Students working in the service industry feel apprehensive about the future

When last orders were taken in pubs across the country on March 15 who would have guessed what the future would hold. A St. Patrick’s day like no other, eerie CCTV footage of a deserted Temple Bar, the introduction of the term “wet pub” and much debated nine euro meals.

On that day in March, the last pint was unknowingly pulled in rural pubs that would later be forced to close their doors for good.

Some of these pubs had been passed from generation to generation and did not have the financial means to wait for another postponed reopening date. Students and young people have also traditionally relied on pubs one of Ireland’s most popular industries for employment.

D-Day now stands at 21st of September, light at the end of the tunnel for publicans struggling to balance the books. However, many young bartenders were let go as weeks of restrictions turned to months.

Jordyn Mulvey distributed Jack Slatts in NuBar up until the day of lockdown. However, she later lost her job when the national lockdown was extended.

Mulvey misses “the best place [she] ever worked” and her colleagues that treated her with “such respect”.  She believes that Covid-19 will change human behaviour for a long time to come.

“The pandemic is going to change the way people interact with each other in a way the world has never seen. From a mental aspect there will be no more sharing your lipstick with the girl beside you in the bathroom when you’re both drunk… No more dancing with strangers or shifting a random guy/girl” said Mulvey

Mulvey knows first-hand the detrimental effects of Covid-19 having contracted the respiratory virus in April. “I got coronavirus in April and because I have asthma I was unable to work for a long time because I developed complications in my lungs from having the virus.”

The long terms effects of the virus took Mulvey, like millions around the world by surprise. “I have to use my inhaler a lot more than I used to. And I haven’t gotten my sense of smell back. I had terrible pains in my chest for weeks after” she explains.

Another pillar of student nightlife was forced to close its doors earlier this year. Professor Luke O’Neill joked on Tonight with Ivan Yates that an unexpected positive of the Covid-19 pandemic was that Coppers would likely never open again.

A light hearted joke in March has now become a fear for employees and regulars alike. The sticky floors of Coppers are a relic of a time when overcrowded match day celebrations would not be seen as reckless. The Coppers of early March 2020 is the antichrist of social distancing measures.

Jennifer Molloy lost her job in Copper Face Jacks on the 13th of May. “I just received a phone call saying that they can’t keep paying me anymore because they don’t know when they’ll open again” said Molloy.

When Molloy and other colleagues enquired if they were eligible for Covid-19 payments they were removed from the staff groupchat. “We all got kicked out of our group chat and nothing since.”

Molloy is now left in a time of uncertainty not knowing if she will have her job back if the nightclub reopens.

She finds it frustrating that nightclubs and bars’ doors remain closed while house parties take place in her locality. “I live in Ballymun and every night there’s a house party on” she said.

Molloy’s boyfriend also works in Coppers and is “stuck in the house all day with nothing to do wondering when he can go back to work” according to Molloy.

For those who were lucky enough to be able to return to work in pubs that filled the substantial meal requirement, the first day back was not as straightforward as they had hoped.

Dean Cassells weighed up the risks agreeing to return back to work at a nearby pub. “I was half afraid to walk in, just because you don’t know who might have underlying symptoms and if I’m living at home with little brothers and sisters, visiting grandparents and all that, it’s a massive risk to be going and chancing my arm” he said.

While vigorous hand washing and social distancing measures became second hand nature to staff, it was difficult to get customers to follow suit.

According to Cassells “the restrictions are always good for staff, but it’s hard to impose the same on customers, even though we enforce it a lot.”

It took time for the Cassells to get used to the changes made to his familiar and friendly workplace. “There was also just a feeling of unease around the place too which was difficult to get used to but it’s not as bad anymore” he said.

For now, Cassells just hopes that the rise in Covid-19 cases does not signal a return to the “bad time”.

Ciara Hickey echoes Cassells’ concern. However, her worries about working in a hotel bar have yet to ease.

“I’m apprehensive going into work every day because it’s a hotel and a nice one at that so people can come from anywhere and everywhere which increases our risk of exposure. I feel like our health is second to the guests.”

Hickey finds that although staff are trying their best to stop the spread using face masks and hand sanitiser, many guests fail to follow their example.

“Buying food isn’t going to stop people from catching the virus, and it just leaves the pubs that can’t serve food even longer with no income”, explains Hickey.

DCU Journalism graduate, Luke Redmond’s started a petition to allow the safe reopening of the newly coined “wet pubs”.

He was taken aback by Ireland’s pace of reopening in comparison to other European countries.

“I started the petition not because I’m a tinfoil hat wearing anti masker quite the opposite I started this petition in the belief that pubs deserve the opportunity to show they can reopen safely as has happened in every other European country. Thousands of jobs, including many students who rely on part time work to fund their degree, are at stake” said Redmond.

At the time of writing, the petition had 9,394 signatures.

Róisín Cullen

Image Credit: Scott Thompson