Summer camps for children cannot operate indoors because of "strong" advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.
Speaking on Friday in Cork where he received his second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, Mr Martin said he understood the "difficulties and significant disappointments" caused by the cancellation of indoor summer camps and group training which he insisted was a measure that needed to be taken because of the Delta variant.
“I do understand that fully. But the motivation is a clear one. To protect people and to protect our hospitals,” he said.
He emphasised that the Nphet advice was “strong” in terms of indoor activities generally.
"It is because of the Delta variant. One only has to look at Scotland. One only has to look at the United Kingdom and indeed across Europe now increasingly at the spread of the Delta variant.
“We want to protect the progress we have made to date. We now look at it sector by sector and obviously there will be other areas that are indoor that are going to come at us. We are doing this to protect society and to protect the progress and gains that we have made. That is the only motivation.”
Confirmation that indoor activities such as summer camps, training, exercise and dance remain off-limits came in the response to a parliamentary question on Wednesday.
The Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Catherine Martin, said: “Indoor activities, such as organised events including summer camps, group training, exercise and dance, are not currently permitted but the Government is keeping all matters under constant review and will make further decisions in relation to indoor activities in due course following updated health advice, consideration and consultation with relevant sectors.
“The Government recognises that this is a difficult decision for many sectors, and particularly for so many businesses which had believed they would be able to open this week.”
Fianna Fáil TD Seán Haughey had asked if indoor summer art camps for children taking place in local community centres were permitted.
A spokesman for Ms Martin said on Friday it was made clear in the guidelines issued on June 29th that indoor summer camps would not be allowed in the first phase of reopening.
The guidance then stated: “Summer camps should adhere to public health measures on organised indoor and outdoor activities as appropriate, applying at the time. Currently outdoor camps can go ahead, but indoor camps are not permitted.”
The spokesman added that the possibility of indoor camps would be considered as part of indoor activities in general.
The organisation Anyone 4 Science runs summer camps in 16 counties. Managing director Christine Campbell said she had sought clarification about the status of indoor summer camps.
“I’m surprised they can’t be held when children have been inside in schools since last April,” she said.
“There doesn’t seem to be much logic to it. My plan is to work outside for the summer because I am not confident we will get indoors now.”
Art Zone camps, which had numerous locations in Dublin and Kildare pre-pandemic, has now been reduced to just one summer camp under a makeshift shelter in the Dundrum community centre.
Its founder, Gillian Blaney-Shorte, became resigned to having no indoor space last week and moved her operation outdoors, where her staff have “masking-taped paper to tables” in order to observe Covid regulations.
“We have been running all week doing art and nature. It’s been fabulous except for the rain,” she said. “Parents are loving it, the kids are outdoors and we have big gazebos we managed to rent.”
Ms Blaney-Shorte, an art teacher who founded the school 17 years ago, said she had been left confused by Government communications this year, particularly as they had been allowed to proceed last summer. Her staff has reduced from 65 to just eight.
“We really thought we would have had an income [this summer]. We have been funded to stay open. When they pull any funding I’m not sure groups like us will survive,” she said. “I said I would go out fighting but we keep having to change our business to survive.”