Hospitality Ulster has said a lack of early engagement by the Executive Office is causing chaos ahead of the outdoor reopening of pubs, bars and restaurants in Northern Ireland.
Mourne Seafood bar in Belfast posted on Twitter that it had been told by the council that it had to remove the cover or sides of its outside area (pictured) if it is to reopen, despite having spent £25,000 on the space and operating with the same set-up last summer.
Meanwhile, the city's Sunflower public house has had to abandon its reopening tomorrow after being told just 48 hours prior that its outside areas "do not comply with their new regulations".
Posting on Facebook, the pub said: "Sunflower cannot open because our garden has four walls… even if we magically removed two walls we were told that we then couldn't put up our parasols or roll out our awnings…
"We have bought stock, we have cleaned, we have bought equipment, we have renewed our bin contracts, we have taken on new staff (who are now not entitled to furlough) and we were genuinely looking forward to welcoming you all back. But no, the NI Executive Office have let us go to all this trouble only to pull the rug from under us at the last minute. More debts."
Hospitality Ulster has said that despite repeated calls since Christmas for the Executive Office to engage with the industry, the late clarification of regulations for outdoor hospitality has left many businesses unable to open and out of pocket unnecessarily.
It estimated only 10%-15% of hospitality businesses have access to outdoor space and the interpretation and application of coronavirus guidance will mean even fewer premises will be able to reopen tomorrow. The trade body called on the Executive to adapt regulations that "are not conducive to the proper reopening that the sector was promised".
Colin Neill, chief executive or Hospitality Ulster, said: "This is not the time to be playing with the livelihoods of business owners and we are demanding that the Executive intervenes and remedies this. A level of common sense needs to be brought to this problem as the sector has worked so hard and taken every precaution to get the outdoor element open this weekend. We need the Executive to engage with us and be pragmatic about this real and present issue that we are facing in the next couple of days."
The next formal review of the coronavirus restrictions in Northern Ireland will take place on 13 May.