01 Jul 2022

Opinion: Kilkenny vintners Chairman Anthony Morrison says the Irish pub is here to stay

Renewed optimism within the pub trade writes Anthony Morrison chairman of the Kilkenny branch of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland ahead of their AGM in Athlone.

Kilkenny Vintners Chairman Anthony Morrison.

Kilkenny Vintners Chairman Anthony Morrison.

Not too long ago storm clouds were gathering around the pub trade and we found ourselves running for shelter. Thankfully, the storm is passing, blue skies are visible again and as we head into a hopefully warm summer, my faith in the future of our trade is greater than ever.

Recent research conducted by the VFI amongst almost 1,600 Irish people and tourists re-affirms this faith.

The research outlines that 88% of people want to see Irish pub culture and heritage preserved while 62% of people believe the role the pub plays in the local community is extremely important. I have always known and believed this myself but to have the backing of the Irish public and see evidence of their love for the pub is very uplifting.

It’s fair to say not everyone has sight of this same blue sky I refer to earlier. The level of positivity has not reached all areas yet and pubs in city centres, large towns and tourist areas will usually recover first.

We are however continuing to move in the right direction.

There are a number of contributory factors that have brought about this improvement in our trade.

Firstly, publicans have embraced changing consumer demands meaning the pub offering is fundamentally different to what it was. High quality food is now more pivotal than ever with research showing that 40% of people rank the availability food as an important factor when they visit the pub. In this respect, it’s re-assuring to know that Irish pubs offer some of the best value and more importantly highest quality food in the country.

Couple this with a greater diversity of drink offerings reflecting the growing interest in craft beers, specialist whiskeys and gins, and cocktails. Of course, this isn’t forgetting the wide variety of entertainment on offer in pubs, with all of this topped off by our world renowned hospitality and the warmth of the Irish Pub welcome.

It’s fair to say that external economic factors are also helping.

Tourism numbers were generally on the rise in the past year and the pub certainly felt the benefit of this. This merely highlighted what we already knew, that the pub is the number one tourist attraction and this was further cemented in the last year. Our research supports this reality with 88% of people stating they visited a pub while in Ireland.

The fact that unemployment has fallen and there is more spend available has also helped. Consumer confidence continues to rise and we are seeing the benefit.

We are only seeing the benefit because we have worked hard to capitalise on it. Publicans are moving with the times. We realise the world is going in a different direction and we’re on board for the journey.

Despite my overall air of optimism, publicans still face many challenges.

Brexit is already having an effect as the numbers visiting Ireland from the UK have fallen this year. The value of Sterling is a key issue for us as a tourist destination and with the negotiations around the UK’s departure from the EU only starting we can be sure of more uncertainty in the coming years.

Meanwhile, excise duty on wine, beer, spirits and cider continues to undermine any recovery in the sector while the cost of public liability insurance is causing havoc for publicans across the country. Add to this commercial and water rates, as well as other regulatory impositions.

What’s unfortunate here is that these costs are hampering the progress of small business owners and publicans across Ireland. Our level of hard work, energy, commitment and innovation needs to be recognised and supported.

The frustration around the challenges outlined here becomes that bit more acute when you take into account the considerable economic contribution of the Irish pub.

Current stats indicate over 90,000 people are dependent on the drinks industry for employment, the majority of whom are in the pub trade. In the Kilkenny/Carlow area alone 2,927 people are employed by the drinks industry. The pub trade also creates an additional 12,000 seasonal jobs each year in traditional tourist areas.

The reality here is our industry creates jobs in areas where there is not much else in terms of employment.

As I come to end of typing this piece, I am even more steadfast in my belief that our future is bright and we are here to stay.  

We are the heart and soul of local communities. In many instances, we are the ‘last man standing’ in villages and towns stripped of post offices, bank branches and Garda stations. This is a responsibility we don’t take lightly. We know people depend on us and it is our duty to be there for them.

A wise man once said, if you want to see the sun, you have to weather the storm.

Our industry has met that challenge and then some.

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