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TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has told the nation that it’s “time to be ourselves again” as he confirmed that almost all pandemic restrictions are to be lifted.

People who have Covid-19 will still have to isolate but restrictions on social mixing are set to go.

Based on advice from NPHET advice last night, mask-wearing in public places will remain, as will Digital Covid Certs for international travel, but all other restrictions will be removed. 

The long-imposed curbs on hospitality will be removed from 6am tomorrow, giving the green light for pubs, restaurants and nightclubs to open as normal. 

Afternoon all, Rónán Duffy here to take you through the afternoon and up to Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s momentous speech. 

I’ll say momentous because, even though these Friday night speeches have become a regular event over the past couple of years, this is one is different. 

Following NPHET’s recommendation last night, Martin will be able to outline a timeline for the lifting off all restrictions. Something we’ll all remember I’m sure.  

The basic timeline of the day looks like this: 

- Cabinet meeting at 3pm

- Taoiseach goes live on telly at 6pm 

- Press conference with Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Culture Minister Catherine Martin at 6.45pm

- Briefing between ministers and business representatives at 7.30pm 

Those aforementioned business groups aren’t waiting for that briefing later however and and have already been pressing the case. 

They say that if NPHET has said restrictions are no longer required they should be lifted immediately. 

Donall O’Keeffe, Chief Executive of the Licensed Vintners Association, told RTÉ’s News at One in the past hour that the 8pm closing time for pubs should be lifted with immediately effect. 

We’re just anxious to move forward as fast as we can. So we’re good to go from this evening. And we’re really looking forward to a really positive optimistic announcement from the Taoiseach tonight.

“The vast majority are good to go, the vast majority are gangbusters, ready to go. So we’re keen to get moving. “

Cabinet meeting 004 Varadkar outside Government Buildings today. Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Gangbusters or not, the prospect of the 8pm closing time being lifted tonight looks unlikely, with tomorrow a more likely option for Cabinet. 

Speaking earlier on his way into Government Buildings, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said some restrictions may take time to be removed. 

Varadkar did not speculate on the timing of the lifting of restrictions but suggest that some ducks needed to get in line first. 

“Obviously some things can be done quickly because they’re just guidance but other restrictions require legislation to be rescinded or repealed. We have all those details to be worked out today,” Varadkar told reporters. 

Here’s some more of what Varadkar said earlier from our Political Correspondent Christina Finn.

The WHO’s Special Envoy on Covid-19 Dr. David Nabarro also told RTÉ earlier that a phased approach to lifting all restrictions is preferable, and that mask-wearing in shops might remain “for the time being”, 

This virus is still moving around in societies, actually it’s moving around faster than ever and it’s still causing quite a lot of illness. So I would prefer to see a phased approach, if that’s possible. I’m not in a political position, so I don’t know what the limitations are, but it makes sense to me that we continue to treat this virus with respect.

BREAKING

Cabinet meeting has just begun and and it’s understood what’s on the table is the removal of restrictions from TOMORROW. 

That means capacity limits on indoor and outdoor events including  bars, restaurants and sporting fixtures. Nightclubs are also set to return from tomorrow. 

Absolutely huge news for the hospitality sector to get the green light for a full reopening.

The government were essentially given carte blanche by NPHET last night and Cabinet has decided that, in the absence of any public health advice to keep any restrictions on hospitality, they must all go. 

Christina Finn reports that a phased return to offices from Monday is set to be recommended. 

Cabinet is still discussing other items on the agenda but Taoiseach Micheál Martin is scheduled to make his speech at 6pm, confirming the removal of almost all Covid-19 restrictions. 

Martin’s entire time as Taoiseach (about 19 months and counting) has been during the pandemic and some of his earliest major speeches were the reimposition of measures in later summer 2020. 

Martin also had to announced the strictest lockdowns of the pandemic, with Ireland being at ‘Level 5′ for almost 6 months throughout late 2020 and into 2021. 

Tonight’s announcement is therefore a significant moment politically for the Taoiseach.  

Hi, Tadgh McNally here, taking over the liveblog for the next hour or so while Rónán grabs a break.

Definitely a lot of positive reaction to the news that hospitality venues, particularly pubs, will be able to return to their usual opening hours.

The Licenced Vintners Association has said tomorrow will be a “monumental day for all of hospitality”, as all restrictions are set to be removed for pubs, clubs and restaurants.

Chief Executive, Donall O’Keefe says that joy is permeating throughout the entire sector.

He praised frontline healthcare workers, saying that the reopening would not have been possible without them.

“For now we are just excited to see hospitality return and start getting back to normality,” says O’Keefe

“We can’t wait to see towns and cities around Ireland thriving again well into the night and the full return of Ireland’s world famous hospitality.

“We have no doubt that many glasses will be raised throughout the country in celebration this weekend.”

e0c4afed-dfa0-4b18-9e7b-0d431a1e8c14 Northern Ireland's Health Minister, Robin Swann Source: PA

Just over the border, Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann has said that he is cautiously optimistic about Covid-19 at present.

A large swathe of restrictions in Northern Ireland are set to be dropped in the coming days, including the reopening of nightclubs and removal of Covid-19 passes to enter pubs, restaurants and cinemas.

Speaking to reporters earlier today, Swann says that they will examine the remaining restrictions from 10 February.

“There are three weeks to go and I want to keep the trajectory of this virus going in the same direction as it has been, and that’s downwards,” said Swann.

Press Association is also reporting that Swann says that there are still some pressures on hospitals due to absences and that the situation is challenging.

He has sought military assistance to ease pressure on the healthcare system, saying that they will help make a difference.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee has gotten the jump on Taoiseach Micheál Martin with the announcement of restrictions being loosened.

In a since-deleted video on Instagram, McEntee says a significant amount of Covid-19 restrictions are set to be removed.

“I am so pleased to be able to say that as of 6am tomorrow, the vast majority of restrictions that have been in place for almost two years now, on and off, will be lifted,” said McEntee.

In the post, McEntee says that it is due to people’s perseverance in the last two years that has allowed us to reach this point.

Capture

Rónán Duffy back here again. 

Helen McEntee may have deleted her Instagram post in which she scooped the Taoiseach’s announcement, but we were listening….

Screenshot 2022-01-21 at 17.15.52 Source: Instagram

The Justice Minister appears to have recorded her video just after the Cabinet meeting:

We’ve just finished there. And I am so pleased to be able to say that, as of 6am tomorrow, the vast majority of restrictions that have been in place for almost two years now on and off, will be lifted. 

I don’t think any of us thought we’d actually be getting to this point as quickly as we are now. So many people have lost loved ones, this has had a detrimental impact on people’s livelihoods, their businesses, but als just personal freedoms, all of our personal freedoms. 

But it’s because of the hard work. It’s because of the dedication, it’s because of what each and everyone of us has done over the past two years that we are where we are now. 

So it will be a few restrictions remaining in particular around mask-wearing. And really this is about necessity, or where someone makes a decision themselves. 

So you won’t have to wear a mask going into a bar or a nightclub. This is I suppose, because you choose to go into those places knowing that it’s going to be busy and crowded. However, someone who might still be nervous might still be somewhat vulnerable, may have to get the bus to work might have no other option or they have to go into their shop to get their food or groceries. 

So until the end of February where it will be reviewed, you’ll still have to wear a mask if you’re in a retail setting or on public transport and those who are working in those as well.

In relation to schools because our children and younger children in particular are not fully vaccinated or don’t have their boosters to the extent that the adult population does. Some of the restrictions will remain. It had always been said to be reviewed in February. So that will happen. But overall look, I think this is such a good day. It’s been a long time coming and again I just want to thank everyone for their work. This has been a huge, huge effort together. And I think we’re finally seeing an end in sight.

mm1

Taoiseach now confirming restrictions to go, all requirements for entry into hospitality including Covid passes will go

“Today is a good day,” Martin said – noting that he had had to address the nation from the steps of Government Buildings during much darker periods during the pandemic.

Earlier, my government colleagues and I met to consider the latest report from the National Public Health Emergency Team.

That report confirmed that we have weathered the Omicron storm. It confirmed that the rate of infection is reducing and then all of the key indicators on which we base our decisions have stabilised and are going in the right direction. It confirmed that Ireland’s world class vaccination program and the rollout of boosters has utterly transformed our situation.

Based on this evidence, we’ve concluded that the rationale and justification for continuing most of our public health restrictions are no longer in place. Therefore, from 6am Tomorrow morning, the majority of public health measures that we’ve had to live with will be removed.

Taoiseach continued: 

Guidance in relation to household visiting will no longer apply. Restrictions on capacity for all indoor and outdoor events will no longer apply. Closing time for hospitality and events will return to where it was before the pandemic. The Covid pass requirement for access to hospitality and indoor activities will no longer apply.

The various requirements around managing people’s movements, indoor hospitality and entertainment venues will no longer be required and a phased return to the physical workplace for all staff can now commence. There are no changes to the current measures in place in relation to international travel.

I want to be clear also that the pandemic isn’t over. It will still require all of us to be vigilant. The changes we are making will likely lead to a temporary rise in infections in the short term. But we are advised that the impact of this rise will be limited by the scale of vaccination in the population. 

It is important also to say that I can’t promise you there won’t further twists in this pandemic requiring different decisions in the future. But I do know that solidarity with each other and trust in science has got us to where we are today and will get us through whatever else this virus may throw at us in the meantime. Part of the job of government would be to make sure that we are prepared for any future wave of disease. 

Spring is coming. And I don’t know if I’ve ever looked forward to one as much as I’m looking forward to this one. Humans are social beings, and we Irish are more social than most. As we look forward to this spring, we need to see each other again. We need to see each other smile. We need to sing again.

Plenty of reaction already from an expectant hospitality sector. Here’s a flavour.

Nothing you wouldn’t expect really from Fáilte Ireland CEO Paul Kelly: 

The easing of restrictions announced by the Government this evening is a hugely positive step forward and provides much needed hope that in 2022 we will see the beginning of the recovery for our tourism sector. Our priority at Fáilte Ireland throughout this pandemic has been on supporting the survival of tourism businesses and driving the recovery of the sector.

Restaurants Association of Ireland CEO Adrian Cummins dialls it up a bit by calling it “a day of liberation for the sector”. 

Businesses are breathing a sigh of relief after two years of lockdowns and restricted trading and are excited to trade once again. Staff and customer safety will continue to be paramount for the sector. The Association also welcomes comments by government that current supports will have no cliff edge.

Vintners’ Federation of Ireland Padraig Cribben says it’s been “a nightmare 22 months of lockdowns”. 

Across Ireland there are 7,000 pubs employing 50,000 staff so the benefits of reopening will be felt everywhere. Overnight, we are saying goodbye to vaccine passes, mandatory table service, contact details, six per table, sitting at all times, one-metre social distancing, no pool or darts and the ban on using bar counters. It really is remarkable to see it all coming to an end. 

Over the course of the past two years there have been numerous false starts and deep disappointment as we returned to various lockdowns, but there is a strong belief this time is different. We must learn to live with Covid, which means solutions must be put in place for any future waves. The hospitality trade can’t return to rolling lockdowns so Government must engage with the sector about meaningful solutions to keep us open.

Some specific details on where masks will still be required. It notes that bar and restaurant workers will still have to wear them while customers do not:

  • Public transport, taxis and at stations/airports/ports
  • Retail premises (incl. shopping centres, libraries, cinemas, theatres, museums, post offices, banks), public offices and at premises providing specified services and businesses (incl. salons, hairdressers, travel agents, laundries, dry cleaners, bookmakers)
  • Customer facing roles in premises where food and beverages are sold for consumption on the premises

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, speaking on the Six One says it’s a good day and pays tribute to the public and young people who have had a “difficult two years”.

But she adds, “Politics now has to get back to business.”

I think we have to learn the lessons from the pandemic I think in terms of our health service in terms of the housing need, which is chronic and crippling, for so many people.

I think we need to learn the lessons of everything that we’ve been through. But yes, it’s now time to get back, get back out, get back to work, get back to life and in some respects to pick up the pieces, but in a broader political sense to start driving on now to knuckle down and to deliver the kind of change that our people deserve.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly making it all official with the stroke of a pen

And with that, we’ll wrap up here for the evening. Plenty more reporting and analysis on The Journal tonight and into tomorrow. 

You have 45 mins to get out for a pint if you want one! Night! 

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