Thousands of jobs threatened by new pub restrictions, industry warns

Thousands of jobs will be lost due to new restrictions on pubs and restaurants in Northern Ireland, the industry has warned.

Bars which do not serve food have already endured one of the longest lockdowns in Europe and were only able to open again on September 23.

Pubs and restaurants will now again close for four weeks, with the exception of takeaways and deliveries, First Minister Arlene Foster said.

Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill said the decision has left businesses reeling.

He warned: “The consequence today is thousands upon thousands of job losses, and I do not say that lightly.

“People do not know where to turn today.”

Hostelries have installed strict measures to enforce social distancing.

Mr Neill added: “We have already done more than any other industry to protect our customers, staff and community.”

He said Prime Minister Boris Johnson needs to step in with extra support during a “crisis” for his industry, and warned hundreds of businesses do not know whether they will survive.

“We are in freefall and we do not know where the bottom is,” he warned.

Gerard Keaney, general manager of the Northern Whig, said Stormont keeps moving the goal posts.

“We have jumped through every hoop that we have been asked to and it is just not enough.”

The business opened in 1997 as Northern Ireland’s decades of violence largely ended.

Prime Minister’s Questions
Prime Minister’s Questions

It is a major employer in Belfast’s city centre nightlife hub, the Cathedral Quarter.

Mr Keaney added: “There is no reserve.

“Where do we go if there is another lockdown after four weeks?

“The industry just cannot survive.”

He asked ministers to disclose the science guiding their decisions.

Chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young recently said health chiefs were concerned about people mixing after consuming alcohol.

Mr Keaney said: “We exist on people.

“The economy exists on interactions with customers, on tourists coming in.

“We cannot survive in this current climate if they keep changing the goal posts.”

Stephen Meldrum is Northern Ireland Hotels Federation president and general manager of the lofty Grand Central Hotel – Belfast’s highest building.

The Grand Central opened its doors in 2018 and enjoys bird’s eye views from its 23 floors.

Mr Meldrum said: “Today’s announcement has brought even more uncertainty in what is a very uncertain time for the hotel industry.

“At this moment in time we actually do not know where we sit.

“We are almost between a rock and a hard place.

“We have not been mandated to close.

“Without being mandated to close we are not able to avail of financial interventions, be it from Westminster or our local Executive.”

A specially-commissioned report from the federation forecasts that at least one million less hotel rooms will be sold this year.

Overall trading for the hotel sector is expected to fall to under £250 million in 2020, around one third of last year’s turnover figure.

The hotel sector supports about 13,000 jobs and Mr Meldrum said the industry could lose up to a fifth of its skilled workforce, which it has worked hard to acquire.

“It is a massive impact on our industry,” he added.