The announcement that Covid-19 restrictions on hospitality will be lifted from 6am on Saturday has been welcomed with relief and joy within the industry.
Hospitality businesses have been closed for much of the last 22 months and have borne the worst of the Covid-19 restrictions which were first imposed in March 2020.
There was further good news for the hospitality sector with the announcement that the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme, which was due to end on February 8th, will now be extended until March 8th.
Court fees and associated excise duty related to Special Exemptions Orders (SEO), will be waived until the end of April. This follows a previous waiver that was in place from the last time nightclubs opened starting in October.
Nightclubs and late bars need to obtain a SEO from the District Court for every occasion they want to trade past normal trading hours. SEOs permit extended opening hours until 2.30am.
The court fee for each Special Exemption Order is €300 and an excise duty of €110 per application is also payable to the Revenue Commissioners.
The Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI), which represents pubs outside Dublin, described the last 22 months as a "nightmare".
"Pubs can from tomorrow get back to the business of what they do best – serving the public in a warm, safe and friendly environment," VFI chief executive Padraig Cribben stated.
“The removal of all restrictions this weekend is the green light for pubs to get back to doing what they do best and I know for a fact they can’t wait.”
Mr Cribben said 50,000 staff in 7,000 pubs will be able to return to their normal lives.
“Overnight, we are saying goodbye to vaccine passes, mandatory table service, contact details, six per table, sitting at all times, one-metre social distancing, no pool or darts and the ban on using bar counters. It really is remarkable to see it all coming to an end,” he said.
Mr Cribben said he hoped the announcement would see the end to the “numerous false starts and deep disappointment” of previous openings and the country must learn to live with Covid-19.
The Licensed Vintners Association (LVA), which represents Dublin publicans and nightclub owners, has described Saturday as a "monumental day for all of hospitality".
Hospitality has been operating under significant restrictions for a total of 678 days, since pubs and late night venues closed their doors at the outset of the pandemic on March 15th, 2020.
LVA chief executive Donnall O’Keefee said his feelings of “joy, relief and excitement” are permeating throughout the sector.
“We are delighted this has all happened so quickly, the speed with which things have progressed this week has been amazing. Some in the sector were worried this day would never come,” he suggested.
“We have not had anywhere near normal trading for more than 22 months now and businesses throughout the hospitality sector will need a little more assistance to get them back on their feet.”
Fáilte Ireland chief executive Paul Kelly described the lifting of all restrictions as "a hugely positive step forward and provides much needed hope that in 2022 we will see the beginning of the recovery for our tourism sector".
The Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) described the Taoiseach's announcement as a "new dawn" for the tourism and hospitality industry and the 270,000 livelihoods its supports.
IHF chief executive Tim Fenn said the industry was relieved there will be no "cliff-edge" on financial supports, saying this gave much needed certainty to businesses trying to plan their recovery.
“The removal of restrictions is truly fantastic news for hotel and guesthouse owners and their teams,” he said.
“They have endured a turbulent, uncertain and, at times, deeply stressful period as indeed have their families and the many communities for whom tourism is the only show in town.
“It’s very welcome news too for the many businesses up and down the country that supply our sector, many of them small employers who also rely heavily on tourism and hospitality.”
Musicians too have welcomed the opening up of society which will allow them to play gigs without restrictions since March 2020.
The Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland (MEAI), which was set up at the start of the pandemic to lobby for musicians and performers, said it had been “680 days of adversity, being unable to work in any meaningful way, of financial hardship, and of major mental anguish and despair. It has been an unimaginable journey which has affected so many workers in this sector in so many different ways.”
“Our sector has been decimated and needs to be rebuilt. The pandemic has questioned our value and identity as professionals, and we must challenge that and improve the recognition and quality of our lives as professionals in this sector,” MEAI said in a statement.
MEAI thainked the Minister for Arts Catherine Martin and the Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphresy for their financial support in recent months.
Chambers Ireland, the voice of business in the Republic, said the announcement by Taoiseach Micheál Martin came as a relief to many business owners.
"Through several immensely challenging periods, they have demonstrated a strong commitment to supporting public health. Their businesses, which are hugely important to the people and strength of our local economies, now have a chance to make their full contribution to their communities and the staff they employ," said Chambers Ireland chief executive Ian Talbot.
He warned though that many businesses are at the risk of insolvency.
“Existing schemes have been extremely valuable in securing continuity and stabilising the economy but, as we enter a new phase, supports will be required for those working in vulnerable sectors,” he said.
He also hoped that flexible and remote working might continue and the benefits of that should be retained by employees and the economy.