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Deregulation will lead to ‘death of country pubs’

Deregulation of the on-trade licensing system will result in widespread closures of country pubs in County Galway, Vintners’ Federation of Ireland has warned.

And the local representative of VFI has claimed provisions in the new Sale of Alcohol Bill could lead to the ‘homogonisation’ of pubs that remain, leading to the death of the World-renowned Irish bar.

Some elements of Justice Minister Helen McEntee’s proposals were welcomed, but publicans are concerned by plans to abolish ‘extinguishment’ – the licensing system that allows a new pub to open only when another pub permanently closes.

Chair of VFI County Galway, Joe Sheridan told the Connacht Tribune unlimited licenses will kill family-run pubs in small villages across the West of Ireland and Galway towns like Gort, Tuam and Athenry.

“What we have here is a Minister, whose people were in the pub trade, selling this as a way of saving the small, rural pub. It will do the complete opposite. It will extinguish the Irish family pub. It will promote syndication of pubs. What we would’ve known as tied-pubs or franchise pubs in England.

“This is plasticising the Irish pub; it’s making a McDonald’s out of a pub. There will be no variety, and no local connection. It will kill off the one-off family pub,” said Mr Sheridan.

VFI has said that some 1,800 pubs have shut in the past 16 years. The Fianna Fáil County Councillor said this has had real impacts on his own area in North Galway.

“In Dunmore, it means 21 pubs have gone to four and a half – and I’m the half, I open restricted hours. Other pubs open in the evening only. That’s a reaction to modern societal changes, and the way communities are changing. What our minister is trying to do now is proliferate licences to strengthen the provision of pubs in rural and small towns but it will do the complete opposite,” Mr Sheridan said.

The legislation is at the consultative stage, and will progress through the Oireachtas soon.

Mr Sheridan said removing restrictions on who could become a publican could have serious repercussions.

“When you apply for a publican licence, you stand up before a judge – in my case Judge Mary Fahy – and you get quizzed and grilled. Your local Garda station has to confirm you are of good enough character to operate a public house correctly. Within the new legislation, that does not pertain.

Within the new legislation, you won’t need the local fire officer to approve the building. This is going ten steps backwards, in the hope of going one forward,” said Mr Sheridan.

He insisted VFI was not against pubs opening, and licences should transfer to where there is a demand for more pubs.

“But you need to ensure not everyone can get a licence. With the drugs culture now in Ireland, I’d be afraid we’d get poorer quality publicans out of this process change.

“If you have a business that is generationally attached, they’re committed to the business, and the community. This change upsets that balance. We’re seven generations here in North Galway. Other families I know are over 200 years in the game. And you could let fly-by-night, of unscrupulous background to hold a licence?”

Mr Sheridan said the Minister should focus on tightening off-licences and the availability of cheap alcohol instead of de-regulating pub licences.

“Ireland is famous for having pubs, not bakeries or barbers. What are we going to do, mess around and make a balls of it? We are going to make a plastic pub out of Irish pubs. You’ll have Irish people travelling abroad to go to an authentic Irish pub because they won’t be available at home,” he added.

VFI Chief Executive Paul Clancy said the principle of Extinguishment is accepted as a legitimate practice in the Bill where it will remain for new off licences and he asked the same principle is applied to the on-trade.

“Deregulation will precipitate the closure of many pubs as the owners decide to exit the business in the face of unsustainable competition. While the adage ‘the market will find its level’ is strictly true, it fails to take into account the cultural and community value of the existing pubs,” he added.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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