The incoming president of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland has welcomed the government’s plan to introduce a pilot scheme to transform rural pubs into remote working hubs or community spaces, which could see working from the pub as the new reality.

Paul Moynihan, whose family pub is in Donard, Co. Wicklow, said that his traditional pub opens at 5:30pm Monday to Friday and at 2:00pm at weekends and that the working hub proposal could work.

“There is scope for other economic activities during the week and we have good broadband,” he said.

“We will look at what is feasible with the hubs plan and work from there.

The rural Ireland plan also makes provision for the siting of public sector hubs in regional towns for public servants to work in their local areas, and a target of 400 IDA investments for region locations to create jobs.

The idea that remote work hubs could run in parallel with the pub business has generated hope that rural pubs and areas could become re-energised.

“Farming and forestry are very big around here. The trade is mostly local, with some tourists in the summer.

The pub has been in the family since 1942. What has happened has been heart-breaking for publicans. It’s also been very difficult for our customers. The isolation for the last year has been really difficult for everyone.

“If people in this area want to get out and chat over a pint or a cup of coffee, the pub is their only option. It’s a place where farmers can pass on information to each other and where people can keep a check on their neighbours.”

Paul said that he had invested in creating an outdoor space and in redecoration. The government’s rural development plan, he said, is positive.

“For years there has been talk about decentralisation and the pandemic has probably given the issue a push with so many people working from home and the benefits of living in rural areas being highlighted. We have got to harness that.”

Subsidised Rural Transport

The practice of having a designated driver had been working well in his premises but there is a need for incentives for people to set up transport services in rural areas, Paul said.

He welcomed the rural plan’s commitment to ensure that people living in rural areas have access to the development of a subsidised local area hackney scheme in parts of the country where taxis and hackneys can’t survive commercially.

His comments come as Vintners’ Federation chief executive, Padraig Cribben said that, a year on from closing down, their members are no closer to understanding how they will be allowed reopen – never mind an actual date for when they can resume trading. The chief executive added:

“Government must come out with a clear roadmap for the hospitality sector that details where we need to be in terms of vaccination numbers and other key metrics that will allow our members open.

“We represent a huge number of publicans in rural areas who have seen their way of life shut down for an unprecedented length of time.

“They have received supports from government but given the duration of the enforced lockdown, will need further supports to get them to reopening.

“At a minimum we’re calling for the doubling of the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme [CRSS] payment and a suspension of commercial rates until next spring,” said the chief executive.

“It’s only when pubs are allowed reopen will we understand the true impact on rural pubs.

“These are pubs that have been in families for generations and are part of the local community. The lockdown is risking not only local businesses but a way of life. 

“The fight continues and we haven’t given up hope. Many pubs will bounce back, not least rural pubs run by families that have paid off the mortgage and will have a low cost base to reopen.

“But it’s vital that government is there to support them; not only now during closure but also in the year after reopening when it will take time to find their feet.”