CLARE’S multi-million euro hospitality sector will be disproportionately hit by the latest “farcical” and “unworkable” restrictions in indoor dining, a local TD has claimed.
Deputy Michael McNamara has confirmed he will try to put the latest extension of Covid-19 restrictions for the hospitality sector to a Dáil vote with the help of other Independent deputies.
He said it now seems the government is going down the road of a form of “medical apartheid” where non-residents of a bar or restaurant can only enjoy a meal indoors if fully vaccinated.
Expressing surprise at the latest move, the Independent Deputy said the government had previously stated it would not adopt this approach and noted the overall uptake of the vaccine against Covid-19 in Ireland is very high by European standards.
The Scariff-based deputy pointed out very few bouncers or security personnel have a medical degree to assess whether their customers are fully-vaccinated.
“Who is going to be standing outside the doors of bars and restaurants to determine whether people are sufficiently vaccinated or to make public health decisions about who is to be allowed in?
“It is farcical in every possible way. It is unfair on the restaurant owners and their staff to effectively discriminate between people who have been vaccinated and people who haven’t.
“Some people are nervous about getting vaccinated and some aren’t vaccinated for good medical reasons. Are people expected to explain this to a bouncer at the door of a bar now?
Asked if the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) had too much control, Deputy McNamara claimed NPHET had too much control for more than 12 months.
“The role of advisors is to advise within the parameters set out by government. NPHET has openly challenged the parameters set out by a democratically-elected government.”
When it was put to the deputy NPHET were acting in the interests of public health in the midst of a pandemic, he stated a lot of bad things have been done with good intentions.
“NPHET are public health experts but they are not experts on how to regulate and organise society, that is why weelect Dáil deputies and not abdicate this responsibility to a group of priests as happened in the past, doctors today and occasionally lawyers when legislators have been too cowardly to make decisions in instances like the X case.
“As soon as NPHET say ‘jump’ the government say ‘how high’.”
Asked if the government had other options in view of scientific analysis that the new Delta variant is more transmissible than previous strains, he didn’t dispute this analysis, but warned the next variant may be even more contagious.
“At the start of the pandemic, we had a lockdown to ‘flatten the curve’. The idea was it wouldn’t stop people getting the virus but would stop everyone getting it together.
“Now, having vaccinated the most vulnerable in society in terms of their age, we are going to further restrict society in the middle of summer.
“I have a particular sympathy for restaurants because last year we were told restaurants were safe on the basis people would be seated for a meal for a restricted amount of time.
“I never bought into the idea the substantial meal would protect someone from Covid-19 and I am glad that at least all bars can open outdoors.
“If it was safe for restaurants to operate indoor dining last year, it should be safe this year, and, if not why not?”
He said his constituency office has received a lot of calls from people very concerned about this latest government decision.
The Independent Deputy warned the extension of restrictions on the hospitality sector will have a disproportionate impact for hundreds of businesses throughout Clare, as the local industry is more reliant on tourism-related trade than other counties.
Last October, he recalled a report produced by the Central Bank revealed the Western seaboard was one of the worst affected by the restrictions imposed in the summer of 2020.
He said a lot of businesses in the hospitality sector may not reopen if they have to ask customers for proof of vaccination.
“It is difficult enough for bar owners to distinguish between someone who is over and under 18 without looking for proof of vaccination.
“A lot of bars are relatively small businesses that are family owned. Are they going to have to hire a bouncer at the door of every bar. If you go to the bar and order a drink, will you be asked for a vaccination certificate.
“It is a fairly unworkable proposition.”
While Deputy McNamara accepts that people who are fully-vaccinated are less likely to become infected with the virus, he doesn’t expect Covid-19 or other viruses will disappear in the near future.
“It is up to people to assume the risk that they feel is appropriate to them in their lives.”
Four weeks ago, Deputy McNamara was one of a number of deputies who tabled an amendment to the Bill, but it didn’t get debated because the “government decided they were bored sick of the debate and they would ram it through as it was”.
This amendment would have required the government to put any future regulations to a Dáil vote before they were introduced.
However, he said the government didn’t even debate some of the amendments that were tabled and guillotined the Health and Criminal Justice Covid-19 Amendment Bill.
Taoiseach Micheal Martin has confirmed the return to indoor activities, including hospitality, will be delayed until at least July 19.
Pubs and restaurants will remain closed indoors next week – and the Fianna Fail leader did not give an exact date when eating and drinking indoors will be allowed to resume.
He said: “I’ve been clear in repeating, when a sector or activity reopens, we want to make sure it stays open.
Mr Martin added: “We want to avoid that cycle again. Last night, we were advised by public health officials in stark terms that proceeding on July 5 represents a real risk for hospitalisations, deaths and cases.”
The postponement comes after NPHET shared its latest projections on the impact of the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant at the Cabinet’s sub-committee on Covid-19 on Monday night, which continued until 1am.
Media reports claim a worst-case scenario would potentially see almost 700,000 cases of Covid-19 over July, August and September, with as many as 2,170 deaths as the Delta variant becomes dominant. The most optimistic projection would see 81,000 cases and 165 deaths.
by Dan Danaher