NI publicans are hoping that it’s “third-time lucky” for the reopening of drink-only bars in Northern Ireland.
The NI Executive has given pubs that do not serve food an indicative date of 21 September for reopening.
Previously, the 10 August was the date set for so-called “wet pubs” to reopen, but that was then pushed back to 1 September.
However, the executive then said it could not approve this due to “increased transmission” of the virus.
“This is the third indicative date, so lets just hope it’s third time lucky,” west Belfast bar manager Gerard Keenan said.
The indicative date was announced on Thursday at the same time it was confirmed that restrictions would be reintroduced in parts of Northern Ireland after a rise in cases of coronavirus.
Wary of ‘rogue premises’
The reopening date of 21 September will need to be ratified closer to the time by the executive.
Non-food pubs in the Republic of Ireland are also aiming to reopen on the same date but the Irish government has said that decision is being kept under constant review.
Drink-only bars which have not been trading due to Covid-19 restrictions are “losing thousands of pounds” weekly, according to industry group Hospitality Ulster.
Restaurants, cafes, and bars that serve food have been allowed to trade since 3 July.
Hospitality Ulster said the decision to give pubs a new reopening date would “help secure hundreds of businesses and thousands of jobs that have been hanging in the balance”.
Its chief executive Colin Neill said the hospitality sector has been putting in a lot of work to ensure guidance will be followed but that the industry needs to be wary of “rogue premises” that do not enforce stringent safety measures.
Speaking to BBC Radio Foyle, Mr Neill said: “There are no guarantees in life, we have to work towards this date and ensure we’ve proper regulations in place as we are in a very fluid situation with the virus.”
He warned that “the whole industry could be closed if it does not open safely”.
“It’s a positive step and we have to work now to ensure the date is delivered,” Mr Neil said.
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Gerard Keenan cautiously welcomed the announcement but said he is hoping it comes to fruition.
Speaking to BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme, Mr Keenan said: “It’s a mixed message coming across, but we wouldn’t open if we didn’t think it was safe.
“We have our measures in place and I just hope and pray that everything goes according to plan and we can open.
“If it goes on any longer our business will be done.”
Speaking on Thursday, Prof Ian Young, NI’s chief scientific adviser, told the press briefing he was satisfied the mitigations being taken by the hospitality industry would ensure it was safe to reopen.
Mrs Foster said at present, the “villain is not in businesses where numbers of customers are regulated”.
“It’s is in our homes – it is the house party, it is the dinner party – it is the few people coming around for drinks or coffee,” she added.