02 Dec 2021

Hefty fine of €2,500 for Donegal hotel manager who breached Covid regulations on licenced premises

Judge says a strong message has to go out regarding breaches

Donegal courthouse

Donegal Town courthouse

A Donegal hotel manager has been ordered to pay €2,500 for two separate breaches of Covid-19 regulations on the licenced premises. 

Seamus Gallagher, 72, of Portnoo Road, Ardara was before Donegal District Court on Wednesday. He pleaded to two counts of breaching regulations to prevent, limit, minimise or slow the spread of Covid-19 at the Bayview Hotel, Killybegs. The offences took place on July 17, 2020 and August 9, 2020.

Inspector David Durkin told the court that on the first date, Garda Paul McCrossan inspected the licenced hotel bar at 20.50. 

“There were up to 18 men sitting on stools around the pillars at the bar,” said the inspector. “They had fresh drinks and no sign of food. 

“Garda McCrossan spoke to the barman who said only four had had food.”

The garda asked to speak to the manager and was told he wasn’t present.

He then asked if a register was being kept and was told it was not. 

The second breach was detected when Garda McCrossan called back to the premises a few weeks later to view the register. 

“As he entered the bar there were 14 people there,” said Inspector Durkin. 

“He asked a member of staff for the register. It couldn’t be located. 

“Nobody had any food in front of them. They had fresh alcohol. 

“The person in charge said some people may have ordered food, and food had been served earlier. 

“Garda McCrossan inspected the register. There were some names on it and no contact details or times.”

Solicitor Diarmuid Barry cited the difficulties in keeping up with changing regulations and the challenge of recruiting and training staff as part of the reason for non-compliance. 

He added that the clientele were all local and it was difficult to ask someone who had been drinking in the bar for years to give their name and address.

Judge Alan Mitchell said that a strong message had to go out regarding breaches of public health regulations, pointing out: “In regard to the second offence, we were in the middle of a massive controversy that was labelled ‘Golfgate.’”

Mr Barry replied that the strong message would fall on deaf ears since everything had since opened up. He added that he could count on two hands the number of times that he had been asked for a Covid vaccination cert since that legislation had been introduced.

Judge Mitchell said: “There was a particular regulation in place at the time. 

“Food or meals and a register kept was the obligation placed on licence holders to open up while there were a number of other licence holders who couldn’t open up and had to rely on €350 per week.

"There was a lot of annoyance and upset about that at the time, about the differences for what were being called wet pubs and dry pubs. It was a source of considerable annoyance to people who could not open their licenced premises to see regulations not being adhered to."

“You drew the analogy of not being asked for your Covid cert.

“The issue is that the non-vaccinated person turns up at a licenced premises. If they don’t have a Covid cert they should not be allowed in. 

“The situation has changed but I expect licence holders to comply with any regulations. The only mechanism of assurance of compliance is potential consequences of not complying.”

The judge imposed a fine of €1,000 for the first offence and €1,500 for the second which he pointed out, had occurred less than a month later. 

Judge Mitchell added that had the defendant not pleaded guilty, the fines would have been €1,500 and at least €2,000 respectively. The maximum fine available to the court was €4,000.

Mr Barry pointed out that another publican who had come before Donegal District Court had received a lesser sanction of two fines of €500 each.

Judge Mitchell replied: "He was lucky he came before one of my colleagues and not me.

"I have to impose a fine that will wipe out profits made."

Recognisance was set at a bond of €1,000 in the event of an appeal being lodged.

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