Several weeks ago, Michael Healy Rae, TD, took over the internet when he asked the Tánaiste to explain to him “the difference between a person inside in a pub with a pint of Guinness in this hand and a toasted cheese sammich in this hand… and a person inside in another pub with a pint of Guinness in this hand and no toasted cheese sammich”.
Gesturing with his arms, he told Leo Varadkar “you are a doctor - could you please explain to me why that poses a public health danger to that person drinking that pint and eating that sandwich or not”.
I don’t know how many times I’ve watched that video - or quoted Deputy Healy Rae (though my Kerry accent isn’t quite up to scratch). But he made a good point in response to the government’s initial decision not to reopen what have since become known as “wet pubs” on August 10.
Since then, the reopening of pubs has been postponed further and, in fact, new regulations have cause a stir for pubs and establishments that serve food.
Last week, it was reported in several publications that, if you have your pint and meal, the pub is being asked to make a record of what you had - and to keep that record for a total of 28 days.
But what difference does it make whether I ordered the steak (cooked medium, in case that’s important) or the chicken? Does it protect those around me more if I have the mashed potatoes or the chips? Am I more at risk of contracting Covid-19 if I order the pinot grigio or the sauvignon blanc?
Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar, has since clarified that these new regulations only apply to pubs that are flouting the rules and saying they’re serving food, when really they’re not. They’ll be asked to provide till receipts to prove that they are serving “substantial meals”.
But is it really that big of a deal if they are “flouting the rules”?
There are so many pubs in rural Ireland that are suffering detrimental losses since they closed almost seven months ago. In fact, a large number of pubs in Longford closed their doors before the government told them to - taking public health and safety into consideration before it was even asked of them.
Should people like that really be punished with further loss of income and threat of permanent closure? Should they really have to just watch on as people break regulations and attend house parties or street raves instead of just going for the few quiet ones in the local pub?
Protecting public health is so important during this pandemic. Nobody is going to dispute that. But does mental health not fall under public health? Does the looming threat to someone’s only livelihood, which is causing depression and anxiety across the nation, not fall under public health?
We shouldn’t have to choose between saving lives from Covid itself and saving lives from the effects of Covid. Surely there’s a way to do both?
So maybe the government should focus on finding a way to move forward with the reopening of the country, instead of having a heavier hand in the policing of those businesses that have already successfully reopened.
*Note: Since the publication of this article on Wednesday, September 9, the government has announced the reopening of 'wet' pubs on Monday, September 31