional support package. There is a genuine fear amongst many in our sector that businesses are going to fail and jobs will be lost at the eleventh hour.

“We are really frustrated that this pathway shows no dates whatsoever and once again singles out our traditional (wet-led) pubs for extended closure. How are our pubs supposed to survive, and the industry plan for the re-emergence of the entire sector?”

Neill adds that the Executive must now bring forward an additional package of financial support to keep these businesses alive until all hospitality businesses are allowed to reopen and trade at a financially sustainable level.

“The Executive has made the decision to keep hospitality closed for longer than any other sector, without any engagement with the industry, despite our repeated calls to connect with us and start the planning process.

“It must now engage and allow the industry to prepare so that it is in the right shape and has any specification requirements in place so that the reopening phase can be as smooth as possible.

"We understand that there will need to be a gradual easing of restrictions and that this blueprint will be led by data. The progression to reopen and any restrictions should be wholly evidence based.

“The hospitality sector has been effectively closed for the last year. There now needs to be recognition of the role that it has played and give those who have scrapped through a fighting chance.

"We acknowledge that the R rate must stay low for a sustained period of time, and we can reassure the Executive that the industry has created safe and sanitised environments in which people can go out and enjoy themselves again; enjoy a meal; and enjoy time with their family and friends.”  

Related topics: Business

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