We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Sam Boal

As it happened: Offices to reopen and live events to return on 'phased basis' over Sept and Oct

Further discussions are due to take place next week.

LAST UPDATE | 27 Aug 2021

A COVID-19 CABINET sub-committee meeting to discuss a roadmap for the next phase of reopening has concluded.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) met on Wednesday where it is understood it agreed there should be a move towards a personal responsibility approach by individuals.

Ministers have said no specific decisions came out of today’s meeting and there will be further discussions early next week.

Here’s how this afternoon played out…

Here’s a quick recap of what we know so far… 

Speaking to reporters on his way into the meeting, Climate and Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said: 

  • There is the potential for a return to 100% capacity public transport from next month, saying this “makes sense” with people returning to schools, colleges and workplaces.
  • A return to non-essential offices is needed but “on a phased basis” and using a hybrid model.
  • Confirmations and communions have the potential to recommence from September, also on a phased basis.

He also added that he believes “we need to see the entertainment industries coming back in a safe way” with live events recommencing.

The minister added that there will be “much wider change” in the loosening of restrictions by October.

“Hopefully, on the path we’re on, we are seeing our way out of most restrictions in the sort-of six week timeframe that Tony Holohan set out.”

He said he would be “very glad” if Electric Picnic had the opportunity to take place, and there will be discussion around the issue in today’s meeting with consideration of Laois County Council’s refusal to grant the festival a licence.

Cabinet Sub Committee 003 Minister for Culture Catherine Martin speaking to reporters outside Government Buildings today Sam Boal Sam Boal

Also speaking to reporters on the way into the meeting, Minister Catherine Martin said musicians have “waited long enough and I want to see them getting back performing and doing what they do best and earning their living again”.

She said the sub-committee will be “exploring all possible options” around the potential for Electric Picnic to go ahead, but said her concern is for “all musicians in all walks of life as well”.

Minister Martin said she believes she will have support from Cabinet colleagues on the issue of live events.

“I believe they see that urgency and really, letting people earn a living again and doing what they do best.”

What has NPHET been saying? 

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) met on Wednesday where it is understood it agreed there should be a move towards a personal responsibility approach by individuals.

It is understood NPHET recommended that a target of 90% of over 16s being fully vaccinated should be achieved before the full easing of all restrictions is permitted.

This is expected to take four to six weeks.

Catherine Martin said there has been a lot of “changing the goalposts” for the sector and that the 90% vaccination target is difficult to reach.

There was some confusion in government circles yesterday in relation to the letter from NPHET, with some senior figures stating that it is not very clear, and there were no specific dates or phases mentioned.

They questioned what NPHET is in favour of opening or allowing next month, stating that these issues will be teased out in the sub-committee meeting today.

A full Cabinet meeting on Tuesday will sign off on the final plan.

Calls for clarity

Those working in the live entertainment industry have been calling for clarity on when they can reopen.

With Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan stating this week that he would have little issues with live events, such as Electric Picnic, taking place where only fully vaccinated people in attendance, sources state that in the short-term, further freedoms for vaccinated people could be approved for places and events such as concerts, theatres, bingo and bowling.

Some ministers will also push for the reopening of indoor classes such as dance, drama, music as well as yoga and fitness classes.

The hospitality sector is looking for the scrapping of the 11.30pm closing time, and for seating at the bar to be allowed, with social distancing, which sources state will also be discussed.

OUTDOOR DINING DUBLIN 2P8A3788 People enjoying outdoor dining in Dublin city Leah Farrell Leah Farrell

While it had been expected that live concerts may be allowed in mid-September, the latest advice from NPHET has placed a question mark over such a move.

Holohan indicated this week that in a number of weeks we could reach the point where Covid Certs and checks are no longer required, given the level of vaccination.

The legislation underpinning the use of the Covid cert and vaccine pass in a hospitality context is due to lapse on 9 October, with some government sources stating that might be the time to let normal pub and restaurant operations to resume, however, others state it is too soon to say whether that might be the date.

Those in government circles are eager to move on from the position of setting rules and regulations around how people behave, with one source stating that now is the time to “get on with it”.

However, there are concerns within Cabinet that the Taoiseach remains overly cautious.

Speaking outside Government Buildings earlier today, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said he doesn’t believe any particular vaccination rate needs to be achieved in order to allow for widespread easing of restrictions. 

Here’s a clip of what Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan had to say to reporters on his way into the meeting this morning: 

It’s quiet enough at the moment, with no news from the Cabinet sub-committee meeting as of yet. 

While we wait, let’s take a quick look at the latest Covid-19 figures. 

Public Health officials yesterday confirmed a further 1,866 cases of Covid-19 in Ireland. 

There were 331 people in hospital with the virus yesterday, with 61 in intensive care.

There has been a total of 5,092 deaths related to Covid-19 notified in Ireland. 

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said the number receiving critical care in hospital is the highest number since 3 April this year.

He said: 

“Critical care is our last night of defence against Covid-19 and I know this figure will concern many of us. 

“Vaccination remains our best means of protection against Covid-19. The vaccines available in Ireland are very safe and effective against Covid-19.

“There are still some people who haven’t yet taken up the opportunity of vaccination or, who have delayed receiving a second dose for various reasons. I strongly encourage anyone who is in this position to ensure they get fully vaccinated as soon as possible in order to best protect themselves and those around them.

“Vaccination, along with continuing adherence to the public health advice, will break the chains of transmission and drive down incidence of Covid-19 in our communities.”

ep 634 Electric Picnic 2018 Sam Boal Sam Boal

With a decision expected to be made at today’s meeting on the return of live events, here’s a quick recap on what’s been said about Electric Picnic so far this week… 

On Tuesday, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said NPHET would not be opposed from a public health perspective to large events such as Electric Picnic taking place with only vaccinated people in attendance. 

“We wouldn’t have a concern from a public health point of view to express about an event that happened that was confined to vaccinated people,” he told a press briefing at the Department of Health. 

Electric Picnic boss Melvin Benn was quick to react to these comments. 

In a statement this evening, he called on Laois County Council “to immediately reverse the decision it took to refuse the licence and grant it immediately in line with the CMO’s conditions”. 

Earlier this month, Laois County Council released a statement saying that the licence was not being granted for the event which traditionally takes place in Stradbally every summer.

Covid-19 rules currently limit numbers at organised outdoor events to 500 at venues with capacity in excess of 5,000.

No white smoke from the Cabinet sub-committee just yet.

In the meantime, in case you missed it earlier, the largest ever piece of research on long Covid was published today.

It found that around half of patients discharged from hospital for Covid still suffer from at least one persistent symptom – most often fatigue or muscle weakness – after 12 months.

One industry in particular is eagerly awaiting news from government about the easing of the remaining restrictions.

It has been a long road for musicians and performers, many of whom have been out of work for the entire pandemic. 

Representatives today expressed huge concern about cuts to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment – planned for next month – if the government does not significantly loosen restrictions for this sector. 

Our Political Correspondent Christina Finn just got word that the Cabinet Covid subcommittee has finished its meeting:

Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan tells reporters that nothing specific was agreed today. 

Minister Ryan said the target of having 90% of people over 16 vaccinated before lifting all restrictions is not a hard and fast target. 

Minister Ryan said there is agreement that the government will have to continue to “do what has worked”.

“Steady reopening, bringing back Holy Communions and Confirmations, bringing back entertainment, the return to work is probably one of the most important. But to do that on a gradual phase basis, through September into October.”

When asked whether people in the live entertainment sector can look forward to going back to work in September, he said “I think so, yes”.

“And not just them, there’s people in the local bingo hall, there’s local bowling club, there’s a whole range of activities that have been held back by this virus,” he said adding that people still need to be careful to minimise contacts as much as possible.

He said the government will start providing for the return of events in September, ramping up in October.

Minster Ryan said the government expects public transport to return to 100% capacity next week.

Our reporter Christina Finn says the HSE and vaccine taskforce told the committee that they believed the target of 90% of over 16s fully vaccinated may never be met:

More from Christina:

I understand NPHET is in favour of allowing more indoor activities using the vaccine pass.

Use of vaccine pass for indoor venues can be extended by ministerial order. Using vaccine pass for outdoor events would require primary legislation.

I’m told ‘there is little appetite for that’

So let’s recap what we know so far from the meeting:

  • There’ll likely be some good news for the live entertainment sector next week, such as the phased return of larger outdoor events in September. 
  • Other indoor activities like bingo, bowling, indoor dance and fitness classes are also expected to return.
  • NPHET has told government that it is in favour of allowing more indoor activities, such as theatres shows, if vaccine passes are used. 
  • The committee did discuss the use of vaccine passes for large outdoor events but there was little appetite for this idea as a change to legislation would be required.
  • Communions and Confirmations will be allowed again soon.
  • Public transport will return to full capacity in about a week’s time. 

We’ve got a brief statement from the government about the subcommittee meeting – they’re not giving much away:

“The Cabinet subcommittee on Covid-19 met today as planned. The subcommittee received presentations from officials on various matters including the most recent NPHET advice, progress of the vaccine programme and current situation with health services.

“Possible next steps were discussed and it was agreed to adjourn until Monday.”

The government said a draft plan will be discussed on Monday prior to fill Cabinet consideration on Tuesday.

There will also be engagement over the weekend with the organisers of Electric Picnic.

Taoiseach Michéal Martin is currently speaking to the media outside Government Buildings. 

He says the details of the roadmap will include dates and timelines. It will now be worked on by officials, he says. 

The Taoiseach says the range of 89% to 91% of the population being fully vaccinated is the optimal range and that it can be achieved in a short time period. 

The Taoiseach confirms we will see a lifting of restrictions in entertainment, theatre and the arts in September. 

Martin says September will be a significant month. 

He says the roadmap is likely to span over September and October, but not into November. 

The Taoiseach says it’s expected that 90% of over 18-year-olds will be vaccinated by 6 September. 

That’s all from us for the evening, we’ll keep you up to date on all the latest regarding easing of restrictions on The Journal throughout the weekend. 

Readers like you are keeping these stories free for everyone...
A mix of advertising and supporting contributions helps keep paywalls away from valuable information like this article. Over 5,000 readers like you have already stepped up and support us with a monthly payment or a once-off donation.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel