Slow decline of the Irish pub: 21% of venues shut in 16 years

1,829 less pubs in Ireland over 16-year period, while 349 closed during Covid period.

There has been a stark decline in the number of pubs doing business in Ireland since 2005.

A new report from Drinks Industry Group of Ireland (DIGI) shows that there are now 1,829 fewer pubs in Ireland than there were in 2005.

“The Irish pub has been in a steady decline for years, and these stark figures once again highlight the need to secure the sustainable future of our pubs”

And in particular, during the pandemic, the number of pubs declined by 349 premises.

The Irish Pub: Stopping the Decline report, based on the group’s analysis of Revenue license data and including an economic and social analysis by Dublin City University (DCU) Associate Professor Emeritus and economist Anthony Foley, shows a 21.2% decline in the number of pubs in Ireland from 2005 to 2021.

Last orders

All 26 counties experienced declines in pub numbers through the 16-year period. The largest decrease was seen in Laois with 30.6% less pubs since 2005. This was the only county with a decrease of 30% or more. The lowest decrease was in Meath with 1.4% less. Meath was followed by Dublin, reporting a decrease of only 4.3%. All the remaining 23 counties had decreases greater than 10%.

Three counties, Carlow (10.4%), Kildare (13.6%), and Wicklow (10.1%) showed decreases between 10% and 14.9% while Cavan (17.2%), Kerry (15.3), Kilkenny (18.1%), Monaghan (19.8%), and Wexford (17.2%) were in the 15% to 19.9% decrease bracket.

All the remaining counties had decreases of more than 20%. Six counties, Clare (24.7%), Galway (20.6%), Louth (20.3%), Sligo (24%), Waterford (23.5%), and Westmeath (24.4%) were in the 20% to 24.9% decrease band, while nine counties Cork (28.5%), Donegal (26.3%), Leitrim (26.4%), Limerick (29.1%), Longford (25.7%), Mayo (25.1%), Offaly (29.9%), Roscommon (28.3%), and Tipperary (26.3%) saw decreases between 25% and 29.9%.

“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,” said Paul Clancy, DIGI member and CEO of the Vintners Federation of Ireland.

“The pace of decline increased as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic which saw the drinks and hospitality industry suffer the worst of all, with one of the longest lockdowns recorded globally.

“Considering this sharp decline and trend we’re witnessing; we need to monitor this industry carefully and ensure all the necessary supports are in place to contribute to stopping this trend. Our high alcohol excise tax is a cost and slows the growth of these businesses and impacts their day-to-day operations and bottom line. Exasperated currently with inflation and the cost of living. 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 over night for tens of thousands of business owners,” Clancy said.

According to an economic and social analysis of the numbers, economist Anthony Foley notes that public houses contribute to the culture and vibrancy of villages, small towns, and rural areas in many ways. They contribute to tourism and provide an extensive network of physical facilities and services needed by tourists and locals.

Foley cites concerns for the impact of the decline on rural Ireland, when taken in the context of wider challenges facing areas outside Dublin. When you consider decreases in the number of post offices, full bank branches, Garda stations, local retail enterprises and a wide range of other services and facilities, there are concerns about the commercial capability of small towns and villages with large levels of commercial building vacancy.

“The Irish pub has been in a steady decline for years, and these stark figures once again highlight the need to secure the sustainable future of our pubs,” warned Kathryn D’Arcy, chair of DIGI.

“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.” 

Closing time

According to the analysis, Foley suggests there is likely to be a negative social impact arising from the trend and extent of closures, especially in rural and remote areas in Ireland.

Foley cites a number of reasons for the decline including non-replacement of pub operators on retirement or death, low levels of business volume and economic sustainability, regulatory changes such as tighter drink driving laws and enforcement allied with weak or non-existent public transport and population change and distribution, among others.

“Pubs serve as a vital social outlet for many people, particularly in rural Ireland,” Foley said..

“With people living there faced by the spectre of rural decline, preserving the cultural heritage of the Irish pub in Ireland is arguably a progressive course of action. Economic and business sustainability is one of the several determining factors of closures of small 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. It is a measure which is completely within the scope of Government.”

John Kennedy
Award-winning editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.