Limiting hospitality in NI to increase vaccine uptake is blackmail says hospitality chief

The suggestion that Covid rules governing pubs and restaurants could be tightened in order to increase vaccine uptake has been labelled ‘blackmail’ by Hospitality Ulster’s Colin Neill.

Wednesday, 4th August 2021, 8:00 am
Hospitality Ulster’s Colin Neill said that making it a requirement for people to prove they have received both jabs to enter indoor venues was “blackmail” rather than being an incentive. Photo: Cathal McNaughton/PA Wire

After the Republic of Ireland’s vaccination rates surpassed Northern Ireland’s at the weekend, the Department of Health’s Chief Scientific Advisor Professor Ian Young hailed Ireland’s hospitality guidelines, which he said had “incentivised” vaccination by requiring people to prove they’ve been doubled jabbed before entering indoor venues.

During an interview with the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme Prof Young said he would “clearly support” any policy which encouraged people to get vaccinated.

He said: “For a long time the vaccination programme in Northern Ireland was leading in terms of the island of Ireland, we rolled it out really effectively.

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Hospitality Ulster's Colin Neill

“Just over the weekend the Republic of Ireland has passed us. There are probably many reasons for that but I’m sure that one of the reasons has been that people are incentivised to get vaccinated as a result of wanting to get into the hospitality sector.”

Hospitality Ulster Chief Executive Mr Neill commented: “Why single out hospitality? Why not shops, buses, trains – why pick on us?

“I have great respect for the Chief Medical Officer (Michael McBride), the Health Minister (Robin Swann) and Ian Young (Chief Scientific Advisor), but they have made it clear they don’t want our input.”

Mr Neill claimed Hospitality Ulster have not been able to secure a meeting with the health trio “for several months”.

He said they had offered to help with the campaign to encourage young people to get the vaccine: “Because our membership touches on nightclubs and music venues, we approached the Department of Health through the Executive and said, ‘we can get you celebrity DJs, musicians free of charge to help the campaign to target young people – all the proper influencers’. They never responded.

“I think maybe they should look at their marketing campaign, why their’s is failing and everyone else’s is working, before they pick on hospitality and single us out.

“With the greatest respect young people don’t listen to three oul fogeys on a stage behind podiums, they don’t even watch live TV.”

Addressing a possible introduction of hospitality rules whereby people must provide evidence of both Covid jabs to enter indoor venues, Mr Neill said: “This isn’t incentivising – when you start to make it limited access it’s actually blackmail. Incentivising is offering discounts and stuff like that, freebies.

“With this you’re putting onto an industry that has already suffered considerably.

“It’s not our role to make people get vaccinated. We have offered help and been ignored.

“In the rest of the UK the health service fund a QR code track and trace system to go into premises, the PHA didn’t do that here so we raised £150,000 from Diageo.”

The Covid Venues App, funded by Guinness, was launched by Hospitality Ulster in May this year.

“We asked the Department of Health do they want to be involved, do they want to have direct access to the server – nothing. Every time we reach out to say we can maybe help – nothing. Yet they’re happy to sit at a distance and without any engagements and just make statements.

“They haven’t met with us in months – it’s ironic. We’re the most severely impacted with restrictions that come from health but health will not speak to us. I know they’re busy, I know that livelihoods come second to lives, but they come bloody close.”

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