High taxes and lifestyle changes blamed for more than 1,800 pubs closing since 2005

More than one-in-five of Ireland’s pubs has closed its doors since 2005, with industry representatives blaming high taxes, poor public transport links, and lifestyle changes as key factors.

There are now 1,829 fewer pubs in the country since 2005, a new report from the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland (DIGI). A total of 6,788 pubs were still operating at the end of 2021, down from a height of 8,617 in 2005, with every county witnessing a significant decline.

The pandemic’s impact on the sector accelerated the closures in many areas, as 4.9% of pubs closed between 2019 and 2021, some 349 premises nationwide.

Cork was amongst the worst affected counties, as ‘The Irish Pub: Stopping the Decline’ report showed there are 28.5% fewer bars in the county than there were 16 years ago. There are now 873 pubs in Cork, down from 910 in 2019 and more than 1,200 in 2005.

A serious trend of decline in Munster is revealed by the report as Tipperary and Limerick saw over 25% of their pubs close, whereas Clare came in at 24.7%, and Kerry fared better, losing 15.3% of pubs. Co. Waterford now has 199 pubs, having previously seen 260 operating.

Dublin only saw a decrease of 4.3% of licensed premises closing, putting the capital amongst the least affected counties, followed by Carlow, Kildare and Wicklow, who all reportedly lost between 10% and 14.9% of their bars.

Proportionally, Co. Laois is the worst affected, with almost one-third of pubs in the county shuttering, while Co. Meath has only lost 1.4% of its total.

DIGI has called on the government to take action to halt the “stark decline” in the number of pubs left doing business in the country.

DIGI member and CEO of the Vinter’s Federation of Ireland, Paul Clancy, described the report as “alarming” and said that 1,829 rural pub closures “represent businesses that provide jobs, a hub in the local community for socialising and community integration and a cultural centre which has long been documented as among the main attractions for tourists visiting Ireland.” 

He pointed out the impact of Ireland’s “high alcohol tax” as a cost that “slows the growth of these businesses and impacts their day-to-day operations and bottom line,” as well as the increasing burden of rising inflation and costs.

“We are calling on the Government to reduce excise tax to support the industry with meaningful measures that will be felt immediately and reduce costs overnight for tens of thousands of business owners,” Mr Clancy added.

Kathryn D’Arcy, DIGI chair and the director of communications with the Irish Distillers, said that the Irish pub industry has been in steady decline for years.

“These stark figures once again highlight the need to secure the sustainable future of our pubs. Central to this is introducing policy measures which can make both an immediate difference and a long-term impact in terms of delivering sustainable policy to support these businesses. DIGI is seeking a reduction in Ireland’s high excise tax rate which would deliver on this,” she said.

In the report, Ms D’Arcy highlights a series of issues affecting the industry, including regulatory changes, underinvestment in public transport, lifestyle changes, and economic pressures.

Professor and economist at DCU Anthony Foley said that there is likely to be a “negative social impact” arising from the closure of so many public houses.

“Addressing high excise would have a positive effect on the commercial sustainability of small public houses and would be a strong element in the wider policy strategy to support rural areas,” he stated, adding that taking such measures is “completely within the scope of the government.”

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