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Cabinet approves legislation for phased reopening of indoor dining

Under 18s will be permitted once accompanied by a vaccinated or recovered guardian

Image: Shutterstock

Updated Jul 12th 2021, 7:40 PM

THE CABINET HAS signed off on a phased approach to reopening indoor hospitality in a “cautious but progressive manner”.

The legislation is aimed to be passed by the Dail this week and to come into force next week, or by 26 July at the very latest.

The legislation will run until 9 October, after which time any extension must be approved by the Dáil and Seanad.

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar confirmed the decision on this evening in Dublin following a meeting of the cabinet.

Phase one will see indoor hospitality reopen to people who can produce verifiable evidence of vaccination or immunity status. The EU Digital Green Certificate will be used as an indoor dining pass, however, the use of other medical documentation is still under consideration.

Although the cert allows people who have a negative PCR test result to travel around the EU, only fully vaccinated people with the pass or those who can show that they previously had Covid-19 will be permitted to dine indoors.

People vaccinated in Northern Ireland, the UK and the US will be allowed to dine indoors if they have verifiable proof of vaccination.

People aged under 18 but accompanied by a vaccinated or recovered parent or guardian will also be allowed access to indoor hospitality – as a result, social distancing measures will be in place.  

Detailed operational guidelines for reopening will be published by Fáilte Ireland in the coming days, with a strong emphasis on effective ventilation expected. 

Varadkar told reporters it is “not the ideal way” to reopen indoor hospitality.

“This new law means that people who have evidence of immunity through vaccination or infection in the past nine months will be able to enter indoor hospitality venues,” he said.

“We are entering a new phase of the pandemic largely due to the vaccination programme. Last year we tried to live with Covid, and we were unable to do so, but we believe this is now possible as a consequence of the vaccination programme.

“We intend to reopen in a sustainable way.”

Varadkar said he hopes the approach is not seen as “discrimination”, adding it is “entirely a public health measure”.

“Our intention is to move forward slowly and never to have to move backwards, and we’re conscious of what we have seen in other parts of Europe, in the Netherlands, in Lisbon, Catalonia, where we believe decisions were made to reopen too quickly and governments have had to backtrack on that because of the Delta variant.

“I can’t guarantee that won’t happen here but our objective is that it shouldn’t happen and that’s why we’re moving slowly in steps so that we can get businesses open and get people back to work, and make sure they don’t have to close again.”

The Restaurants Association of Ireland said today’s announcement is a giant leap towards reopening hospitality businesses safely, viably and sustainably.

“While we don’t live in perfect pre-covid world, the announcement will give confidence to a sector we are moving forward in a direction that will give the opportunity to 20,000 hospitality businesses reopen indoors and 180,000 employees return to work,” said RAI CEO Adrian Cummins.

Minister for Tourism Catherine Martin says the new laws are about balancing NPHET’s advice with the need to open hospitality.

“We can’t throw all the doors open and allow everyone in.”

As Gaeilge, she says there’s hope for the industry, but we have to be careful.

‘Caution’

Discussions with representatives from the hospitality sector and the government took place over the weekend as part of efforts to finalise new legislation to allow indoor dining to return.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said previously that the reopening of indoor hospitality will be done on a “phased” basis. He also said the use of antigen testing may be deployed after the initial reopening of indoor dining is evaluated.

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When asked by reporters today why a one hour and 45-minute time limit would be put in place for indoor dining for fully vaccinated people, Martin said the government is acting with “caution” on the basis of advice it is receiving. 

He claimed the move was about protecting people, adding that young people can also suffer the effects of long-term Covid.

He could not “preside” over young, unvaccinated people getting infected with Covid-19 while availing of indoor dining, he said.

“Right throughout this pandemic, it was very clear the order of and the scale of where particular activities are more dangerous than others,” Martin said.

“That was very clear in terms of the advice that we received, not just in terms of Ireland, but internationally.

“We made progress on the gradual reopening and that’s clear to see and what we don’t want is to be open and have to close again,” he said.

The Taoiseach said he did not accept the UK’s approach to “let it rip” or “that we have all of the vulnerable vaccinated and now let’s allow people to get Covid”.

Speaking later on RTÉ’s News at One programme, Justice Minister Heather Humphreys asked the public to “work with us” on the temporary measures, stating that new laws will allow older people indoors to dine and socialise. 

She said enforcement of the laws would be a matter for publicans and restaurateurs.

With reporting by Christina Finn, Adam Daly, PA

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