A picturesque border town has been “hollowed into a shell” by coronavirus and Brexit, a publican said.
A cut in VAT on food and extra support for businesses in Tuesday’s budget provided little cheer at a relatively deserted Taaffes Castle Bar in Carlingford.
Normally the loughside tourist resort in Co Louth is packed with weekend outdoorsy visitors soaking up the dramatic mountain scenery, and stag and hen parties enjoying the night life.
Now only two bars remain open.
Taaffes manager Aisling Johnston, 32, said: “Carlingford is such a busy tourist place, beautiful and with something for everyone with its nightlife and scenery.
“Right now it is just like a shell.”
Staffing numbers on a Saturday have been cut from 11 to one.
No food is served because they cannot afford to pay staff.
They can only remain open because they have an outside area to serve drink.
From serving hundreds of thirsty customers, they are down to a maximum of 15 outdoors as the temperatures drop.
Ms Johnston said: “If we were not open, no one would come to Carlingford at all.”
VAT on hospitality businesses has been cut from 13.5 to 9%, but on alcohol it remains at 23%.
The publican was pleased to see that the drink tax was not increased.
She said: “They have dished out too many blows to us already.”
The budget assumes there will be no trade deal between the EU and the UK, which would mean a massive blow to Ireland’s economy.
Ms Johnston said a lot of her customers came from Northern Ireland.
“There is talk of the border counties going into another lockdown due to the higher cases in the north,” she added.
Adrian McGreevy, who runs Carlingford Adventure Centre, said the combination of Brexit and the virus represented the perfect storm for businesses like his.
He said: “Everything is just up in the air at the minute.
“It is hard to invest and push your business forward when you do not know what is coming down the line, not even down the line, in the next couple of months.”
Half his staff come from the UK and he lives in Northern Ireland.
A large proportion of customers also hail from north of the border and the UK.
He added: “It is worrying from a business point of view in terms of maintaining jobs in border areas.”
He said the tourism VAT cut would help slightly but there was no major plan to incentivise domestic spending.
He said efforts to boost staycationing had been pulled back because the authorities no longer wanted to encourage travel.
His outdoors industry goes into hibernation every year because many people do not enter the water when it was cold.
Over recent years he has ticked over with weekend bookings but without that this year feared he could lose staff and momentum.
The wage subsidy scheme will last until the end of next year, which will help keep workers on companies’ books.
Mr McGreevy added: “That is a good bit of surety there that is helping us out and taking away a lot of our costs so we are able to keep things moving.”