Several hospitality organisations have told the Oireachtas tourism committee that they want restart grants to meet reopening costs for hospitality sector businesses as well as an extension of the wage subsidy, a waiver of commercial rates for at least another year and a commitment to keep the reduced 9% VAT rate for the hospitality sector in place until at least 2025.
As reported by rte.ie, representatives of the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI), the Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) and the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) appeared before the Oireachtas tourism committee on Tuesday March 23 to make the above calls.
RAI president Adrian Cummins told the committee that half of the RAI's members are facing permanent closure due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and said that restaurants need to know the plans for reopening viably for indoor dining.
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Cummins said that only a fifth of restaurants have the capability to operate outdoor services.
LVA chief executive Donall O'Keeffe asked that the government clarify what circumstances will be necessary for pubs to reopen, such as what percentage of Ireland's population will have to be vaccinated and whether pubs will only be allowed to admit individuals who have been vaccinated.
O'Keeffe also said that there should not be a distinction between pubs that serve food and pubs that do not serve food.
The LVA stated that the most effective pathway to reopening the hospitality sector is to roll out vaccines as quickly as possible, and that while government support for the sector has provided a lifeline, the COVID Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) needs to be doubled for hospitality businesses.
The LVA also stated that, prior to reopening, the entire licensed trade will need a restart grant set at double the level of payment that businesses received last summer, and that it wants the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme to be extended until March of 2021 and an extension of the CRSS for businesses that cannot generate more than 25% of their 2019 average weekly turnover due to COVID-19-related business restrictions.
Additionally, the LVA recommended that the commercial rates waiver for licensed premises be extended until the end of March of next year and that the special 9% VAT rate for the hospitality sector be extended until the end of 2025.
The IHF said that many of its members are using "depleted reserves" to repay bank loans, and called on the government to intervene to ensure that moratoriums are applied.
The IHF stated that an "unnecessarily restrictive credit policy" is being applied in Ireland and asked that the government and the Central Bank review this approach.
IHF chief executive Tim Fenn said that approximately 80% of the IHF's members would apply for a moratorium if the option was available to them, but that at present only 40% of the federation's members have been able to do so.
Fenn told the Oireachtas Committee on Media, Tourism, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht, "There was great disappointment when the European Banking Authority decided to reactivate its guidelines on moratoriums last October, but Irish banks and the Central Bank chose to go on a case by case basis.
"What this has meant is that, we believe, an unnecessarily restrictive credit policy is hiding behind this case by case method. And we will ask the government to engage with the banks and the Central Bank to go and review this approach."
Meanwhile, speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne radio show, Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI) chief executive Padraig Cribben also called on the government to clarify what circumstances will be necessary for pubs to reopen.
Cribben said that he is not suggesting that the government should provide a date for reopening, but that it should provide an indication of the level of vaccination that will be required and the levels at which community transmission of COVID-19 and hospitalisation due to the virus will need to be for pubs to reopen.
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