PROTEST: A group of Killarney publicans, led by Niall ‘Botty’ O’Callaghan outside the Dáil on Wednesday.

By Sean Moriarty

Local councillor and publican Niall ‘Botty’ O’Callaghan – described Government’s €16m restart grant to be divided between the country’s 3,500 pubs as “an insult” – and warned that 15,000 jobs are at risk in the hospitality sector in Kerry unless the Government steps in and offers realistic aid packages to the industry.

Mr O’Callaghan was speaking after he led a group of Killarney and Kerry-based publicans to Leinster House on Wednesday to protest the death of rural pubs.

They carried a coffin to the gates of Leinster House to symbolise the death of the rural pubs, while supporters from the county looked on.

They took it in turns, in small groups to comply with social distancing rules, to stage their day long protest outside the Dáil.

Killarney publicans that took part in the protest include Niall’s brother Paudie (Fáilte Hotel), Patrick O’Sullivan (Tatler Jack), John O’Shea (Jack C’s), and Tadgh Kelly (The Shanty, Ballyfinnane).

Kerry TDs that met with the publicans during their three-hour protest included Minister for Education Norma Foley, Brendan Griffin, Michael Healy-Rae, Danny Healy-Rae, and Pa Daly.

“Everyone in the hospitality sector across Ireland, pubs, hotels, coach tours, need to come together and organise one massive protest march in Dublin – but we can’t do that with COVID-19 crowd restrictions,” he told the Killarney Advertiser.

“And what they never told is that if pubs that were opened since August, and many had to open and sell food just to survive, are not entitled to the grant,” he told the Killarney Advertiser. “There is no leadership in our Government and they have no idea what is happening in rural Ireland. We will get the grant in the next few weeks but our rates are due too so they give with one hand and take with another.”

The publicans say that unless Government brings forward meaningful supports pub culture will all but disappear from Ireland.

“We will be turned into a sterile nation,” He said.

Pubs will be allowed to reopen on September 21, but Kerry publicans say huge problems remain within the sector.

“The death knell of rural pubs is the death knell of rural communities,” he added. “These pubs contribute to the local community, they sponsor local football teams and they allow people to meet and socialise – there are huge mental health issues at stake.”