No restrictions have been imposed on hospitality opening hours in Northern Ireland but the Northern Ireland Executive is due to meet on Wednesday with further measures on the agenda
Publicans in Donegal hope the Northern Ireland Executive will introduce measures that will ease the disparity in opening hours between pubs on both sides of the Border.
New restrictions which impose an 8pm closing time on hospitality venues, cinemas and theatres came into effect on Monday.
It is the second successive Christmas that the sector has faced restrictions at what is traditionally its busiest time of the year.
The new restrictions have been imposed to deal with the threat from the Covid-19 Omicron variant.
No restrictions have been imposed on hospitality opening hours in Northern Ireland but the Northern Ireland Executive is due to meet on Wednesday with further measures on the agenda.
Martin Harley, treasurer of the Donegal branch of the Vinters Association of Ireland (VFI), said publicans in the county would welcome the same opening hours on both sides of the Border.
Mr Harley, a county councillor who runs the Cheers bar in Ballybofey, said: “You would welcome the same [opening hours] on both sides the same, but ideally you would like both sides to be open [without restrictions].”
Mr Harley said people coming to pubs and then booking taxis to cross the border to enjoy later opening times had been a regular occurrence when bars in the Republic were closing at 11pm.
“We have people coming into bars and have a taxi booked to go into Derry or Omagh or Strabane. People can get around the restrictions. There is a meeting of the executive on Wednesday and maybe there will be change.”
He said publicans are relieved to be operating in some capacity this Christmas.
While acknowledging that restrictions were inevitable in face of the Omicron variant, he said publicans fear restrictions introduced during the pandemic will change the way people socialise permanently.
Figures released by the VFI and the Licenced Vintners’ Association in October revealed 33 pubs have closed in Donegal since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, out of 349 nationally. The number of pubs in the county has dropped to 334.
Mr Harley said more businesses will fold if restrictions continue long term. “It’s very hard to know many pubs will be left,” he said.
“We have to be realistic about it - the restrictions have changed people’s attitude towards going out. People are staying at home and not going out and into the future staying at home could be the new going out,” he said.
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