Ireland in a better place and ‘hope is returning’, Taoiseach says

As of Thursday night, more than 1.5 million doses of Covid vaccines will have been administered in Ireland. Credit: PA Media

Ireland is in a better place now due to people’s hard work and sacrifices and “hope is returning”, the Taoiseach has said.

Micheál Martin said it is now safe to continue moving forward with an easing of coronavirus restrictions.

In an address to the nation on Thursday evening, Mr Martin outlined a detailed plan to reopen the country and ease out of restrictions.

“The good news is that the strategy is working,” he said.

“Because of your hard work and sacrifices, we are now in a better place.”

Mr Martin added: “We are determined to do everything we can to ensure that when we open the sector of our society, our economy, it stays open.

“Taking all of these factors into consideration, we now believe it is safe to continue moving forward in two phases over the coming months.”

Cabinet ministers met on Thursday to sign off on the raft of plans that will pave the way to society and the economy reopening over May and June.

Health chiefs and political leaders held talks late on Wednesday night to discuss recommendations from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).

Ministers have agreed that the ban on intercounty travel will be lifted, personal services including hairdressers will reopen and the resumption of click-and-collect retail services will begin from May 10.

From that date, the number of people permitted to attend religious services including weddings and funerals will be capped at 50 people.

Museums, galleries and libraries will reopen and team sports for up to 15 people will also resume.

Three households will also be able to meet outdoors in private gardens, while a vaccinated household can meet with an unvaccinated household indoors.

Another key date in the calendar is May 17, when non-essential retail will begin to reopen.

Hotels, guest houses, B&Bs, self-catering and hostels will reopen from June 2.

Outdoor dining is set to reopen on June 7, along with the reopening of gyms, swimming pools and leisure centres.

Sports matches will also be permitted from that date, but no spectators will be allowed to attend.

The number of guests attending a wedding celebration/reception will be increased to 25.

Visiting indoors in private homes will be allowed for visitors from one other household.

The Taoiseach said the “overriding priority” now is the continued successful rollout of the vaccine programme.

“No effort whatsoever will be spared to make sure that every vaccine we receive into the country is administered as quickly as possible,” he said.

Mr Martin added that from next week, the online portal to register for a vaccine will be open for people aged 50-59.

As of Thursday night, more than 1.5 million doses of Covid vaccines will have been administered in Ireland.

It means almost 30% of the population has received one dose.

The Taoiseach said as he looked into July and beyond, he wants to see Ireland’s aviation, tourism and hospitality businesses back doing “what they do better than anyone else on earth”.

He also wants to see the safe return of the country’s vital artistic and cultural life and students back on campuses for the new academic year.

Mr Martin said: “It has been a very tough and unprecedented year in so many ways. But at every stage of this public health crisis, you have done everything that has been asked of you.

“We as a Government will continue to do everything we can to support you.”

It’s staged, it’s incremental, it’s consistent with public health advice, but it is very hopeful

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney

He added: “As disruptive, as lonely, as frustrating and as sad as the last year has been, we are getting through it and a degree of normality is returning.

“The company of friends and relations is returning. Hope is returning.”

The Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney earlier said that a staged and incremental reopening of society next month offers Ireland a pathway out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Coveney told RTE’s Morning Ireland the reopening is in line with public health advice.

“I think today is one of those moments when hope will start breaking through amongst society in Ireland, that there is a pathway out of this awful pandemic that we’ve been experiencing now for over a year,” he said.

“It’s staged, it’s incremental, it’s consistent with public health advice, but it is very hopeful.

“We can gradually move towards releasing people from the restrictions that they’ve been living within in their families and their businesses, their ability to be able to move around.

“We’re doing so in a way that I think shows that the gathering of pace within our vaccine programme, and the public’s understanding of Covid, and how to protect themselves from it, allow us to be able to move in a more hopeful direction.”

There are a lot of measures we can embrace but we need to not go beyond those measures

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said it was a “day of hope for Ireland”.

“All things going to plan over the course of May, June and July, most businesses will reopen,” he told the Dail.

“Hundreds of thousands of people currently on the Pandemic Unemployment Payments will be able to return to work, and we’ll see a lot of our personal freedoms restored.

“In May alone, we could see as many as 15,000 businesses reopen and as many as 200,000 people being offered their jobs back.”

Speaking on his way into the Cabinet meeting, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the planned easing of restrictions, if passed by ministers, would be a “big step in the right direction” and would bring a “lot of much-needed relief” to people across the country.

Mr Donnelly said: “It’s been a tough year and we’ll take our good days and I think for our country this is a good day.”

But he warned that as Nphet continues to advise, “we’ve got to be sensible about it”.

“There are a lot of measures we can embrace but we need to not go beyond those measures,” he said.

“The seven-day rate is continuing to rise. It’s gone up by a quarter in the past week and the number of clusters is still going up and the B117 variant is nearly all new cases.”