Publicans are calling for the establishment of an ombudsman to monitor financial institutions in their dealings with small and medium enterprises.

The Vintners' Federation of Ireland is also calling for a cut in VAT and in local authority rates, and warns that the sector is facing further substantial job losses.

Publicans attending today's meeting of the national executive council of the Vintners' Federation say the industry, especially in rural areas, is in dire straits.

The federation says research it has conducted indicates that there have been at least 4,800 job losses in the sector in the past year. It warns of a further 5,000 if current trends continue, with more pub closures 'inevitable'.

Almost half of publicans surveyed have reduced opening hours as a result of a loss in trade of between 10-20%. This trend has continued throughout the summer for most.

The Federation wants a substantial cut in VAT rates with the higher rate dropping from 21.5% to 15%, and the lower rate from 13.5% to 10%.

It also wants no change in current permissible blood alcohol levels, and for employment incentives in the manufacturing sector to be extended to the hospitality sector.