by Marian Duggan
The publican who was arrested after he opened his premises in December using rapid antigen Covid-19 tests on customers has welcomed news that the Irish government is using the same kits for hauliers travelling to France.
Donal Byrne of Aghamore, Mayo was detained for breaching Covid-19 regulations when he opened Eileen’s Bar without serving food on the premises. Instead, Byrne had a nurse on site testing customers in an outdoor area with results in 15 minutes.
Yesterday healthcare company RocDoc signed a contract with the Department of Transport to provide the same rapid Covid-19 antigen tests for lorry drivers prior to departing on ferry crossings to France.
Mr Byrne said the news confirmed his argument that the EU had accepted the testing kits in November and they could be used to return Ireland to some sort of normality.
“Now everyone doesn’t think I’m mad. That’s nice but it has also given us a glimmer of hope. We know everyone is not going to be vaccinated this year but if we introduce a layered approach with antigen testing then we can bring back some sort of normality this year when it comes to work, socialising, concerts and football matches.”
“Food doesn’t stop the virus, testing does.”
He’s adamant that the hospitality industry should be allowed to reopen with a combination of antigen testing, social distancing, hand sanitiser, and masks.
“I have no problem going out for dinner and paying for a test because I want to have a life again or the government could dish them out free of charge because the way they are throwing money at the problem now isn’t the solution. People don’t want handouts, they want to go out and earn a living.”
The entrepreneur accused the Government of not having a plan, instead jumping from lockdown to lockdown.
“All we’re doing is fire fighting. Let’s go back to the start and make a plan. There has been no plan. We weren’t wearing masks, then we were advised to and then it was law. The Leaving Cert was going ahead, then it wasn’t. Students were going into school three days a week and then they weren’t. Special schools were going to open and then they weren’t.”
“We have to think outside the box; we have to think ten steps ahead.”
“Why can’t the Government admit they’re wrong? They argue white is black and when it’s proven to be white they say it’s grey. The teacher in Claremorris who wanted to close his school deserves an apology. Ruling with an iron fist is wrong. The problem is the government is never challenged. Some people told me to shut up and keep the head down but someone had to stand up.”
Mr Byrne admitted he received some negative comments when he opened up his pub before Christmas.
“95% were positive and 5% negative but what’s on the internet is written in ink, not pencil. It wasn’t nice for my wife who was at home when I was arrested or my son going into school the next day.”
Over the Christmas period, he received approximately 30 messages a day from people looking for antigen kits to test themselves and their families. He uses the kits to test his Big Red Barn staff every Monday and Friday to ensure they are not bringing the virus into the business or leaving with it at the weekend.
“We still have the social distancing element and wearing masks and hand sanitiser but it has allowed us to stay in work and stay safe.”
Mr Byrne doesn’t expect the government to allow pubs to open until the summer at the earliest but Eileen’s Bar will be back in business as soon as possible, he said.
“The rural pub has a massive role to play. Rural Ireland has a massive role to play particularly now with people wanting to move out of the cities. Lovely cluster villages can be built up again.”