RULE BREAKERS Restaurant representatives slam cheating Dublin diners flouting Covid-19 regulations
Sunday World reporter Eugene Masterson visits the Dublin eateries putting us all at risk
Two restaurants have been flagrantly breaching Covid-19 lockdown regulations in the heart of Dublin's O'Connell Street.
The Sunday World visited the eateries this week and allowed customers to sit indoors and have their meals along with alcohol.
Not only that, but one 'all-you-can-eat' Chinese restaurant is still allowing customers to queue up at a hot buffet and use the same tongs and spoons to help themselves from open trays and bowls of food.
The alarming practice is happening just a stone's throw from a closed down Garda station on the country's main thoroughfare.Tarnishing
The Restaurant Association of Ireland (RAI) last night slammed the behaviour of some rogue operations which are tarnishing the good name of the industry, which is stringently abiding to health guidelines.
"The Gardai have the powers to immediately shut any premises which is allowing this sort of behaviour and should do so," RAI Chief Executive Adrian Cummins told the Sunday World.
Mr Cummins admitted he was "disappointed" at the carry-on of some restaurants in Dublin, which along with Donegal, is under level three of lockdown restrictions.
Wings Café on Upper O'Connell Street was clearly allowing customers dine inside their premises when our team passed by the establishment on Sunday evening. Several diners were also openly drinking wine and beer inside the brightly-lit building, which also had customers seated at tables outdoors on the street.
When we returned at lunchtime on Thursday a masked woman behind the counter asked for our order.
We asked to sit inside, where several other tables were occupied and she said "no problem".
She briskly served a pint of Carlsberg, a bottle of Bulmer's cider along with a cup of tea. A tuna melt sandwich arrived soon afterwards.
The total bill came to €18.75. But just one of our two-person party had food, with the sandwich priced at €5.95, a lot less than the €9 regulation in the previous level-two lockdown guideline.
On leaving, we asked the manageress how they can get away with serving people indoors.
"We leave the door open so the place is well ventilated," she stressed. "We only allow people to sit at a few tables and we keep to social distancing between them. We give a choice to people whether they can sit outdoors or inside, but we have a large open door, so it's fine."
Shortly after we visited, we noticed a Garda officer enter the café. He had words with the manageress and left soon afterwards.
But, minutes later, we observed another group of people being served and seated at a table inside near the window.
The restaurant's owner, Betty, told us later: "I do really apoligise. I promise I won't let anyone sit in in future - and it will be takeaway only or I will shut down the shop. I am really really sorry about this."
Our second port of call was to the nearby '10 Thousand World' restaurant, which also trades as the Fortune Terrace Buffet.
It, too, has outdoor seating, where several customers were dining. Most of interior seating area was cordoned off. But three tables near the counter allowed customers to sit inside if they so wished.
This reporter ordered a bottle of Heineken for €4 and was told that he had to order food with it. There is an all-you-can-eat buffet for €8.99, which he availed of.
But what was alarming was that customers were queueing up with no social distancing in evidence, while even more worrying was that tongs and spoons were sticking out of the trays and bowls of food for everyone to use.
Not only was the restaurant breaching level three restrictions about indoor dining, but they were also breaking level two regulations which stress that food should be ordered and then brought to the table by a waiter.
When paying the bill for €12.99 our reporter asked how they have been allowed to open.
"We only recently started allowing people inside again," said a member of staff. "We only allow people to stay at the three tables and there's lot of space between them."Violating
Asked if there's been any comeback from the authorities, he replied: "We like to stay a bit hidden."
We rang the restaurant the next day and a member of staff said he would pass on our request for comment to his boss, but we did not hear back.
While such restaurants on the country's many thorougfare are clearly violating level three restrictions, other eateries and pubs across the capital we checked out were sticking to the letter of the law.
Many of them have erected outdoor heaters so customers can keep warm, and outdoor dining areas on streets located off Grafton street were doing a brisk trade.
A garda spokesperson explained they have "adopted a graduated policing response based on its tradition of policing by consent."
"This has seen Garda members engage, educate, encourage and, as a last resort, enforce. Where Gardaí find potential breaches of the public health regulations a file is prepared for the DPP in each case," it was added.
Mr Cummins observed thatbit is up to the gardaí to enforce the rules.
"But what I've found with the guards is that there doesn't seem to be a fair and balanced implementation of the rules across the city. We have had reports of different interpretations of the guidelines by the Garda."
As for the Chinese buffet on O'Connell Street: "I don't know the place and haven't been in it, but the guards have the powers to close places down and they can do it immediately if they want to and if a place is out of line it's giving everywhere else a bad name."
He confirmed he had heard of one case where gardaí complained to a restaurant owner that there were 18 people seated outside the premises, when the guidelines state there should be only 15.
"I aksed the joint policing committee on Wednesday if the guards are trained up in the new guidelines and how the confirmation is circulated - and they said they have been," he said.
He alleged there is no public order unit to move people along from packed city centre streets, where people are openly drinking alcohol,
"Our industry is really hurting and in a bad situation at the moment, right across Dublin and right across the country," stressed Mr Cummins, who hails from Portumna, Co. Galway, and is based in Dublin.
"Business owners are at the end of their tether, financially, mentally and I feel that we have been cut adrift by government.They will do whatever they need to do to try and protect and save their business."
"People say that we are in level three in Dublin - hospitality is in level four, let's call it what it is. We are in shut down."