Government ministers have signed off on a controversial phased approach to reopening indoor hospitality, leading to accusations of creating divisions in society.
Phase one will see indoor dining reopen only to those who can provide verifiable evidence of a COVID vaccination. Currently the only papers approved for such use is the EU Digital Green Certificate however other documents are under consideration.
People aged under 18 will be allowed indoors provided they are accompanied by a vaccinated parent or guardian, at which point social istancing measures must be put in place.
Travellers from Northern Ireland, the UK and the US will be allowed to dine indoors if they have proof of vaccination.
It is hoped the legislation will be passed by the Dáil this week and will, at the latest, come into force on the 26th July. The legislation will be in effect until 9th October, after which any extension must be approved by the Dáil and Seanad.
More detailed operating guidelines will be published by Fáilte Ireland in the coming days.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said it is “Not the ideal way” to reopen indoor hospitality.
“This new law means that people who have evidence of immunity through vaccination or infection in the past nine months will be able to enter indoor hospitality venues,” he said.
“We are entering a new phase of the pandemic largely due to the vaccination programme. Last year we tried to live with Covid, and we were unable to do so, but we believe this is now possible as a consequence of the vaccination programme.
“We intend to reopen in a sustainable way.”
Regarding unvaccinated staff working in hospitality, the Tánaiste said that exceptions would be made for them. “They will of course be able to get a drink or have a meal, after or before work, in the place in which they work.”
Labour leader Alan Kelly said the legislation was “Full of holes”.
“I can’t fathom why a government would actually go down this road, with an unenforceable, unworkable discriminatory piece of legislation,” said Kelly.
The Rural Independent Group of TDs hit out against the new rules. Michael Healy-Rae said “a society divided” was being created.
Restaurants Association of Ireland CEO Adrian Cummins has backed the announcement, calling it “A giant leap towards reopening hospitality businesses safely”.
“While we don’t live in perfect pre-covid world, the announcement will give confidence to a sector we are moving forward in a direction that will give the opportunity to 20,000 hospitality businesses reopen indoors and 180,000 employees return to work,” he said.