A staged and incremental reopening of society next month offers Ireland a pathway out of the Covid-19 pandemic, Simon Coveney has said.
A raft of plans to be signed off by Cabinet later on Thursday will see the reopening of the country over May and June.
Health chiefs and political leaders held talks late on Wednesday night to discuss the National Public Health Emergency Team’s recommendations on reopening social and economic life.
Plans expected to be supported by Cabinet include the lifting of the ban on cross-country travel, the reopening of hairdressers and the resumption of click-and-collect retail services from May 10.
Three households will also be able to meet outdoors in private gardens, while a vaccinated household can meet with an unvaccinated household indoors.
The full resumption of construction work is also set to begin from May 10.
The number of people permitted to attend religious services is also expected to increase to 50.
Another key date in the calendar is May 17, when non-essential retail will begin to reopen.
Mr Coveney said that hotels, guest houses and outdoor hospitality will reopen from early June.
Taoiseach Micheal Martin is set to confirm the dates on Thursday evening.
Mr Coveney said the reopening is in line with public health advice.
It’s staged, it’s incremental, it’s consistent with public health advice, but it is very hopeful
“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 added.
“It’s staged, it’s incremental, it’s consistent with public health advice, but it is very hopeful.
“What we’re talking about now is staging decisions on May 10, on May 17, June 2, June 7.
“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.”
Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said it is 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.”
Sinn Fein TD Louise O’Reilly probed Mr Varadkar about pandemic supports for businesses and people.
Mr Varadkar said the Government will set out a plan by the end of May about financial supports from July onwards.
He added: “The government fully appreciates that there are certain sectors that are going to need additional and ongoing financial support because of the difficulties that they will face and reopening and recovering.
“The include sectors like hospitality, the tourism industry, aviation and also the events and art sectors.
“They will need ongoing financial support for quite some time in my view, I will set out a plan to do that before the end of May.”