'Total chaos' - Hundreds of NI pubs, cafes and restaurants not permitted to reopen tomorrow because of failed checks according to Hospitality Ulster chief Colin Neill

Hundreds of pubs, cafes and restaurants across Northern Ireland that had planned to reopen tomorrow are unable to do so because of increased enforcement of Covid-19 restrictions, according to the Chief Executive Officer of Hospitality Ulster, Colin Neill.

Thursday, 29th April 2021, 6:01 pm

Northern Ireland hospitality businesses are permitted to open tomorrow for the first time since the current lockdown was imposed on December 26, 2020 but a specific criteria must be met before doing so.

"It's total chaos - chaos as a result of the Executive office refusing to engage for months," said Mr. Neill on BBC Radio Ulster programme Evening Extra.

Mr. Neill said the regulations that will be in place when the pubs, restaurants and cafes reopen tomorrow are the same regulations used last summer.

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There is concern throughout the hospitality sector this evening that they might not be able to reopen the way they might have liked tomorrow.

Mr. Neill believes the change has not come as a result of rules being amended but by an increase in the way in which the regulations are being enforced.

"If someone had have sat down with us in the months beforehand said these are the rules you are going to open under for outdoor then we could have informed the industry.

"We could have even told them (NI Executive) that what they were proposing would not work for us and we would have told them not to bother opening up outdoor hospitality."

Mr. Neill added: "We are left now with loads of businesses who have brought back staff, spent money - money they don't have - it's a direct slap in the face to our industry.

"We are three weeks away from indoor hospitality reopening and we probably won't be told anything about that either.

"We'll just be told 'you're opening and here's the rules'."

The Executive Office issued a statement seeking to clarify any questions people may have concerning outdoor hospitality.

"The Executive has confirmed the position in relation to the regulations in advance of the re-opening of outdoor hospitality tomorrow.

"There has been no change to the definition of indoor and outdoor areas which applied last year.

"The definition of ‘enclosed’ and ‘substantially enclosed’ comes from the smoke-free legislation from 2007 and is directly referenced in the regulations. This was the same definition that was in place last July. The position remains that the general rule of thumb is that outdoor premises should not be more than 50% enclosed.

"The definition from the smoke-free legislation was used on the basis that it was a good comparator in terms of the aim to ensure adequate ventilation and was well understood by the hospitality sector and by district councils. The same definition is also used in England, Scotland and Wales.

"Covid-19 is still circulating in the community and tomorrow’s relaxation has a focus on the outdoors, as we seek to move forward in small steps.

"Officials in the relevant departments have engaged extensively with different sectors in advance of tomorrow’s relaxations and further engagement is planned to explain the position and try to ensure consistency of approach and for councils to work with businesses to allow them to operate in line with the regulations."

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