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Coronavirus: Gatherings of over 5,000 people to be banned until September

Varadkar hopes to be able to announce the lifting of some restrictions on May 5th

Longitude Festival is expected to be cancelled. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw for The Irish Times

All mass gathering of over 5000 people will be banned until September 1st under plans set to be announced by the Government due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

Government sources said local authorities will be told not to grant licences for large events in this period due to the coronavirus crisis.

It is understood the decision was taken by Ministers at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning. The decision will mean major concerts and other events will have to be cancelled or rearranged. Although sporting events are not covered by licences they are also likely to be cancelled in the coming weeks.

Separately Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he hopes to be able to announce the lifting of some restrictions on May 5th. However he said he did not want to give false assurances and it would depend on the rate of virus, capacity in hospitals and testing and tracing.

Mr Varadkar said the Government wanted to open up areas of the most benefit to the economy and society but the least risk. Speaking on RTE’s Prime Time Mr Varadkar said he would encourage industry and businesses to think about what they would do to implement social distancing if they were told they could open their facilities.

Earlier the Government said it would give further health advice before current restrictions end on May 5th.

“However, there are a number of largescale future events which require licensing and the involvement of the HSE and Garda Síochána, and public consultation in that licensing process which fall to be determined in advance of that by local authorities.”

“While the issue of restrictions on future mass gatherings is a decision to be taken by the NPHET, in the case of these particular events, and taking account of the impacts on the integrity of the licensing process in the short-term due to restrictions on stakeholder involvement, local authorities have been advised by Government that event promoters should be informed that events requiring licences in excess of 5,000 will not be considered for the period up to the end of August.”

Mass gatherings were first restricted in the State on March 12th when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced indoor gatherings of more than 100 people should be cancelled and outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people should be cancelled.All mass gatherings have been restricted since March 24th.

Tidy Towns cancelled

Meanwhile the cancellation of the 2020 Tidy Towns competition was confirmed by Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring “in the interests of public health and safety”.

“I know that many TidyTowns Committees have been wondering if the competition will proceed this year and I believe it is important to provide certainty .

“For me, the health and welfare of the volunteers on the TidyTowns Committees is paramount. Given the current restrictions around public gatherings, travel, and adherence to social distancing, it would not be appropriate to ask voluntary groups to work on TidyTowns projects in their communities at this time.

“I have therefore decided that the TidyTowns competition will not go ahead this year.”

Not surprised

MCD owner Denis Desmond has said he is not surprised by the Government’s decision to ban large gatherings .

Mr Desmond, who is the biggest promoter of live shows in Ireland, said he was already planning for a cancellation of the shows planned for the summer time as many international acts are not touring anyway.

“It was only a matter of time. It’s the right thing to do.We’ve been expecting it. Germany and Denmark announced these restrictions last week and it’s only a matter of time before the UK announces it too,” he said.

“Everybody needs to be on the same page. American acts would find it difficult to come to Europe. They would not just be dependent on shows in the UK and Ireland, they would have to have shows in Europe too. It wouldn’t be viable for them to come in to play just a few shows.”

He anticipated that concerts and festivals that were due to take place in 2020 will now be pushed out to 2021.

“That is something that we will start working on immediately. Twenty four hours from now we will announce new dates. Most of the shows will go back 12 months,” he said.

Among the festivals that will now be cancelled will be the inaugural Sunstroke rock festival due to take place in Punchestown between June 13th and 14th and Longitude, due to take place in Marlay Park in south Dublin between July 3rd and 5th. All were promoted by MCD.

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He said the impact on live music in general has yet to be seen. “The only positive is that we are only a year out from a vaccine at the most. Hopefully we will all be back in business next summer. The industry in Ireland alone is worth €2 billion. We have never seen anything like this and hopefully we will never see again.”

The Kaleidoscope family music festival, due to take place at Russborough House, Co Wicklow at the end of June said it was cancelled due to the restrictions .

Rose of Tralee

The organisers of the Galway Races said Tuesday’s meant they had to reach the “difficult but unavoidable” decision to close this year’s festival to the public.

The racecourse’s general manager, Michael Moloney, said it might still prove possible to stage this year’s meeting behind closed doors but the issue was dependent on Government policy and the approval of Horse Racing Ireland and the Irish Horse Racing Regulatory Board.

“This would be for the benefit of the racing industry, our valued partners and our television audiences at home and internationally,” said Mr Moloney.

This year’s event, one of the biggest in the summer sporting calendar, is due to be held at the Ballybrit racecourse on July 27th-August 2nd.

The festival, which attracts approximately 140,000 racegoers over seven days of races, is estimated to be worth €54m to the local economy in Galway.

Race meetings behind closed doors were able to continue for a period in March after other sporting events had been cancelled due to restrictions to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Moloney said any customers who had already paid for admission tickets and corporate hospitality would get a full refund.

The Rose of Tralee Festival which is due to take place from August 21st-25th , appears likely to be another major casualty of the updated ban.

Anthony O’Gara, the executive chair of the Rose of Tralee International Festival said it was “very unlikely” this year’s event would be able to go ahead.

Mr O’Gara said the organisers would look to see if the festival could be staged sometime in September if the current restrictions were to change but there were major logistics involved in changing the date.

So far just one of 32 Roses have been selected at centres in Ireland and around the world with local selection conventions also uncertain when they can be held.

Mr O’Gara said he expected a final decision would need to be made “in the next couple of weeks” as to whether the festival would be cancelled for the first time ever in its 61 year history.

Meanwhile, the Galway International Arts Festival said it would await further clarification on crowd restrictions before a decision was made on whether this year’s festival could go ahead as planned.

The festival, one of the major events in the cultural calendar, has an extra special programme this year to coincide with Galway’s selection as European Capital of Culture 2020 including performances by Pixies, Kaiser Chiefs and The Flaming Lips. The two-week festival is due to taken place on July 13th-26th.

FAI

The FAI is to seek talks with the Government over announcement. The governing body of soccer in the Republic said it wanted to seek clarity on how the decision would affect the SSE Airtricity League as well as the potential impact on international football fixtures if the ban is extended into September.

The FAI’s interim chief executive, Gary Owens, said they were the two issues which immediately arose from the updated situation on social distancing measures.

The FAI had revealed earlier on Tuesday that it hoped that Ireland’s playoff with Slovakia in the Euro 2020 play off would be played in October.

On international fixtures including UEFA Nations League matches scheduled for September and the Slovakia game, Mr Owens remarked: “We really need to be able to hold those matches and have mass gatherings in September. Hopefully we can get to the end of August and that 5,000 limit will be increased”.

Mr Owens said the threshold of 5,000 for the ban on mass gatherings represented an opportunity for League of Ireland clubs as it was a level which could allow the league to resume matches.

The FAI’s National League Executive Committee is due to meet on Wednesday to discuss the issue. Mr Owens indicated a final decision would not be taken before May 5th - the period for which the current social distancing restrictions are in place.

“Like everything else, the devil is in the detail. We really need to understand what they mean by 5,000 in terms of mass gatherings and whether that applies in stadiums and what are the criteria we would have to comply with,” he added.

Mr Owens said allowing gatherings in football stadiums of up to 5,000, if agreeable to the HSE, would represent “a significant breakthrough” for the FAI.

The SSE Airtricity League is currently scheduled to resume on June 19 with the Women’s National League set to begin matches a week later.

While the FAI is considering a number of possible options including a further deferral or playing the games behind closed doors, Mr Owens said no decision could be taken until they had got further clarity and advice from the Government.

“I think the most important thing for us at the moment is to analyse all the options, look at all the scenarios and be ready to make a decision that is appropriate,” Mr Owens said.

The FAI chief executive, who held a conference call with other UEFA executives on Tuesday, said UEFA remained committed to dates in late July for Irish clubs to enter next season’s European club competitions.

Mr Owens said it was still possible that Irish clubs could take part in the qualifying rounds in late July or early August.

He also confirmed that it was now likely the crunch semi-final play-off for Stephen Kenny’s team against Slovakia would be held in October with the final play-off for the winner against either Northern Ireland or Bosnia in November.

“They don’t want to have the semi-final and the final of the play-offs in the same month,” Mr Owens said.

Meanwhile, the GAA said it would not comment on the latest directions about mass gathering and its impact on the National League and All-Ireland Championships until the organisation had an opportunity to discuss the situation internally.

The IRFU also said it was not in a position to comment on how the new restrictions would affect plans for the resumption of the sport in Ireland including cancelled fixtures in the Six Nations championship, the Heineken Cup and the Guinness Pro14 league.

Ploughing

The organisers of the National Ploughing Championship, one of the largest outdoor events staged in Ireland each year, said they were still taking bookings for this year’s event which is scheduled to be held on September 15th-17th in Ballintrane, Fenagh, Co Carlow.

Anna Marie McHugh, spokeswoman for the National Ploughing Championship, said it was closely monitoring the situation and would following Government guidelines on the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The latest update doesn’t really change the situation. We will act in the best interest of the country if and when the times comes that a decision has to be made,” said Ms McHugh.

She said all exhibitors were being informed they would be entitled to a full refund if the event was cancelled.

“There is a timeline at which various things need to start happening in terms of organising the championships and I suspect a final decision will need to be made in late May or early June on whether we can go ahead as planned in September,” Ms McHugh said.

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