AS people across County Clare receive their Digital Covid Certificate ahead of the reopening of indoor hospitality, a Clare restaurateur has expressed worries over how the cert will be managed and policed.
Pubs, restaurants and other indoor hospitality are expected to reopen as early as next week as part of further easing of Covid-19 restrictions.
Brian O’Neill of the Rowan Tree in Ennis has given a cautious welcome to the announcement, however he says there are still questions to be answered about how the re-opening is going to be managed in a way that can avoid another lock-down.
“I couldn’t honestly face going back to another lockdown, to go backwards. I do welcome being able to allow our customers back indoors, absolutely, even though the weather at the moment is very conducive to outdoor dining the reality in Ireland is we need indoor dining. But this needs to be managed in a safe way that we don’t go back to another lockdown.”
He says while he is positive about the reopening of the indoor business he is “apprehensive” about the management of the Covid certificate.
He is doubtful that it can be policed effectively, and warns that it will also lead to delays.
“I have received mine and it has a QR code on it. Do we have to be able to read QR codes? How are we to store data? How is it going to be policed and inspected? I really don’t think it is feasible without knowing any more.
“At the moment we take the contact details of one guest from each group. We have a digital management system and it’s fine but it takes a couple of minutes, and some people are not keen to give those details.
“Do we now have to get the details for every person in the group?
“That could take 15 to 20 minutes if you have a group of six. It’s going to be slow, it’s going to be time consuming, it’s going to be confusing.”
He goes on, “I cannot see how a Covid certificate will be policed, or will it be policed at all? The talk is An Garda Siochana won’t be policing it, that it will be the HSE or Environmental Health Officers.
“ I honestly can’t see that happening, it’s too much of a workload to put on them and when breaches are happening it could be 10, 11 or 12 o’clock at night,” he observed.
He says that though the Rowan Tree has been “happily” operating within Fáilte Ireland’s Safety Charter “and will continue to do what we are asked to do” others are not and he fears this will continue.
“If you pick up Instagram or Facebook at the moment you are going to see pictures of groups of people sitting around a table, and there’s more than six. That tells you there is a breach going on at the moment of the current guidelines, so what’s going to happen with the new ones?”
There are fears that turning customers away from hospitality businesses working within the guidelines will drive them towards others who are not following the rules.
“We have a long standing loyal customer base and we really appreciate their support.
“But if somebody has made the decision not to get vaccinated, whether never to or they are just waiting, and they come to us and we say they can’t come inside because they don’t have the cert or aren’t Covid recovered they might take insult to me personally, though we would be operating within the guidelines.
“Then if they go somewhere else that’s not as stringent and they are accepted in I might lose that customer permanently. Hospitality is a very personal business in Ireland, that’s the way people make decisions.”
Brian insists that the “number one priority” for the restaurant is the safety and well being of their customers and staff.
“However, some of our colleagues have not been vaccinated because they are at that age profile, so there are concerns there. Then there is the fear that a new variant will arrive which the vaccines won’t give us immunity from.”
He is critical of the government for not putting plans in place for the re-opening of indoor hospitality earlier.
“Some of the details just haven’t been ironed out yet and the problem is you have effectively a three party coalition government who are sitting around the table trying to negotiate what they want based on three different party requirements and agendas.
“These decisions should have been made in advance of this, coming in and rushing through the legislation within a week because the government are going on holidays is not really the best way to be doing this, it should have been done months ago, they had lots of time.”
by Jessica Quinn