How the pubs could get open again
Two vivid pictures come to mind when people think of lobbying and lobbyists
Firstly, you think of Washington DC, big corporate interests and sharp suited lobbyists persuading congressmen with the aid of donations to their campaigns.
The second image is the old-fashioned, and certainly more Irish, idea of smoky back rooms and discrete conversations over a few pints.
In reality, lobbying is a very nuanced and essential element of the pubic discourse. Professional lobbyists are often criticised for trying to influence political decisions, and that’s usually exactly what we’re trying to do.
We don’t mind the criticism, but what we’re trying to do is help sectors of the economy get their point across to the people in power making decisions which affect them. As Marco Pierre White once said of Michelin judges, ‘’I’m being judged by people who have less knowledge than me.’’
In recent weeks, the publicans and vintners organisations have been very vocal in calling for the Government to allow them to reopen. They have pointed out the severe economic impact on the sector, the loss of jobs, the damage to rural life and many more factors.
There is no doubt that they are right about these, but they are pursuing a deeply, deeply flawed lobbying strategy. They are continually calling on the Government to act, trying to put as much pressure on them as they can. They are securing a huge amount of media coverage, trying to gain the public’s sympathy and highlighting the impact a continued closure would have on local pubs.
The most glaring reason why this strategy is highly flawed is the fact that it is really NPHET making the decision, not the Government. If NPHET advises to keep the pubs closed, closed they will remain.
Being public health experts, it is neither NPHET’s job nor their concern what the economic impact of keeping pubs closed will be. They are only concerned with controlling the spread of the virus, and with cases rising again, there is no way they can advise the Government to reopen the pubs.
The second reason why their lobbying strategy is wrong is that they are asking the Government to come up with the solutions. Every day is a chorus of ‘’the Government must act,’’ ‘’the Government must act now’’ and ‘’we need the Government to do something.’’ The latest development is that they are teaming up with the big multinationals like Diageo, C&C, Heineken and Irish Distillers to sue the Government.
The Government also has a responsibility to control the virus and keep people safe and they have to be seen to be keeping people safe. If they are put under enormous press to reopen pubs, and decide to reopen them, it looks like they are bowing to political pressure rather than trying to be responsible in a crisis that has killed over 1,750 people.
There is also the fact that nobody like to be put under pressure, and people naturally become less inclined to do something if they are being badgered constantly.
The pubs should have realised much earlier on that politicians don’t like making decisions while bowing to public pressure.
So what should the publicans have done?
Very simple, they should have given the Government the solution on a plate and worked with the Government rather than against them.
If the publicans had produced a clear and extensive set of expert health & safety guidelines setting out exactly how they could reopen responsibly, they could have publicised this and presented it to Government as a perfect solution.
The key reason why the pubs aren’t reopening is that people think it won’t be safe. A thorough set of safety guidelines for pubs would have persuaded many people that it would be safe. Even NPHET would take a look at them and maybe say ‘’well, we weren’t sure about this, but these guidelines are pretty good.’’
This is exactly the tactics our firm deployed for the Irish Hairdressers Federation earlier in the year, when they wanted to reopen in Phase 3 instead of 4, and it works.
Lobbying works best when it is a collaborative effort. You need to work with Government to solve the problem, and the vintners organisations aren’t doing this at all.
Instead, we are being treated to wave after wave of angry publicans saying the Government should do something, but what really needs to happen is for the Vintners Federations and the Licensed Vintners Federation to be more proactive and collaborative.
The publicans are being let down by their representatives, which is a great shame for the many fantastic pubs that will have to close permanently.
Listening to the many badly turned-out, angry publicans on the news at their pub, saying they’re unsure whether or not to buy beer kegs and crisps clearly backfires. Instead of this, they should recalibrate their message and show a series of happy, upbeat publicans that are coping with the challenge of reopening by improving to their premises to safeguard staff, punters and their future livelihood.
While the occasion is heart-breaking, the images they are presenting are even more heart-breaking as they present a series of own goals for themselves. Being angry at the Government is not the solution.
Instead, they should look to the example of the hairdressers where they presented a series of best practice recommendations instead of being angry.