Publican: NI beer garden rules force customers to get wet – it makes no sense

A publican who runs a trio of venues across Northern Ireland has said the current rules on beer gardens just do not make sense, and has implored politicians to think again.

Friday, 7th May 2021, 8:00 am
Updated Friday, 7th May 2021, 9:46 am

Stephen McGorrian the managing director of the Horatio Group, was speaking to the News Letter as he and others like him await the government’s long-sought-after permission to fully re-open, both inside and outside.

He runs the Northern Whig in central Belfast, Horatio Todd’s on the city’s east side, and Denvir’s in Downpatrick, employing about 100 people (part time and full time).

Only the latter two are allowed to open, because they have outdoor areas where customers have been allowed to gather since April 30, albeit in limited numbers.

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Generic image of women outside a pub on a rainy day, by artist It's No Game, from: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/9c76aca9-2bc9-4eb3-b351-e12dc0418c6c

It is not expected to be until May 24 that pubs will be allowed to cater to customers indoors.

Whilst Mr McGorrian said he counts himself lucky, in that he is able to cater ok to his outdoor customers, he said the rules governing such trade simply do not add up.

He told the News Letter the problem rests on the fact that the government is using the same rules it applied during the smoking ban to determine whether or not an outdoor space like a beer garden is truly ‘outdoorsy enough’ to qualify for re-opening.

“Firstly I think everybody in hospitality recognises the fact that we are in a pandemic and all have to play a part,” said Mr McGorrian.

But as time has gone on, he believes not enough communication has taken place between government and the businesses it is regulating.

“That has led to, effectively, some really silly decisions,” he continued.

“For example: you can open up outdoors, but they want to use the 2007 smoking ban legislation, which means if you have walls, you cannot have a roof – and if it rains your people just get wet.

“The legislation basically says that if you want to smoke, you need to smoke in an area that is ‘at least 50% open’.”

In other words, if a pub has a walled beer garden, then in order to qualify as “50% open” the garden must have little-to-no cover in terms of awnings and parasols.

The result? Customers either sit and get rained on, or they huddle under what limited shelter there is – forcing them closer together and defeating the whole point of the restrictions in the first place.

He is hoping for the date for indoor pub spaces opening to be brought forward, at least for those who wish to order food.

He also argued that he “does not fully buy” the idea that opening the indoor parts of pubs is risky, on the basis that people are simply going round to one-another’s houses for drinks instead – where there is zero regulation.

Ultimately, his message is this: “Look at the current legislation being used for outdoor spaces. A place can still be well-ventilated with a parasol. It doesn’t make sense not to cover people when it’s raining.”

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