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‘Pandemic payment should be reduced’

Ballyvaughan  hotel facing short-term closure due to staff shortages

THE Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) should be dramatically scaled back and only paid to employees whose businesses can’t operate, according to a well known hotelier.
Woodstock Hotel manager, Sean Lally has called on the government to operate a more targeted PUP support for those who can’t work in view of the chronic staff shortages facing the hospitality and other industries.
His appeal coincides with the revelation Gregan’s Castle Hotel, Ballyvaughan, will have to close for ten days in September and five in October, because it hasn’t enough staff to operate its business.
Staff shortages in the hospitality sector in the Burren could hamper Autumn bookings, following one of the busiest summers in the region in recent years in terms of Irish visitors.
Hotels and self-catering accommodation providers have reported bookings are up on last year, due to a combination of recent fine weather and the desire to holiday at home due to coronavirus restrictions, abroad.
Despite Ireland’s vaccine roll out success many people are still putting off taking international holidays until next year.
But an exodus of staff from the sector is proving to be a major hurdle for many businesses in the Burren region.
Mr Lally said it is “illogicial” to have almost 150,000 people in the country receiving the PUP when the hospitality and other industries are looking for staff.
In view of official confirmation that most of the Covid-19 restrictions will be lifted by the end of October, the Ennis hotelier said it doesn’t make sense the government are continuing to pay the PUP. He said the huge number of people on the PUP was reducing the number of potential applicants to fill staff shortages in the hospitaity and other businesses.
“People whose industry is not affected by restrictions should not have access to the PUP.
“The last few weeks have been the most challenging for the hospitality industry. During the series of lockdowns a lot of hospitality staff left the industry, some went back to their home countries and didn’t return, which was understandable as they wanted to work.
“Some hospitality staff are now returning to college. Staff have played a blinder working under tough conditions when we very busy during the summer. Every night was like a normal Saturday night.”
The number of people receiving the pandemic payment in Clare was 3,537 in early August.
From September 14, the top three PUP payments will reduce every week with the maximum weekly rate of €350 going to €300, the €300 rate going to €250 and the €250 rate going to €203 per week. People on the €203 PUP rate will transition to standard jobseekers terms.
Welcoming the announcement of new Ryanair routes from Shannon Airport, Mr Lally stressed more international flights were needed into Shannon, particularly from the United States to help accommodation providers fill rooms from late October to March.
“Tourism is a huge provider of jobs in Clare. July and August has been good, but we are moving into a different market in September when the schools reopen.
“We need international tourists to drive our mid-week business.
The Ennis-based hotelier said American guests needed notice in terms of their travel arrangements and he stressed the local economy would benefit if Aer Lingus provided more international flights from Shannon.
He described the last 18 months as a “nightmare” for businesses.
Welcoming the return of live music at weddings, Mr Lally outlined they host a lot of weddings in their hotel and were frequently asked by couples when they were allowed to have a band again.
“It is great that couples will be able to have their first dance to their favourite band. I felt very sorry for the live entertainment industry when entertainers couldn’t operate. Live music adds great atmosphere to venues, particularly in Clare which is noted for its traditional music.
He confirmed there is huge “pent-up demand” to celebrate social events such as Holy Communion, Confirmation, birthday parties, which have been postponed in recent months.
Following a lot of enquiries in recent weeks, he said hotel staff would be getting back to guests to confirm they could host functions again.
“It has been a long time coming and is thanks to the huge take up of the vaccination programme and it now means Ireland should be one of the safest countries in the world to travel to.
“It has been very challenging over the last two years. The staycation market has been great and Irish people have worn the green jersey.
“People want to return to some form of normality before the pandemic happened.”
Welcoming the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, Deputy Michael McNamara said other countries have allowed people who couldn’t be vaccinated to use antigen tests to attend indoor events.
Deputy McNamara pointed out a recent Israeli study of a large number of patients revealed those infected with the virus had built up a greater immunity than those who were vaccinated.
The Independent Deputy called on the government to facilitate a greater use of Antigen testing and other measures to help people to live with the virus without major restrictions.
“I don’t think the restrictions were sustainable. Nobody is forcing anyone to go into a bar or restaurants, concerts and other indoor activities.
“People should be able to make personal choices and assume the risk that is appropriate to them.
I don’t agree with turning health guidelines into criminal laws. The gardai were not trained to enforce public health measures and it shouldn’t be their job.
“Some businesses are applying the restrictions more stringently than others. It will be interesting to see how things play out when outdoor dining isn’t an option sitting out on a cold rainy day.”

by Dan Danaher

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