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Last orders 'Rural pubs are gone... the industry is finished'

First publican fined over Covid-19 says all pubs should have shut

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Tom Kelly’s fine was reduced because he has seven children.

Tom Kelly’s fine was reduced because he has seven children.

Tierney's Foxhall Bar.

Tierney's Foxhall Bar.

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Tom Kelly’s fine was reduced because he has seven children.

A publican who is believed to be the first to have been prosecuted under Covid legislation last night slammed the Government's handling of the bar trade during the pandemic.

"Rural pubs are gone, we are gone bust," said Tom Kelly. "That's it. It's as simple as that, the industry is gone.

"From day one it was all handled wrong. Everyone should have closed. There should have been no such thing as wet pubs, dry pubs and all that auld s**te, because it was uncontrollable and unmanageable, so it was."

The Co Galway pub owner was fined €500 this week after gardaí carried out numerous searches on his bar, saying there were too many people there.

He had faced a fine of up to €5,000 when charged before Tuam District Court.

On August 30 last gardaí arrived at his pub, Tierney's of Foxhall, and found about 70 people there, with no evidence of social ­distancing or food being served, despite the €9 meal requirement.

The case was first heard in March, when the court heard that gardaí had already objected to the renewal of the licence and the publican had, along with a number of other publicans, made a €500 donation to charity by way of recompense.

However, he faced other charges, and Judge James Faughnan said a message had to go out that Covid regulations could not be breached.

Kelly of Corrihan, near Tuam, was charged with breaching regulations to prevent, limit and slow the spread of Covid.

At the March sitting his solicitor Eric Gleeson pleaded that Kelly had made the €500 contribution to charity as a result of the renewal of his licence being opposed by the gardaí.

But Judge Faughnan said: "There's a difference between the objection to the renewal of a licence and a breach of Covid regulations and I'm treating this sort of thing very ­seriously."

At this week's sitting of the court, on ­Tuesday, when the case against Kelly was called again, Garda Sgt Christy Browne told how gardaí had visited Tierney's and found at least 70 people on the premises with no evidence of social distancing.

The defence pleaded that Kelly had a dance licence for 270 patrons, and that he tried to force restrictions but it proved very difficult.

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Kelly, a married man with seven children, pleaded guilty to the single offence.

Judge Faughnan initially imposed a fine of €750 and reduced it to €500 as Kelly has a large family.

"I know I'm the first one in the country," Tom admitted to the Sunday World, in reference to his prosecution under Covid legislation.

"Mentally, all this has taken a huge toll on me. I'm at my wits end."

He is angry with the Government for allowing pubs, including his own, to open if they served a €9 meal. He had already been running a pizza business on his premises, so could continue his trade.

"There were no other pubs open in the area and I couldn't control the people coming in," he said. "They came in in droves. It was drink they wanted, it wasn't f***ing pizzas. It was mayhem, it was like a cattle mart. I couldn't do anything about it. The crowds were uncontrollable, because the Government opened one pub and left the rest of them closed."

And he insisted he hadn't been running a shebeen.

"It wasn't a shebeen, that is totally wrong," he fumed. "I did not run a shebeen. I never ran a shebeen in my life. I had a licence to sell drink, I had a licence to sell pizzas

"The only rule I broke is that there were too many people in the pub. I hold my hand up and say 'that's no problem'," he said.

He believes there were other reasons why he was targeted and that "there was an awful lot of jealousy attached to this", and said other people "were up in arms that I could stay open and the rest of them weren't".

But he will continue in the business, he said, "It's a lovely way of life. You can interact with your own equals."

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