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‘If rural pubs go, you’ll have the rural school and shop going’: Senator says action needed on closures

A senator has called for action from the government to stop the rapid decline of pubs and businesses in rural communities across Ireland. Meath Senator Sharon Keoghan told Gript that if rural pubs continue to shut their doors, the closure of schools and shops in these areas could also be imminent.

She was speaking as new figures from the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland (DIGI) showed that 457 pubs have closed across the country since the start of Covid.

In total, nearly 2,000 pub closures have been seen since 2015. Rural areas have been most heavily impacted, the statistics show, with the biggest decrease in pub numbers seen in Limerick (153 closures, or 32% of pubs). Roscommon saw 77 pubs close (30.3%) while in Cork, 365 pubs stopped operating (29.9%) followed by 47 pub closures in Laois (29.9%).

An additional eight counties have seen their pub numbers decline by more than a quarter: Offaly (47 or 28.7%), Leitrim (40 or 28.6%), Tipperary (150 or 28.6%), Mayo (130 or 27.8%), Longford (30 or 26.5%), Donegal (119 or 26.3%), Clare (96 or 25.7%), and Waterford (66 or 25.4%).

Those steep numbers contrast with Dublin, where only 27 pubs, or 3.4% of pubs, have closed.Although all 26 counties experienced a decline in the number of public houses during the 2005 to 2022 period, the lowest decrease was in Dublin, DIGI said.

DIGI says the data shows the number of closures disproportionately impacts more regional counties and areas outside of urban centres – such as Dublin and the immediate surrounding counties.

The Independent Senator, who was a member of Meath County Council from 2014 until 2020, said that while pubs used to be an important community hub for some older people, the impact of Covid lockdowns mean that is no longer the case.

“I see it in a lot of community activities, that some people from our older generation haven’t rejoined society since Covid,” Senator Keoghan said. “This is an absolutely terrible shame, because they obviously feel totally isolated. The rural pub was always a community hub, and a place to congregate and for people to go to.

“Particularly for our older generation in rural areas, pubs were important to go to and meet others. You would always have had older people going there for social events, or simply just to meet people. Obviously, that has all stopped during Covid, with people getting so fearful. It’s a shame that that type of socialising did not come back for very many older people after Covid ended,” she said.

She said that more needs to be done by an “urban centred” government to ensure rural communities can “survive and thrive”. It comes as analysis, included in the report, conducted by economist Athony Foley noted that pubs in Ireland’s towns, villages, and rural areas operate on tight margins and are put at increased risk of having to close up shop – despite their significance for the cultural and social life of such areas.

“It’s a great shame to see rural pubs dying, because these pubs were the heart and soul of many rural communities. I think this government is very much urban-centred, centred around the bigger areas, with all the funding going into such places. More needs to be done for rural communities to survive and thrive.

“I think more incentives need to be given to businesses and small enterprises to create opportunities in rural communities, because if rural pubs go, you’ll have rural schools going, and you’ll have the rural shop going. That is not where we want our society to be, and we cannot have a government that is focused on moving everyone in to the urban areas.

“I do a lot of work in rural communities, and I would hate to see pubs and shops and schools closing down because of people not using these places. It’s important that people support local as well, and we need to remember the ‘use it or lose it’ mentality. It is important that rural communities support their local businesses, because otherwise they’ll be gone.”

Chair of DIGI, Kathryn D’Arcy, meanwhile said that Ireland’s high excise rate on beer and spirits are to blame, urging the government to lower the rate. Ms D’Arcy, who is also communications and corporate affairs director at Irish Distillers, said:

“We have some of the highest excise duties in the world and the second highest in europe overall, despite the industry being at the heart of Ireland’s tourism sector and its international reputation as a vibrant destination.

“The majority of the almost 2,000 pubs cited in the report which have closed represent the closure of a small or family-run business, the loss of a livelihood, and the disappearance of a high-street landmark.”

Ms D’Arcy said on Tuesday that a sustainable operating environment must be created for the sector, and particularly for those in more rural parts of the country who “are being disproportionately impacted by government policy,” adding:

“To address this challenge, DIGI are calling on Government to deliver a reduction in Ireland’s extremely high excise duties which would make an immediate, positive difference to the hundreds of small businesses in our sector struggling to stay open.”

Senator Keoghan said that while the Irish have a great spirit of looking after and supporting their own, rural Ireland remains under threat.

“Many policies of this government are to blame, and the government should now look at giving rural businesses more incentives to survive and thrive,” the Senator said.

“We are seeing rural churches closing, along with businesses, which is very difficult for people. It’s going to be a big challenge going forward, particularly for rural areas, to make sure the local churches, pubs and shops and schools stay open.”

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