Angry NI restaurant owner tells Executive ahead of crunch meeting: ‘Make a decision on lockdown today, we need to know if we can open’

An angry restaurant owner has blasted the “farcical” Northern Ireland Executive ahead of a crunch meeting that could decide whether the hospitality industry can reopen before Christmas.

Ian Clyde, owner of the Bronte Steakhouse in Banbridge, urged Ministers to “just make a decision” as he stressed the need for certainty about the restrictions that will be in place when the current two-week circuit breaker lockdown comes to an end on December 11.

Speaking to the News Letter, Mr Clyde warned against a repeat of the “farce” from the Executive last month which culminated in the present lockdown restrictions after a confused period of negotiations by Ministers.

The Executive is meeting again today to discuss the arrangements for the period after midnight on Thursday, December 10, when the current restrictions expire.

Ian Clyde, owner of the Bronte Steakhouse, has urged the NI Executive to make a decision on lockdown today

It is as yet unclear whether anything will be decided at today’s meeting, and the possibility remains that a decision won’t be taken or announced until next week.

“We have to hear an announcement this afternoon,” Mr Clyde said. “At the very latest tomorrow to give us a chance — that would give me the weekend and up to Thursday next week to get myself ready to go. If they do the same as the last time, I think we found out on Twitter and we had already had the decision made because it was already too late.”

Asked for his views on the way the decision to impose the current restrictions was taken and communicated, he said: “The Executive has been an absolute farce. I don’t want to come across as saying that the government are doing the wrong thing. If this is what they need to be doing, then fair enough, I’ve no issue with that. If this is what needs to be done, do it. But make the decision. I could start cursing, but I’ll try not to. Just make the decision.”

My Clyde also explained why the need for clarity is so important to his business and others in the hospitality industry, saying: “There’s about two or three reasons. Firstly, we have nothing done for Christmas. We need at least a few days to get ready for Christmas, to get the decorations done.

“Secondly, the suppliers don’t keep an endless supply of produce. They need to know if we’re going to be open so they can bring produce in to supply us.

“Thirdly, we need money. We’re only a small restaurant. What we do in two weeks, some restaurants in Belfast could maybe do in two days. We need those two weeks to potentially save our Christmas, if that’s the right way to put it. We could potentially, partly save our Christmas is they allow us to open. The restrictions that were put in place before we closed, I can handle those - they can’t impose any further restrictions.”

Speaking about the impact on his staff, the Bronte Steakhouse owner said: “Between full and part time I employ around 20 people. As I say, we’re not a big restaurant but no matter how big or small you are you still have your bills to pay and your staff still have their bills to pay.

“I have three full time staff, who have been getting the furlough. I have two part-time staff who have a set amount of hours that they do every week and they have got their furlough. The rest of them are casual staff — they haven’t got a penny, not a bean, and I can’t afford to subsidise them. I just can’t afford to, as much as I would love to.”