Key representatives of Northern Ireland’s concert and nightclub industry, in partnership with Hospitality Ulster, have called on the NI Executive to review social distancing as a matter of urgency, and provide a full re-opening date for those venues still closed, or operating at a reduced capacity, when it meets on Thursday.
As Furlough comes to an end, there is mounting concern that these industries and their staff will face imminent financial peril if the Executive does not intervene.
Venues such as the SSE Arena, Oh Yeah Music Centre, The Limelight and Voodoo have collectively spoken out about the need for a full re-opening date coinciding with the relaxation of all remaining restrictions on concerts, nightclubs and licensed premises. The industry has demonstrated its willingness to work with the Covid Task Force to provide Covid secure venues which can allow venues to operate safely.
Nightclub events and standing concerts have both been totally disallowed since March 2020 under COVID restrictions, with no indicative reopening date currently. The rest of the UK is now fully re-opened, with many venues, pubs and nightclubs having been open for months at this stage. The Republic of Ireland is set to fully reopen without restrictions on October 22nd.
A substantial number of technical staff, artists and supporting staff are still unable to return to work, and now cannot claim financial support under the furlough scheme. Many upcoming concerts and events are in danger of cancellation or reschedule as social distancing continues to have a huge impact on venue capacities, with many premises losing money whilst trading at maximum occupancy currently permitted.
Colin Neill, Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster commented:
“It is imperative that the Executive makes a decision now – we cannot continue with no plan and no support for the hundreds of businesses and thousands of staff that are desperate to know their fate. After months of speculation about Covid passports for hospitality, we still do not know if they are planned and what they would entail.
“Hospitality businesses cannot withstand additional measures on top of the punitive restrictions that already exist. Equally they cannot endure the current situation, if the Executive cannot or will not make a decision of the removal of restrictions then they must step in and support the industry which is Northern Irelands fourth largest private sector employer.”
Adrian Doyle, Head of Experience Operations for The Odyssey Trust, owners of The SSE Arena, Belfast said:
“We were pleased to get up and running with our first events last weekend but despite the recent relaxations there are still challenges that need to be addressed. We still must implement social distancing in our hospitality areas, which has had a significant knock-on effect on queues for catering units and toilet facilities and led to increased staffing costs that are not sustainable. Standing concerts and events are still not possible either.
“As an industry, we have shown our willingness and commitment to operate safely through Covid status certification and we will continue to do so, when other regulations are removed. It is imperative that social distancing is reviewed on October 7th, and a timeline for the removal of the remaining restrictions is provided, so businesses can plan ahead, and jobs and livelihoods can be preserved.”