From Thursday every pub and restaurant you go into will be forced to collect a dossier of your time with them. They’ll take your name, your number, the time you were there, what you ate, and, presumably, a rather good explanation of why you ordered your steak well done. They’ll keep that list for the next 28 days so that the guards can come around and decide to do a spot of forensic gastro-accounting to make sure that the fine establishment you go to hasn’t been selling less than the required amount of tiny, 9 euro bowls of humus that have suddenly become so popular.
The substantial meal provision was always a fudge, a political move with no real science behind it. It exists only because FG found it too difficult to treat the public, and publicans, like adults and tell them that pubs could reopen only if they ensured social distancing and people, in the strictest legal sense, didn’t take the piss when they reopened. Instead, presumably because someone in FG HQ once read the index of a book about nudge theory, they struck upon the cute idea that forcing people to spend an additional 9 euro every 105 minutes would somehow limit the desire of Irish people to drink. A plan which showed a lack of awareness of the Irish psyche that is difficult to believe. Then again Simon Harris did once say that no Irish person would drive up North to buy alcohol if prices in the Republic rose because we introduced minimum alcohol pricing; so these are clearly people who can believe, or at least say, anything.
It was nonsense, it was unneeded, it was largely unworkable, and, because it was obviously a ridiculous fudge, it damaged the government’s ability to present other COVID-19 regulations as necessary and important. The only good point about the regulation was that it was so nonsensical that it didn’t look like it could exist longer than a couple of weeks.
Well its future has now been decided and no, it’s not going away. Instead we’ve decided to double down, to turn this bungalow of terrible public policy into some form of brutalist duplex. The Government is now trying to fix a terrible idea with an idea so patently ridiculous, on paper and in application, that it could only have been dreamed up by either a very particular kind of civil servant or someone with experience working as a management consultant.
The trade organisations are enraged, and they’re right to be. Although in the case of the Vinters Federation of Ireland (VFI) it’s hard to feel too sorry for them given that, about a week ago, they called for off-licences to be temporarily banned, in the name of the common good. Maybe there’s a lesson to be learnt here about calling for greater government scrutiny and regulation of the sale of items you also happen to sell.
On the one hand the move is legitimately funny, in the same way losing our trade commissioner, due to the very sudden discovery of a national urge for either political accountability or self-immolation, in the middle of Brexit is funny. On the other hand, it’s an infuriating move that shows the people in command have absolutely no workable plan or strategy to deal with COVID-19, are unable to accept when the policies they have put in place have failed or simply had no impact, and that they are happy to waste time turning pubs and restaurants into some sort of poundland spy network rather than deal with the simple fact that government regulations, rather than COVID-19, are about a month away from driving the majority of pubs in this country into bankruptcy. There is a serious issue here, that will deeply impact upon Ireland, both economically and culturally, and the Government seems to be more concerned with performing the political equivalent of ensuring that the people trying to escape from the Titanic in lifeboats are still fully adhering to the dress code than they are with actually moving to deal with the situation their policies have created.
Our regulations regarding pubs and restaurants are massively more onerous than those in most of Europe, and we don’t seem to have gotten much, if any, benefit from putting those more stringent regulations in place. There is absolutely a need for reasonable, evidence based policies to promote public safety, but the policies the government has chosen to implement, and their approach to the hospitality sector, whilst it won’t kill the virus, will certainly kill many of those businesses.