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Clare publicans falling into dark hole warns VFI Chair

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*Darragh McAllister speaking with Deputy Joe Carey (FG). Photograph: John Power

An “atrocious” six month period has prompted worry that tragedies will occur involving Clare publicans.

Chair of the Clare Vintners Federation, Darragh McAllister revealed that the mental health of pub owners across the county has been greatly impacted following sustained closures of their businesses and the ‘false dawns’ issued by the Irish Government.

Speaking to The Clare Echo, he admitted the impact has been “absolutely atrocious for everybody”. He explained, “One of the biggest problems we’ve had in the trade is members that never had mental health problems before suddenly find themselves in a dark place but without any touchstone or realising that it is a mental health issue, a lot of people would be slow to seek help because they might not understand they have a mental health problem.

“We’ve heard tragic stories of customers and unfortunately we could be looking at tragic stories for pub owners who have been pushed to the absolute limit, their mortgages are back in now, the six month break is over, it is a big dark hole and many people who have fallen into that dark hole don’t realise it. I do fear tragedy for a lot of people, even without that tragedy it will be a long time before people come back to live a healthy life,” the Ennis man warned.

Involved in the pub trade for more than two decades, Darragh runs Lucas’ Bar and Considine’s Bar both of which are situated on Parnell St. He outlined that the six month closure of the pubs put 700 jobs in the county at risk.

A day after their demonstration, Cabinet agreed to reopen ‘wet pubs’ on September 21st. McAllister had called for the wage subsidy scheme to be continued along with the pandemic payment. “These guidelines will make some pubs unworkable and unviable, it will be unfair for them to lose their business when others are open simply due to a set of guidelines”.

McAllister continued, “We need to know that they have support in the guise of the wage subsidy scheme, grant aids and ideally some offset of tax because some pubs have been continuing to pay rent in cases and for some their full rent because they haven’t been able to trade, landlords have done some deals but not all, insurance has been necessary all the way through even though there has been no one on the premises. A lot of bills have built up, it will be a long time before they are paid off. Until we can find our feet and know how viably we can operate, we need to know that will be kept safe so that we can sink or swim on our own terms but not as a result of Government action”.

He acknowledged that many people across the country do not miss pubs but appealed for greater support from all levels of society. “It is very important people realise we are still in lockdown, the national media refer to the COVID-19 lockdown in the past tense, it is very much the present tense for us and whatever happens it will be the future tense for us because we know the trade we had good, bad or indifferent is gone now, we’re starting a whole new world and we need support from the top and the bottom but it needs to be led by the Government. This was not of our making and it would be unfair if businesses go to the wall as a result of something they didn’t do”.

Inaction from Clare’s Oireachtas members was criticised by McAllister in fighting to reopen pubs in the county. “All of our Oireachtas members have engaged positively with us but we’ve had a lot of words, some very nice words but we haven’t seen any action whatsoever. The draft guidelines were published very hurriedly at the weekend, they are essentially a carbon copy of the guidelines for pubs that serve food which is not what we do, we get the impression that all they want to do is give fine words but we need more than words, we need action”.

Páraic McMahon is Head of News & Sport with The Clare Echo. The Newmarket-on-Fergus native also writes for national papers including The Irish Examiner, The Irish Independent and The Irish Times along with doing work for RTÉ, Today FM, TheJournal.ie and The42.ie. A graduate of Mary Immaculate College, Páraic was previously employed by The Clare Herald and Clare FM. If you have a story, tip or some feedback for him then send an email to - paraic@clareecho.ie

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