A call has been made for the Government to allow the increasing of the number of guests allowed at weddings to 50 to go ahead on July 5th even if the reopening of indoor hospitality also scheduled for that date is delayed.
Fianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chambers made the appeal in the Seanad as the Government waits for advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) about easing these restrictions before it makes a decision on Tuesday on whether to proceed with this, amid concerns about the spread of the more transmissible Covid-19 Delta variant.
Currently couples getting married are allowed to have 25 guests at their nuptials and the number was due to double to 50 from July 5th.
The issue of uncertainty over whether the restrictions will in fact be eased dominated Seanad proceedings on Monday, as members highlighted the frustrations of the hospitality sector.
Ms Chambers referred to the “anticipation of a delay in the full reopening of indoor dining” for restaurants and bars, and called for “special consideration” for “the small number of people getting married in . . . [coming weeks] who have already had to postpone their big day, probably numerous times.
“They’ve already issued invitations, paid a deposit. They’ve already made plans on the plan that we set out for them.
“So if the rug is pulled out from under them for these next couple of weeks I would urge the Government to take a more flexible approach, not a blanket delay to all aspects of planned reopening.”
She said couples should “be allowed to have the 50 guests that we promised them they could have”.
Independent Senator Sharon Keogan sharply criticised the Government for what she called its "lack of leadership". Hitting out at "the contradictions in the Government's reopening plan", she said that "people in power are playing with people's lives and that is a very serious problem".
Ms Keogan said she was disheartened that the "already inadequate plan is about to be changed", and she pointed to the example of Singapore, which she said had decided to treat Covid-19 "like any other endemic disease such as flu.
“They have stopped with the zero transmission targets, they will stop wearing masks, they will halt lockdowns, they will no longer require quarantine.”
Fianna Fáil Senator Pat Casey said that "politically we're all taking credit for the great rollout of the vaccine but where's the benefit of being vaccinated" when restaurants and pubs could not fully reopen.
He pointed out that “40 per cent of our adult population have been fully vaccinated and are safe to eat indoors” and he asked for them to be given the personal choice to decide whether to eat indoors in pubs and restaurants.
Mr Casey, a hotelier, said “indoor dining is already happening but it’s happening exclusively for residents in hotels”. He highlighted the inequality where in his own hotel “locals were outside, residents were inside”.
Seanad leader Regina Doherty acknowledged that frustration in relation to the issue "is absolutely palpable". The hospitality sector was on its knees but at the same time "we need to be mindful that having made every decision in the public's best interest for the last year it would be awful to see us slip at the very last hurdle".
In relation to Nphet, she also said: “I think it’s probably time for them now to go back to being the advisers to our Cabinet and not to be giving personal opinions on the airwaves every single day because it is literally driving people insane.”