Gardai will have a role regulating and inspecting new protocols to facilitate the return of indoor hospitality for vaccinated people, stakeholders have been told.
Further meetings were held between Government and industry representatives on Thursday, with six reopening scenarios to go to Cabinet for a final decision on Tuesday.
It follows Nphet advice to limit access to indoor hospitality to only people who are fully vaccinated or who have recovered from Covid-19, to curb the spread of the Delta variant.
When the choice comes down to this proposal or staying closed for several more months, we feel we have no option but to go along with it.Donall O'Keefe, Licensed Vintners Association
Many in the hospitality sector are deeply unhappy with the plans, but fear they have no other choice, with the Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) saying they are being “put over a barrel.”
They say the choice they face is between remaining shut indefinitely, or “proceeding with a hugely challenging system.”
LVA chief executive Donall O’Keeffe said: “We don’t like this approach and we don’t want it. We feel it is deeply problematic on a practical level.
“But when the choice comes down to this proposal or staying closed for several more months, we feel we have no option but to go along with it.
“With some pubs having now been shut for almost 16 consecutive months we’re being put over a barrel because we have to get the sector open or more businesses will go bust and thousands more will lose their livelihoods.”
Taoiseach Micheal Martin has refused to be drawn on a date for their return, but said plans will be in place as promised by July 19.
All of the major stakeholders have pushed for July 19 to become the reopening date.
There will be a phased approach to reopening with ventilation, CO2 monitors, work safety protocols and reopening guidelines developed for indoor hospitality.
The used of antigen and PCR testing will be investigated over the weeks ahead, despite Nphet objecting to their use in indoor hospitality settings.
Gardai, along with the Health and Safety Authority, Failte Ireland and environmental health officers will play a role in regulating and inspecting the new protocols.
One proposal is that a “vaccine pass” will be sent to people who have been fully vaccinated, or previously had the disease, which could be shown on doors for entry.
Discussions on Thursday explored how the EU Digital Covid Certificates, to be issued from Monday via email and post, can be used to prove fully vaccinated and recovery status.
Padraig Cribben, chief executive of the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI), said: “Our primary goal is to get our members reopened in a safe manner both for publicans, their staff and customers.
“If a so-called vaccine pass is what’s required then the onus is now on Government to get the legislation passed next week before the Oireachtas takes its summer break.
“There remains legal issues to be resolved but we remain insistent that pubs need to reopen on 19th July. If the political will is there to make it happen then it will happen.”
The Restaurants Association of Ireland said “progress has been made” following their meeting with Government on Thursday, but said “more work is required.”
The Taoiseach said that primary legislation will be required to put the new measures on a legal footing.
“Over the weekend, we’ll be fine tuning that legislation” he said.
“It will be short legislation, which would provide a legislative framework to enable us to take the measures and to facilitate the reopening of indoor hospitality, in line with the public health advice that we have received.”
He added: “It’s anticipated that at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, we’ll be in a position to agree a memo that should arise from our discussions with the hospitality sector.”
Many Fianna Fail TDs have vocally opposed the plans to exclude unvaccinated people from indoor hospitality, saying they are discriminatory.
But the Taoiseach said he had no concerns over getting them to vote for the primary legislation.
“The whole idea is to facilitate the reopening of the industry, which I think most people would support in a safe context and in a safe way. I don’t anticipate difficulties on that front” he said.
He said Cabinet would not be consulting further with Nphet following its decision on Tuesday.
He said: “Nphet will be aware of it, obviously, but we won’t be consulting directly with them because we have the advice.”
Mr Martin did not rule out the possibility that the State could face legal challenges arising from their decisions.
But he said they were taken to protect public health, and not to discriminate against people.
He said: “We know from the Scottish experience, there is no doubt that the Delta variant rips through an unvaccinated population. That is the case and that is happening now in different societies.
“The issue for us, is about protecting people. It’s not about discriminating. I think that’s a very unfortunate sort of perspective that’s been put on it by people over the last week or so.
“Why would we willingly open up, expose people to this deadly disease?”
But stakeholders retain serious concerns over how the proposals will work in practice.
Mr O’Keefe said: “The system they are putting forward is open to abuse and there will be real questions and concerns in the coming weeks as to whether everyone claiming to be vaccinated will be.
“It is also deeply unfair and discriminatory towards hospitality staff and others who may not yet have been vaccinated or who are unable to do so for various reasons.”
Two million people in Ireland are now fully vaccinated, the Taoiseach said earlier.
Mr Martin also said that 70% of adults have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
He praised HSE staff and volunteers for their work in rolling out the country’s vaccination programme.
Thursday brought an additional 534 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland, the Department of Health said.
There are currently 58 patients in hospital with the disease, of whom 17 are in intensive care units.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said: “Covid-19 is still circulating in our community and as we come into weekend, it is extremely important that we continue to adhere to the public health advice to stop the spread of the disease. If you are not yet fully vaccinated and you plan to socialise, please do so safely and meet outdoors.
“Please avoid crowds, wear a mask where appropriate, wash your hands, manage your contacts and maintain your social distance.
“If you develop symptoms of Covid-19 over the weekend, make sure to arrange a test as soon as possible and don’t put it off until Monday to contact your GP or attend a testing centre.”