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Northern Ireland pubs face reopening delays

Pubs in Northern Ireland will not open until the middle of April at the earliest, according to Hospitality Ulster Chief Colin Neill.

It comes following a briefing by the country’s first minister, who advised that the lockdown restrictions will be extended until 5th March.

Many pubs were hoping to reopen in time for St Patrick’s Day – one of the busiest times in Northern Ireland’s hospitality calendar – but hopes have been dashed following 25 more Covid-related deaths this weekend.

Saturday (16th January) was the 300th day since the first lockdown was imposed and, according to Hospitality Ulster, non-food traditional pubs have only been able to open 23 days. ‘Food-led’ hospitality have been able to open 119 days, with non-essential retail 182 days.

Colin Neill says the current lockdown, which his members agreed to with a “heavy heart”, is wreaking havoc on the industry.

He explained: “Hospitality is being used unfairly as a controllable risk to balance out uncontrollable risks like house parties.

“With a heavy heart we agreed to the latest lockdown, which comes with a high price with businesses never reopening and jobs lost.

“It is now 299 days since Boris Johnson announced the first lockdown and non-food pubs have been open on just 23 of those days.

“This comes against a backdrop of pub and restaurant owners introducing the most effective coronavirus preventive measures out of any business in Northern Ireland.”

What are the rules?

Hospitality venues such as cafes, restaurants, pubs, bars and social clubs must remain closed, with the exception of providing food and drink for takeaway, drive-through or delivery.

Businesses providing takeaway services must close at 11.00 pm and off-sales must stop at 8.00 pm. Outdoor areas are not permitted to be used.

The provision of food and drink in motorway services, airports and harbour terminals is allowed.

What extra funding is available?

A total of £100m is going towards the Local Restrictions Support Scheme, the grant for business premises forced to closed due to the restrictions.

There will also be £16m for tourism and hospitality, two sectors which have largely been unable to operate.

In addition, two more support schemes for the sector have been opened.

One aimed at large tourism and hospitality businesses is offering a pot of £26m, with the Department for Economy having identified 250 businesses that will be eligible.

The other is a £4m scheme to support those who provide bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

We will update you with more information as this is made available – if you have any questions please get in touch with us at opinion@ncass.org.uk. You can also find the latest updates regarding Northern Ireland restrictions and Covid-19 support here.