Donegal publican and staff fined for late drinking and breaches of Covid regulations

Staff claimed that food had been served earlier, the court heard

Donegal courthouse

Donegal Town courthouse

A Donegal publican has been fined for after hours drinking and a staff member fined for breaches of Covid regulations on the same date.

A second staff member was fined for breaching Covid regulations on another occasion.

Phonsie O’Donnell, 62, with an address at O’Donnell’s Bar, Diamond, Donegal, was before Donegal District Court on Monday. He pleaded guilty to charges relating to after hours drinking at the Village Tavern, Main Street, Mountcharles on August 24, 2020.

Barman John McGroary, 40, of Ballymacahill, Inver was not present in court.  

He was charged with breaching regulations put in place to prevent, limit, minimise or slow the spread of Covid-19 at the Village Tavern, also on August 24, 2020. A guilty plea was entered through solicitor Eunan Gallagher who represented all three defendants. 

James O’Haire, 54, of 61D The Park, Blue Cedars, Glenfinn Road, Ballybofey was charged with breaching regulations put in place to prevent, limit, minimise or slow the spread of Covid-19 at the same premises on July 5, 2020. 

Inspector David Durkin told the court that while only one charge was going ahead for July 5, there had been two breaches before midnight and one after, all on the same night.

He said that at 9.15pm, Garda Elaine Kelly and Garda Stephen Morrisey inspected the premises. There was no sign displayed to advise patrons of regulations. Furthermore, patrons were sitting at tables in the bar with no evidence of food being served. 

“Gardaí did a walk through and looked at each table,” said Inspector Durkin. “There was no food, cutlery, etc, no social distancing in respect of two metres between tables.”

They spoke to the barman who told them that food had been served earlier. 

“There was no evidence of that,” said Inspector Durkin. “He then said he was currently taking pizza orders which would be delivered.”

The inspector said that gardaí returned after midnight and found that there were 12 to 15 people still on the premises. 

“There was no evidence that anything had been done to rectify the situation from earlier,” he said. “There were a number of people coming from the bar with drinks.”

He added that a number of people left the premises after 1.30pm and got into taxis.

The second set of charges came about as a result of an inspection by Garda Brian Gallagher and Sergeant Oliver Devaney. 

They called to the Village Tavern at 12.20am on August 24. The front door was closed and locked.

“They could hear substantial activity inside,” said the inspector. 

The front door opened as two people left the premises and gardaí were able to enter. 

Inspector Durkin said they found  people inside.

“There was a lot of alcohol on tables,” he said. “Some glasses were full of alcohol. Gardaí were satisfied that they had just been served.”

Barman John McGroary identified himself to gardaí as the person in charge at the time. He told them that food had been served at 9pm, with last orders taken at 10.45pm.

“He said patrons were waiting on taxis,” said Inspector Durkin. “There were 13 people on the premises plus the two members of staff.”

Solicitor Eunan Gallagher said the offence on July 4 had occurred just after the premises had reopened.

“This is a licenced premises that does have a substantial restaurant attached,” said Mr Gallagher.

He added that because the proprietor had spent many years in the US, he held a regular July 4 celebration, and there had been a barbeque earlier. 

“There was a failure to comply to the letter or the law but it was a difficult time for himself and the staff,” said Mr Gallagher. “The premises was reopened after being closed for a long time and people stayed on longer than was appropriate.”

Regarding the offences on August 24, Mr Gallagher said that again, food had been served earlier. 

The solicitor said his client had been in the pub business since his return from the US.

“He runs two premises in an orderly way,” said Mr Gallagher. “These offences are failure to comply with regulations that were relatively new at the time.” 

Judge Deirdre Gearty acknowledged that all the defendants had entered guilty pleas and none of them had previous convictions. 

“However,” she said, “these are very serious breaches at a time when the country was going through a pandemic.

“My understanding is that the Vintners’ Association tried to keep everyone up to speed with what was happening. 

“I am not getting a flavour that this was a rebellion ignoring it completely. But it is serious. Breaches of regulations can’t be condoned. At the advice of NPHET, the government was doing its best to keep  us all safe and I think they did a very good job.

“People who aren’t adhering to regulations have to be dealt with seriously.”

Phonsie O’Donnell was fined €500. The  two employees were fined €250 each.

Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.

Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.