International

Coronavirus: Irish publicans say food receipts law is ‘madness’

Pubs in the Republic of Ireland must keep records of the meals that every customer orders under new legislation to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Irish pubs are not allowed to serve alcohol unless customers order a meal and the government is trying to crack down on those breaking the rules.

Publicans must keep food receipts for 28 days so they can be inspected by Gardaí (police) or health officials.But the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland described the new law as “madness”.

“This is crazy stuff,” said Padraig Cribben, chief executive of the federation.”The idea that a pub must record all food ordered by each customer and then store it for 28 days is bureaucracy gone mad.

“The temporary measure was part of a statutory instrument signed by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly last week.After widespread criticism on Friday, Mr Donnelly explained the measure would be targeted only at pubs that were “flouting” the rules by serving alcohol without food.

However, the Vintners’ Federation and the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) have both complained the changes were imposed without any consultation with the hospitality industry.

RAI chief executive Adrian Cummins told Irish broadcaster RTÉ the new rules were an additional burden on business owners who are already struggling financially because of the pandemic.

Irish pubs are not allowed to serve alcohol unless customers order a substantial meal

The government said the new regulations were necessary to ensure all businesses were complying with coronavirus legislation.

The health minister argued there would be no additional burden on restaurants as they already print and keep food receipts.

His colleague Damien English, Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail, also defended the move, but acknowledged the temporary changes would cause issues for publicans.

“I accept it’s more hassle, it’s more paperwork – I worked in pubs myself when I was younger,” he said.

“This is to enable the health authorities, public health teams as well as the gardaí to monitor compliance with the regulations.

“The regulations are there to protect all of us, but also to reopen business.

“In the summer, the Republic of Ireland eased its lockdown measures by allowing pubs to serve alcohol provided that each customer ordered a “substantial” meal, costing at least €9 (£8).

‘It’s not what they ate’

Since reopening, hospitality businesses have already been required to record information on customers’ visits in order to assist Covid-19 contact tracing.

Mr English confirmed that in addition to taking down client’ names, phone numbers and the time they entered their premises, publicans will now also have to retain proof that they purchased food.

“It’s not what they ate – it’s proof that they did eat,” the junior minister told RTÉ.

Mr English argued the inspections would help to ensure fairness across the industry.

“We would have people saying to us: ‘A business up the road is not using the conditions properly, not using the regulations’,” he said.

“This helps level the playing field.”However, the government has been heavily criticised by opposition parties as well as the hospitality sector.

A health spokesperson for Sinn Féin and Labour leader Alan Kelly both called the measure “bonkers”.