Indoor dining in July and ‘close to normality by late summer’ - Varadkar

Government to look at proposals for holding live events with limited numbers attending

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar has told the Oireachtas committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment that he is "very hopeful" that Ireland will return to "something very close to normality" by the end of the summer. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

Indoor dining is expected to return in July, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise and Employment Leo Varadkar has said.

Speaking at the Oireachtas committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment on Wednesday, Mr Varadkar suggested that a rough idea of forthcoming guidelines on outdoor dining and drinking could involve patrons having to be seated with a metre or a metre-and-a-half distance between tables.

“I’m very hopeful that we can return to something close to normality by late summer”, he said.

He suggested there may be no more than six people at a table but that they could come from any number of households.

There would be “no rule of 15, if you have the space you have the space,” he said, referring to the previous 15-person limit for outdoor dining rule.

Mr Varadkar also suggested there would be no requirement to purchase a substantial meal, and that he did not anticipate a limit on the time people could stay.

Signalled

He also signalled that the Government would look next week at proposals for holding live events with limited numbers attending.

Ireland will need a “very big and attractive incentive package” to get airlines to return to operations when travel restrictions ease, he said.

Government had offered to pay airlines to operate strategic routes during the pandemic, however they were not been interested in such an initiative,

He said that although he had been told by Aer Lingus at a recent meeting about plans for re-structuring, he had not been given details and that the announcement by the airline on Tuesday that it was to close it cabin crew base at Shannon airport had not been expected.

He said the Government wanted Aer Lingus to defer its decision to close the Shannon base at least until it saw the new official plan for aviation which will be published next week.

He said airlines were very nimble and that bases that were closed one month could be re-opened the next year.

He told the committee there was “no shortage of money “going to aviation from the Government. He said it amounted to hundreds of millions at this stage.

He said Aer Lingus and others were receiving millions in support under the wage subsidy scheme while airports had received financial support as well.

Mr Varadkar said the Government had had conversations with airlines about paying them to keep certain strategic routes open.

However he said this was “not something they were particularly interested in” and such an initiative would run into State aid and competition rules.

Passengers

“This is not something they are particularly interested in. They want to fly their planes with passengers on them. They do not want to be paid to fly planes empty.”

“We are not New Zealand. Planes can be moved out of Ireland very easily to places like Manchester and that is one of the consequences of very strict restrictions that we have in Ireland.”

Mr Varadkar said there were parties in the Dáil that wanted even stricter rules introduced.

Asked by several committee members about Shannon, Mr Varadkar said be believed critical routes for the airport were to Heathrow, the east coast of the United States and to one EU hub which was to be either Frankfurt or Paris.

“We got Paris and then along came the pandemic and we have pretty much lost everything so it is a very worrying situation.”

Mr Varadkar said airlines did not want to be paid to stay on the ground in Europe.

“They will just move the planes and that is how the ’single European sky (agreement) works and unfortunately that is what could happen to us and that is why we will need a very big and attractive incentive package to get airlines back when their passengers are able to travel and we are not at that point at the moment for public health reasons .”

Live events

He also said the Cabinet will next week consider proposals for the re-introduction of live events with limited capacity.

Mr Varadkar said the memo being brought to Cabinet by Minister for Tourism, Culture and Arts Catherine Martin next week would deal with sporting, artistic and cultural events.

He said the Government would also consider proposals for travel at its meeting next week. However he said there was concern about the Indian Covid-19 variant.

Mr Varadkar said the Government hoped to publish its new national economic recovery plan at the end of May or early June.

“The plan will provide certainty for businesses and workers by outlining targeted assistance for sectors which will continue to be most adversely affected by the pandemic.”

“It will outline the next steps for the emergency pandemic interventions, including the pandemic unemployment payment and employment wage subsidy scheme , reaffirming the Government’s commitment to avoid a cliff-edge.”

However he said that “for financial reasons these could not be long tailed either”.