"They can't surely expect people just to go to the wall" - That's the reaction of one Newry Publican to the extremely dire situation they find themselves in through no fault of their own.

The Publican who doesn't want to be named would be typical of most of the local bar owners who still can't reopen because they are so called 'wet pubs', ie bars that don't serve food or have a beer garden.

If they did they would have been able to open two weeks ago when bars that did were allowed to. Their regulars have been long looking forward to sitting down with their pint "The feedback from our customers is that they can't wait." said the bar owner, although it has turned into a game of waiting and waiting ... and waiting.

Many Publicans in Newry still don't know when they are allowed to reopen. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
Many Publicans in Newry still don't know when they will be allowed to reopen. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

Traditionally the sole purpose of a bar was just to serve drink and it is only in recent times many began to serve food and move facilities outside, following smoking regulations, but there are still many traditional bars in Newry and surrounds whose owners find themselves completely frustrated they can't get an answer from Stormont on when they will be able to reopen

Bars have closed 17 weeks ago and many got a £10K government grant for the business. Commenting onthe grant they received the Publican pointed out "It's long since gone, it was used for the pub but personally we have got nothing and on a personal basis I don't know how you keep a house and pay the bills with nothing coming in"

Continuing they said "We have staff furloughed but from 1 August instead of getting 80% back we are only getting 70% back, then it's going down to 60% and we have to make up the wage, and nothing coming in. We are trying to give our workers the full wage. It doesn't make sense, we are paying them and I know we are getting 80% back but we are not getting anything in ourselves, and now it's getting cut down to 70%  then 60%. It's a case of do you make them redundant. We are using our own money because we want to keep our staff. Good staff are hard to come by"

Seeing things begin to pick up in recent years they spent money on the premises. They were beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel but it has been short lived. Now money is just flowing one way, insurance, electricity, telephone. Satellite TV services like BT and Sky require a substantial monthly payment and while some relaxed their charges they are now going to be charging again from August. The only slight relief for business is that there is a rates break at the moment.

Speaking about the potential for applying to the council for outdoor facilities including pavement or in car park spaces to enable them to get round the regulations the publican said "We could put a gazebo up and say we have a beer garden. Our customers don't want to do that. They want to come in and sit and have a bit of crack. I certainly wouldn't want to be sitting out in the street"

Like many 'locals' their bread and butter is the regular crowd they all know by name and a normal day would see a dozen or so customers in, people coming in after work for a couple of pints, so they are certainly not packed out.

Local pubs are generally all family pubs. "They are in it all their lives and know what they're doing" said the Vintner adding "We are not a nightclub, we don't have crowds coming in that you don't know who they are. We know all our customers."

Their bar is sitting virtually ready to go, they have all the warning posters, hand sanitisers and social distancing requirements in place but they need to be told a date in advance to enable them to order in stock. "I want Stormont to give us a date. We need a date to be able to get stock in. At the minute we have no beer and it would be about a week till we would get an order in." says the Publican adding "When they let restaurants and other pubs open they opened them on a Friday. Whoever decided that on a Friday was mad. It should have been like the south. Open on the Monday, let people ease in"

With the south postponing their reopening plans, it's a worry that a date for here could be put back too. Circumstance locally have got so bad that some local pubs are talking about opening with or without a date  "We simply can't go on" says the Publican.

An Armagh bar, McKennas has launched a petition for the reopening of all 'wet bars' at WWW.CHANGE.ORG

Today it has been announced that from next year bars in the north will be able to open later, both during the week and at weekends. Sadly if things don't improve very soon there may be some Newry bars not opening at all next year!

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