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'Number of options' to get indoor dining reopened under discussion

The industry met with government representatives today for talks on the reopening of hospitality.

Image: Leah Farrell via RollingNews.ie

Updated Jul 5th 2021, 6:00 PM

PLANS TO ALLOW indoor hospitality to return in the coming weeks could go ahead if people can prove their vaccination status or that they have tested negative for Covid-19, under proposals discussed by representatives of the sector and government officials.

Talks took place this afternoon between government representatives and the industry over indoor dining, with “a number of options” on the table, it is understood. 

The Restaurants Association of Ireland and hospitality sector said the exploratory talks with senior government officials covered a wide range of options “with a view to try and reopen indoor hospitality as soon as possible”.

The group will reconvene on Thursday with a view to finalising proposals which will be presented to government for approval.

Indoor dining and drinking had been set to recommence in pubs and restaurants today. However, Taoiseach Micheál Martin last week confirmed this would be delayed due to concerned over the Delta variant. 

Indoor hospitality is now being delayed until at least 19 July when the government will propose a plan for how the reopening will take place. 

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) has recommended that only vaccinated people should be allowed to dine indoors or enjoy any indoor activity for that matter.

Members of NPHET did not attend today’s meeting between the hospitality industry and government representatives, despite criticism from the industry.

Speaking to reporters this afternoon, the Taoiseach said that he would not engage with a discussion on how hospitality might open by microphone, stating now is a time for creating space for “creative solutions” to the issues. 

Speaking on later RTÉ’s Drivetime programme, Restaurant Association of Ireland (RAI) chief executive Adrian Cummins said hospitality representatives were told today that indoor dining could reopen for 1.8 million fully vaccinated people with a vaccine pass system.

While he said this was just one possible option, the idea was floated that the industry self-regulate the reopening and to only allow bookings for those who can produce a vaccination certificate.

He said the industry has sought clarification from the government and the Attorney General that such a mechanism would be legally sound and not discriminatory.

Paraig Cribben, Chief Executive Of Vintners’ Federation of Ireland, said the industry needs a plan by 19 July, but that there is not an agreement among his members that only allowing vaccinated people into pubs is tolerable.

Those at the meeting were told that a letter proving vaccine or Covid-19 status could be issued within two weeks. 

There were a number of options on the table, he said, including antigen testing.

However, he said it believed that it would be difficult to operationalise such a system in rural areas, and might be a challenge to roll out quickly.

Three items

Speaking about antigen testing, and the calls for it to be used by the hospitality sector, the Taoiseach said earlier that many sectors are now using antigen testing, and that Professor Mary Horgan is now looking at how to use antigen testing in all sectors.

He also said tests are being used in areas such as the pilot music festival that took place in Dublin over the weekend, and that the government will “continue to expand the use of antigen testing”.

He said Professor Horgan’s report will also deal with the role of antigen testing and international travel, something which other countries are using but that NPHET disapproves of.

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Martin said that it is now up to government to take on board public health advice and make decisions about it, but he added that this would be challenging.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said in a statement that today’s meeting was a “useful opportunity to build on last week’s meeting, at which the Government took feedback from the sector and heard their suggestions”.

He said three items are to be looked over the next couple of weeks: the acceleration of the vaccine programme; the use all vaccines for all age groups; and the “continuing scrutiny” of the progression of the Delta variant, both here and elsewhere.

Varadkar said the government will work with the sector to determine ways in which indoor activities and businesses can be safely reopened.

“An implementation plan will be devised by July 19th,” he added.

Concerns have been raised from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, with its chief executive Liam Herrick tweeting:

Separately, the Taoiseach indicated to the media today that the government is “on track” to have the EU Digital Covid Cert ready by 19 July

The government is “committed” to this date, he said. There has been speculation in government circles over the last couple of weeks that the reopening of international travel could be stalled. 

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