Northern Ireland venues at “breaking point” as they ask Executive for reopening date – Belfast Live

A collective of venues across Northern Ireland are calling for the Executive to take decisive action for the reopening of their sector as they warn that they have reached “breaking point”.

In a statement, venue operators criticised the lack of planning from Stormont, as Northern Ireland remains the only part of the UK & Ireland in which indoor venues are not currently open without capacity reductions, or have a full re-opening date scheduled.

They also pointed to the fact that events are being cancelled on a “daily basis” throughout Northern Ireland due to the uncertainty, with major acts like Genesis and Laura Marling having already cancelled gigs, and local gigs from talents like Colin Geddis and Paddy Raff thrown into uncertainty.

The NI Executive is scheduled to meet again on September 23 where they will discuss the latest Covid rules. Ahead of this venues in Northern Ireland are calling for the Executive to get rid of the 1 metre social distancing rule, in order to allow venues to open at a greater capacity.

The full statement from NI venues reads: “Music, conference and theatrical venues, along with their staff, performers and supply chain, are collectively calling for a removal of the one metre social distance requirement in Northern Ireland at the scheduled September 23 meeting of the NI Executive.

“The one metre requirement means that the majority of venues have been unable to reopen, and those that have opened are operating on the basis of a dramatically reduced all-seated capacity which is not financially viable.

“Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK and Ireland in which indoor venues are not currently open without capacity reductions, or have a full re-opening date scheduled.

“Events are being cancelled on a daily basis as uncertainty continues. Top international acts such as Genesis, Van Morrison, Laura Marling, JC Stewart and many others have either cancelled or rescheduled indoor performances in Belfast this month alone due to social distancing requirements, at a host of hundreds of thousands of pounds to the local economy.

“Customers in their thousands from Northern Ireland are rushing to purchase tickets for scheduled indoor events in Republic of Ireland from October 22, on account of the certainty the government reopening announcement has provided. Many others are travelling to England and Scotland to attend indoor events there.

“It has been demonstrated elsewhere in the UK that indoor venues can and have reopened to full capacities safely. These include The O2 Arena, Royal Albert Hall and The Palladium in London, as well as the entire West End.

“The NI venue sector is committed to employing bespoke mitigations and safety procedures to ensure audience safety at all times.

“Many venues have been totally unable to trade for almost 18 months, with highly skilled staff unable to work. With the furlough scheme ending in late September, a multitude of businesses are under threat of closure, with staff members at imminent risk of unemployment as winter approaches.

“With other areas of UK and Ireland either fully open, or scheduled to fully open, Northern Ireland is at risk of reputational damage, with a consensus developing that, culturally speaking, it is closed for business.

“Numerous incentive schemes have been developed to improve town and city business, such as Eat Out To Help Out and the High Street Voucher Scheme.

“The music, conference and theatre venue sector has availed of no such incentive scheme and indeed remains effectively closed since March of 2020.

“This sector urgently requires a full re-opening date, and a removal of social distancing requirements in these venue spaces.”

Supporting the message, Joe Dougan of The Limelight in Belfast commented: “The last 18 months has been incredibly difficult for this industry. We were one of the first to close, and as expected we will likely be one of the last to re-open.

“In the interim we have suffered huge financial losses and ongoing uncertainty. We urgently need our Executive to provide a full reopening date, remove social distancing requirements and allow us to plan for the coming months. We are confident this can be done safely.”

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