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Tánaiste 'increasingly confident' that indoor and outdoor dining will reopen during the summer

Leo Varadkar said that it is “increasingly evident that outdoor dining is much safer than indoor”.

Image: Eamonn Farrell

Updated Apr 15th 2021, 9:02 PM

INDOOR AND OUTDOOR dining could return this summer, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said, as the Government prepares to reveal a detailed reopening plan for May, June and July.

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar said that the Government will meet to set out the plan at the end of April – two weeks after a number of restrictions were eased this week.

More outdoor activities, a phased return of retail and the return of personal services such as hairdressers have been earmarked for the next easing of restrictions, which will begin on 4 May.

But the Tánaiste has said he is “increasingly confident” that both indoor and outdoor dining will also return over the summer.

He said: “It is increasingly evident that outdoor dining is much safer than indoor.

“But we would hope to get to the point where both will be possible.

“I’m increasingly confident that both will be possible over the course of the summer. But I don’t want to raise expectations either and give false hope.”

He added: “All being well, we will see non-essential retail and personal services reopening across the month of May.”

Varadkar said the Government has not yet decided if so-called ‘vaccine passports’ will be required to use services, such as restaurants, libraries or hairdressers.

A Digital Green Certificate is being worked on by EU institutions, but will apply to international travel.

Varadkar said: “We haven’t made any decision yet as to whether we would use that to access certain services within the State.

“I know that’s what Israel has done, that’s what Denmark is considering doing. I suppose we’d like to see how it works out there before we consider going down that route ourselves. It’s not a bad idea, but it is fraught with complications as well,” he added.

Calls for reopening

The Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) has today called for the hospitality sector to be allowed to begin reopening, starting with outdoor services for all venues including pubs and restaurants, in six weeks time. 

Earlier today, the Stormont Executive announced plans to allowed indoor pubs and restaurants to reopen on 24 May. 

“Following the publication of the reopening plan in Northern Ireland, the government should now set out a plan for reopening hospitality in the Republic, beginning in six weeks’ time,” LVA chief executive Donall O’Keeffe said. 

“The reopening should start with outdoor service for all hospitality, which includes traditional pubs, gastropubs and restaurants and with capacity dictated by social distancing,” O’Keeffe said. 

“That timeframe would allow for the further rollout of the vaccine and would also ensure that NPHET’s request for social contact to remain unchanged for the next six weeks is met.” 

The Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI) today also called on the government to “immediately” publish its plans for the reopening of the hospitality sector. 

“Pubs in the North know they will reopen indoors on 24 May, which introduces a welcome degree of certainty and stability to the trade,” VFI chief executive Padraig Cribben said. 

“That’s exactly the sort of approach we need here as publicans continue to feel abandoned by government,” he said. 

‘Cautiously optimistic for the summer’

Tourism Minister Catherine Martin has said she is working on plans that could allow the tourist industry to re-open this summer for Irish holidaymakers.

In an interview with RTÉ’s News at One programme, Martin explained that she would meet with representatives from the tourism and hospitality sectors in May to discuss plans ahead of the crucial summer months.

She said the meeting was brought forward from June to allow the government to plan for the height of the tourist season.

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“I’d be cautiously optimistic for the summer. I think if we look at where we are right now, for the first time this year there are less than 200 people in hospital, there are less than 50 in ICU. Cases are falling and the R rate is below one,” she said.

But the minister also claimed that speculation about what could happen is “unhelpful” to those within the industry as representatives wanted “clear and consistent communication”.

“What we will be doing is sitting down in two weeks time, and we’ll be looking at the phased reopening of non-essential retail, hairdressers, museums, galleries, libraries, and even sooner than that, golf and tennis will resume [with] sport training,” she said.

“But also at the end of the month, and this is crucial for the sector, we will be also be developing a plan for June and July would look like…

“I think we’ll be looking at, realistically for the summer, a strong domestic and tourism summer season.”

However, the minister said plans for tourism had to consider the vaccine rollout, the risk of variants of the virus spreading, and daily case numbers and hospital numbers.

“As I said, I’m cautiously optimistic, but we have seen time and time again since this pandemic started – and it’s not just Ireland, it’s countries throughout the world – how things change.”

However, Dr Andrea Ammon, director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), earlier cast doubt on plans for summer holidays abroad in the EU.

“Reopening in the way we were in 2019 will still take some time,” she told the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA).

“Reopening in a way without all these restrictions will depend on how quickly we can roll out the vaccinations and how effective the vaccine is protective in the longer.”

- With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha, Hayley Halpin and Stephen McDermott.

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