I thank the Chair. The next time she is in Killarney she should give me a shout and I will find room for her.
I will start off by answering Senator Malcolm Byrne’s important question on whether we should ignore NPHET’s advice. My answer is "No" that we should not ignore its advice. It is up to politicians and political parties decide. That is where the public sees the biggest problem. It does not seem to be advice, but orders. There is a fine line and balance, which is what I said back in May.
To answer Senator Carrigy’s question about percentages, I said we should have opened at 50% occupancy in June to get us back to normal. This would have stopped the hotels - I mean no offence to them - poaching all our staff and robbing us. We could have opened and started cooking. We have not done this in nearly nine or ten months at this stage. If we had done that, we would probably have seen what we are seeing today, which is no spike or surge in the numbers since four or five weeks of hospitality being reopened.
I thank Mr. Brendan McGowan. He had huge support for the plan earlier on in the year. Again, it highlighted everything we are saying today. I also agree with him about starting off with a potential pass coming in and people being vaccinated. We were so desperate in June to get back open and we could see what we needed. At this stage, we need to do whatever it takes. It is going to upset certain people, of course. I would find it difficult to ask people if they are vaccinated but that is just me. However, if means that businesses can open, then that is exactly what we have to do.
On what is coming down the line, we will see huge closures of restaurants and bars and not only that, but the sweet shop across the road depends on me. We are all a package in tourism. That is why I said it is the most important pillar of the economy. Tourists will not come to Killarney if they can only stay in a hotel and walk around a national park, stunning though it is. They want to experience a pint, go to the local restaurant and go into a shop to buy an Aran jumper, or whatever it is they want. If my restaurant goes, then the next business goes and the next one after that.
I am lucky. As the committee can probably tell, I am strong-minded. I can handle most of what is going on. However, over the last couple of months, the people to whom I speak, which is in the thousands, have gone beyond the brink. They have spoken to their bank managers to tell them to stop sending them letters, because they do not have a single cent left, because they have not traded.
What do we do? The committee probably will not like this. We need to open straight away. Is the public confidence there? It is 100% there. How do I know? I have to telephone so many people to cancel their reservations. They have said to me that they will still come in and that they want to support me. I said that I have no problems going against anything, but they will be fined and I cannot have that happening to them. What are we going to do fix this? Nobody wants a subsidy. I would gladly give every cent of my subsidies over the last 16 months back, if we could have stayed open. We knew to close when it was dangerous. As I said, we closed before anybody told us to do so because that is what hospitality does; it takes care of the customers who come into our restaurants. The committee might not like to hear this, but it might be lump sum pay-off to keep businesses afloat. The committee might not like to hear also that there might need to be a tax amnesty, because that is how bad this is. I am not making this up.
Over the coming months we will see closure after closure, particularly in rural areas. I cannot see Dublin city getting back any time soon. I think the city will be wiped out as well. The problem is that when we open up all these problems will come up. Then we will have bills, rents and landlords to pay. That is when we will see issues.
I would ask committee members to please go back to all their political parties and leaders to tell them that NPHET advises, but that they must decide. We cannot have Covid-19 as the only game in town here. People are sick, dying, stressed, and mental health has gone off the walls. We must look at everything together and take an entire industry at face value and say that we cannot allow 200,000 people in hospitality to sink. It feels as though we literally have a knee on our neck at the moment. I still have no idea when I will be able to open up my business.