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Easing of Covid-19 rules will allow 500 go to matches - but pubs must wait

Cabinet ready to relax Covid-19 restrictions around outdoor gatherings, giving huge boost to GAA and League of Ireland

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GAME WITHOUT THE CROWD: Former Kilkenny and James Stephens player Phil ‘Fan’ Larkin looks on during the Kilkenny County Senior Hurling League Group A match between James Stephens and Danesfort at UPMC Nowlan Park in Kilkenny. GAA matches continue to take place in front of a limited audience. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

GAME WITHOUT THE CROWD: Former Kilkenny and James Stephens player Phil ‘Fan’ Larkin looks on during the Kilkenny County Senior Hurling League Group A match between James Stephens and Danesfort at UPMC Nowlan Park in Kilkenny. GAA matches continue to take place in front of a limited audience. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

GAME WITHOUT THE CROWD: Former Kilkenny and James Stephens player Phil ‘Fan’ Larkin looks on during the Kilkenny County Senior Hurling League Group A match between James Stephens and Danesfort at UPMC Nowlan Park in Kilkenny. GAA matches continue to take place in front of a limited audience. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

The Cabinet is expected to ease Covid-19 restrictions on outdoor gatherings to allow up to 500 people at events.

The move would be good news for GAA and League of Ireland fans who have been starved of going to live sports for the past few months.

Despite concerns about a rise in coronavirus cases, ministers yesterday said they expected rules on outdoor gatherings to be eased to allow more supporters to attend.

Increasing the number of people who can attend football and hurling matches will be welcomed by backbench government TDs, who last week heaped pressure on Taoiseach Micheal Martin to allow more people at games.

The rules currently only permit 100 people at outdoor events but the lack of clusters in these settings means the Government is prepared to let more supporters go to matches. "As we learn more about the virus, we see there is a low risk in outdoor settings," a source said.

However, there is bad news for nightclubs owners, with senior government figures insisting they will not be given the clearance to reopen when ministers meet on Tuesday to discuss easing of restrictions.

Pubs may be permitted to open under strict new guidelines but the rising number of new cases in recent days has raised fresh doubts over whether the Government will give them the green light.

It is accepted among ministers that nightclubs will not reopen but it is hoped that pubs may be able to open under limited circumstances.

"Nightclubs will be a while off," a Cabinet minister said, before adding: "Pubs are looking shaky after the last two days." Another senior minister said the reopening of pubs is "up in the air" but suggested a solution may be found to allow rural pubs to reopen.

"There is a difference between the rural pub that has the same half-a-dozen people in and out during the week and a pub on Harcourt Street or Baggot Street in Dublin," the minister said.

"We could restrict the numbers of people allowed in, so the rural pubs could have their regulars. They might not be able to do a €9 meal but they will be able to socially distance in a way the big super-pubs and disco bars wouldn't," the minister added.

In the original roadmap for reopening the country, nightclubs were due to reopen on August 10.

The revised roadmap did not specifically mention nightclubs but it was presumed they could open along with pubs, bars, hotel bars and casinos on July 20.

The Government postponed fully moving into the final stage of the plan over fears about an increase in the spread of the coronavirus.

A large rise in cases last week caused concern among ministers ahead of a crucial Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

The Government's key focus for August is the reopening of primary and secondary schools and the Taoiseach has indicated pubs and nightclubs may lose out to ensure children can return to education.

Yesterday, a senior government source said the "priority" is still to open schools and the Cabinet will take into consideration the figures for new Covid cases over the weekend and tomorrow before they make a final decision on easing restrictions.

The source said the Government would draft new rules in consultation with vintners if they were to give pubs permission to reopen without serving food. The source said any rules introduced would be closely monitored to ensure publicans were adhering to the guidelines. However, they emphasised no decision had been taken on whether they could reopen or not.

Yesterday, publicans warned there will be permanent closures if pubs are not allowed to open on August 10.

Padraig Cribben, chief executive of the Vintners Federation of Ireland, told the Sunday Independent: "Publicans are crying out to be allowed open Monday week. There is real concern that any further delay will lead to permanent closures, already we have members in tourist areas saying if they don't open on August 10 they will remain closed until next March.

"Reopening was dangled in front of publicans last month, only to be denied at the last minute. If there is another negative decision from Government, it will devastate the trade. The delay in publishing reopening guidelines is a further blow to our members.

"With just one week to the planned reopening, publicans remain in the dark about what specific protocols will be introduced.

"For instance, can customers sit at the bar counter? This is a hugely important issue for rural pubs who do most of their business at the counter.

"Our message is simple: publish the guidelines and publicans will make them work. Just get us open!"

The Government is also monitoring the situation in other EU countries, where second waves of the virus have already emerged.

Sunday Independent