BY JACKIE KEOGH AND KIERAN O’MAHONY
THE slow roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine is slowly killing off many hospitality businesses and some say they just won’t survive if they can’t open until mid-summer.
Many of West Cork’s leading restaurant owners voiced their anger this week, and slammed the mixed messaging coming from government as they demanded to be ‘treated like grown-ups’.
Owner of Mary Ann’s restaurant in Castletownshend, Fergus O’Mahony, said the reality is that a lot of his fellow restaurant owners in the region won’t reopen.
‘The Covid-19 figures are still high, but I believe that is because the government is not getting the vaccination roll-out right and this is affecting our business,’ he said.
‘Britain has vaccinated 17m people, we have vaccinated 300,000. My wife, Trish and I both have vulnerabilities and we have heard nothing about vaccinations yet. That’s because they are not up to speed. If the vaccinations are in short supply that is their fault. Israel has 60 to 70% of its population vaccinated. The EU has cocked it up.’
Mr O’Mahony said they are lucky that they own their own premises. ‘But there are a lot of people who rent, or have massive mortgages. A lot of our colleagues will not re-open. It is a disaster.’
Gavin and Michelle Moore of Monk’s Lane in Timoleague said they felt extremely deflated about the situation: ‘We haven’t even taken the Christmas decorations down yet. We are so deflated and can’t even think or talk about Monk’s at the moment.’
Siobhan O’Callaghan of Kalbo’s Bistro in Skibbereen said she was annoyed at how reports of a mid-summer reopening were leaked.
‘I won’t be putting the tables back in, I will continue the way we are going,’ said Siobhan, who turned her petite restaurant into a shop that does a good trade in takeaways.
Meanwhile, the Westlodge Hotel in Bantry is currently open for essential services, providing accommodation for healthcare professionals.
Annette O’Donovan, general manager, said: ‘We will only feel the full effects of a Level 5 lockdown when the season is due to start from St Patrick’s weekend onwards.
‘On the upside, we are planning for a busy summer because it’s evident that the domestic market will be strong again this year. But not to be able to reopen in April or May will have a significant impact on our business. It means we will have to adapt and change with the circumstances.’
Regina Daly of The Church Restaurant in Skibbereen said: ‘We are down 80% in terms of turnover, but we are managing to stay afloat. Our focus is to stay open. We are doing takeaway at weekends – it just about covers the bills. We are hoping that we can open in the summer, but outdoor dining is definitely a no-no, it just won’t work for us.’
David Edwards of Jim Edwards Restaurant in Kinsale – which celebrates its 50th birthday later this year and opens at the weekend for takeaways – said he is very disappointed that the government could be so ‘flippant’ with the industry.
‘It’s all these shooting-from-the-hip kind of statements. So many peoples’ lives and jobs depend on this and I find it very frustrating. I just wish they would give the industry some respect as it’s a huge employer.’
Rob Krawczyk of Michelin star Restaurant Chestnut in Ballydehob said Tuesday’s announcement by the Taoiseach was ‘terribly vague.’
‘We are fine. We are diversifying and adapting our business,’ he said. ‘It has allowed us to change what we are doing for the moment until we can reopen as a regular restaurant. We have to do that to survive. It’s hard because people want to go out and eat, but outdoor dining is not the answer to the problem in Ireland.’
Barry McLaughlin, who runs Poachers Inn in Bandon with his wife Catherine, said it gives him no pleasure to give out about the politicians as they have a difficult job to do at the moment.
‘But the way they’re communicating really important messages leaves a lot to be desired. I think Irish people have been very reasonable and supportive of what they are trying to do but I think a lot of people are getting frustrated with the way they are putting out these important messages,’ said Barry who is operating a weekend takeaway.
Owner of the Fig & Olive Café in Clonakilty and chair of Clonakilty Chamber, Orla O’Donovan called on the government to treat restaurant owners like ‘grown ups.’
‘We need a progress report once or twice a week, because at the moment their messaging isn’t strong enough or cohesive,’ said Orla.
Mark Jennings, who runs Pilgrim’s restaurant in Rosscarbery with his partner Sadie Pearce said that they are ‘hanging in there’ at the moment.
‘Our takeaway business at the weekends is ticking us over and we’re also selling provisions from local suppliers, too, and we will continue to do that until we are told otherwise.’
Meanwhile, Fergal Harte, chair of the Cork branch of the Irish Hotels Federation has warned that failure by the government to support the sector now will have long term implications that could take years to repair.