Eileen’s Bar in Aghamore, Co Mayo has declared itself “Ireland’s first COVID-free pub” as it rolls on-site rapid testing for locals and regulars.
With the Republic of Ireland currently at Level 3 coronavirus restrictions, wet pubs - or pubs that only serve drinks and no food - are only permitted to open for delivery and takeaway service, not indoor service.
Donal Byrne, the owner of Eileen's Bar in rural Aghamore, Co Mayo, has opted to defy these restrictions as he rolls out a system of rapid testing for customers.
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His plan, which is only open to "locals and regulars," involves customers texting a number ahead of time to book a €10 test within the daily 5 pm - 7 pm window.
Once a customer arrives, they will be tested in an outdoor, covered area and wait 15 minutes for their results. Customers can only enter Eileen's Bar if they test negative. They are not allowed to leave and return within the same day.
Once inside the bar, social distancing will apply, hand sanitizer will be provided, and there will be table service only.
If a customer tests positive, the outdoor, covered waiting area will be "decontaminated," and the customer will not have to pay the €10 for the test since, as Byrne puts it, "they've had a bad day."
Speaking with Newstalk’s Lunchtime Live on December 10, owner Donal Byrne said “the only way out of this, we feel as publicans, is testing.”
He continued: “Food does not stop COVID, food does not prevent COVID, but testing does.
Byrne explained that during the last round of shutdowns, Eileen’s Bar worked with a catering company to accommodate the “substantial meal” guidelines and later built modular outdoor areas when outdoor dining was permitted.
"This is going to go on for a considerable amount of time," Byrne said. "We felt that the legislation was written in a time of crisis. It wasn't perfect, it had the word food and as we know, food has nothing to do with COVID and that's why we feel this is the more common-sense approach and it means my customers are safer, my staff are safer, and we can try and get back to some way of normality in the West of Ireland.”
When asked if Eileen’s Bar has a kitchen and a chef, Byrne said that “we will not be serving food this time," which comes in direct defiance of the government's Level 3 guidelines.
He explained; “We have looked into this, and we have looked into legal matters of it, and we feel that we are within our rights.
“We feel that this is safer. Putting a burger down in front of somebody doesn't make it safe but testing them does.
“At the start of this pandemic, the World Health Organization said that testing is the way out of this.”
Regarding the current restrictions, Byrne said: “They’re guidelines, and there’s holes in those guidelines. They are not safe.
“This is in the interest of health and safety. Having a burger is not safe. Being tested is safe.”
Byrne acknowledged that his plans are going to “hit a nerve with some people” and that he is “prepared to answer the questions and prepared to represent myself.”
Byrne said he presented his plans with the Vintners association, who were initially “sitting on the fence” but have since told Byrne that “they’re having nothing to do with it.”
“I understand that,” Byrne said, “I am on my own.”
Byrne said he will be paying medical professionals €25 an hour to conduct the testing, “unlike the government who aren’t paying nurses.”
He later added: “How are the people that have food in front of them safe? They are not. It was a quick fix, and the rules have constantly changed, but they haven’t varied much from indoor, outdoor food.”
Byrne said he has been receiving an “excellent” response. “95 percent of the feedback has been brilliant. Those five percent are keyboard warriors ... but they don’t have to come near it.”
He continued: “What we’re doing is offering a safe environment for people. People in the West of Ireland are totally different than Dublin. 11 percent of them live on their own.
“It’s very much a social aspect with the pub. There’s social distance. It’s a very small area, very small crowd, very, very safe, and that’s why we’re doing it. Burgers aren’t safe, testing is.”