Valleys give Sunday pint a resounding yes

Thirst for change sparks debate on Sabbath drinking in Welsh villages
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The Independent Online
Welsh landlords and their regulars in the Rhondda Valley last night heavily defeated a move to shut pubs on Sundays. In the last local referendum to be held in Wales the "dry" campaigners were overwhelmingly swamped by "wet" votes.

The poll was triggered by a petition raised by 500 electors exercising their right to call a referendum every seven years.

Licensees had feared a freak result could have shut pubs in the area on the Sabbath for the first time for 35 years, threatening the jobs of hundreds of bar staff.

The results declared in the Rhondda, Cynon, Taff local council area were: For Sunday opening 24,863. Against 3,427, a majority of 21,436. There was a 16 per cent turnout of the 175,000 electorate.

Throughout the day licensees laid on free transport to get their customers to polling stations to defend the Sunday lunchtime pint. But heavy rain and gales seriously dampened the referendum.

When the result was declared, two hours after polls closed at 9pm, a jubilant Bob Harris, landlord of the Griffin Inn, Treorchy, who led the "stay wet" campaign, said: "It's a landslide victory for us, but now I think someone should justify the pounds 60,000 cost to the local council for running a vote in our area. We all believe the council taxpayers money would be much better spent elsewhere.

"It was a campaign by a tiny minority to try and turn the clock back to 1961 when pubs were last shut here on a Sunday. It was a ridiculous exercise."

The area has never been "never on Sunday" and the petition, inaugurated by the dry camp's champion, Eirian Williams, came as something of a surprise. But Mr Williams replied: "Sunday is special."

The licensees hit back with Kitchener-style posters - an index finger imperiously pointing out a threat to the Sunday pint.

Beer mats printed in both English and Welsh carried the warning at the Griffin Inn in Pentre, one of the string of former mining towns in the Rhondda Valley.

Its landlord, Robert Harris, laid on a minibus yesterday to take his regulars to the polling station.

Nursing a pint yesterday afternoon, Gwilym Mitchell, a retired miner, said: "You should have the choice. Lots of people go to chapel on a Sunday morning and then go out for a drink in the evening." His wife, Marlene, added: "In any case, you don't have to go into a church to pray."

Gwyn Roderick, a 70-year-old who has spent a lifetime underground and now helps out at the pub, said: "The public house is important to us in the Valleys - seven days a week, not just six."

Publicans up and down the valleys claimed that Sunday closing would threaten jobs. Pat MacAndrew, of the Eagle Inn, in Brynna, strongly supported the status quo. "Cutting takings by one day in seven would be a blow and I'm sure that part-time staff throughout the area would feel the pinch."

Given the Welsh Valleys' traditional attachment to a sociable sabbath to round off a week's work, it always looked unlikely that the "dry" faction would triumph.

The operation will cost the Rhondda Cynon Taff council an estimated pounds 50,000. Another pounds 50,000 bill is being picked up in North Wales where Gwynedd was also polling yesterday.

There, among the mists of Snowdonia, the Dwyfor District remains the last bastion of a shuttered Sunday. Local government reorganisation, which enlarged the electorate, seems set to sweep that anomaly away. The result was expected in the early hours of this morning and will be announced later today.

This is the final referendum because the Government has decided to abandon the system. These last two results will stand indefinitely.