Return to offices could be possible by August, says Taoiseach

Increasing speed of vaccine rollout could enable workers to return sooner, says Martin

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and  An Taoiseach Micheál Martin at the official opening of the Penrose Dock office complex in Cork. Photograph: Darragh Kane

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and An Taoiseach Micheál Martin at the official opening of the Penrose Dock office complex in Cork. Photograph: Darragh Kane

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has not ruled out the possibility of the Government sanctioning a sooner than expected full-scale return to offices for workers by August if Covid-19 levels can be further reduced.

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise Leo Varadkar had backed a return of workers to their offices from August and he is understood to have asked the National Public Health Emergency Team to consider a phased return then, rather than September.

“We are planning a phased return to offices from September provided the vaccine programme continues to gather pace and the virus remains under control, I believe August makes more sense than September,” said Mr Varadkar.

But speaking in Cork on Tuesday where he visited the new Penrose Dock office complex, Mr Martin was somewhat more circumspect about an August return to office working for workers while not entirely ruling out such a possibility.

“I think we will see towards the end of this month with the progress we have made whether we can move forward in some areas like that,” said Mr Martin during a visit to the complex with Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney.

“In the world of work, a lot of young people have not yet been in their offices after being recruited last year. We want them to get the office experience as fast as they can.

“We are going to take this step by step. I can understand for a lot of young people who have been recruited [last year], that a blended experience [remote and office working] would be worthwhile.”

“We will take advice on this and take it step by step. As you have seen all along the way, we were able to do things in June that we didn’t signal that we would be able to do one month earlier.”

Mr Martin said that similar to a greater easing of restrictions and opening up of the economy this month than was originally predicted, the Government might similarly be able to go further in August than it is currently signalling.

“All sectors have protocols and work on safety approaches for the workplace, both indoors and outdoors. We will have a lot more people vaccinated by August – again the vaccine dividend is involved.”

Mr Martin said that while it looked as though it would primarily be “an outdoor summer” for people in Ireland, he was hopeful the Government would be able to get third-level students back to universities and colleges this autumn.

“One of our key targets for the autumn is the return of the college experience for students – I know Simon Harris is working on that. We want to offer a normal campus-like experience for young students in further education.”

Mr Martin also expressed confidence that a pilot project to allow a certain number of spectators attending sporting events this summer was on track but much would depend on the continued speedy rollout of vaccines.

“In terms of the vaccine, the vaccine is very effective – I was talking to [HSE chief executive] Paul Reid yesterday and in terms of hospitalisation and intensive care unit numbers, they are still well down and going down.”

“The impact is good and positive so we will keep with this. We are making progress – and I think by the end of this month we will see a really significant amount of people vaccinated with the first and second dose.

“We have just got to take it step by step as we have been doing. Every month we have made progress. Sports Minister Jack Chambers was talking about the trials for sports events and, again, that is about seeing what is possible.”

“Hopefully, we can expand spectator sports for July ... if the trial events go well we can look forward to perhaps accelerating spectators at various games and codes ... that would make a great summer this year.”