Small firms and businesses have welcomed plans for a gradual return to the workplace from Monday.

It follows an address made by the Taoiseach this evening to lift almost all public health restrictions from 6am tomorrow.

Ibec described the move as an "important next step" towards a recovery in many industries.

Its chief executive Danny McCoy said: "It is welcome to see Government aligned with the business community in supporting a phased returns to the workplace over the coming weeks and business will continue to work to ensure that this is done safely."

Director of the Small Firms Association, Sven Spollen-Behrens, also welcomed the lifting of restrictions but warned many small businesses will need Government support until they are fully back on their feet.

He added: "Small businesses have been severely affected by public health measures since the beginning of the pandemic, limiting their ability to trade. We are happy to see most of the restrictions now being lifted as we reach a new phase of response to the virus.

"Allowing a phased return to offices will be a great boost to many businesses who have found it difficult to transition to a remote form of work, and to those many small businesses who rely on trade from office workers."

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Enterprise, Trade, Employment and Workers' Rights, Louise O’Reilly TD, urged the Government to speed up remote working legislation amid concern some employers will not give staff the option of remote or hybrid working.

Ms O’Reilly said: "With the changes to the public health restrictions announced this evening it is important that workers’ hard-won gains in relation to remote working are not undone by employers and managers.

"Remote working, or working from home, is not just a response to the pandemic. For many years workers, trade unions, and opposition politicians have been highlighting the benefits of remote working and pushing for it to be recognised as a protected form of work with particular safeguards, protections, and allowances for those workers.

"Unfortunately, as we approach two years into the Covid crisis, workers still do not have the right to request remote working."

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

Earlier, speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Danny McCoy said employers and employees would have to decide how best to proceed on returning to the office environment.

He said everyone has worked hard during the last two years to contain this problem and in the vast majority of cases, businesses have found new ways of servicing markets.

Mr McCoy said that probably the largest amount of people who have been impacted by Covid-19 is in the office environment.

The focus now is on "how we get this working from home and the balance with the office".

Mr McCoy said the Government and NPHET have done a great job but now it is about handing back those "decision points to where they are probably best made".

The workplace protocol, on which employers, trade unions and Government have been working, has been trying to make workplaces safe and ensure when people have to come into work that the right measures are in place.

"It is fair enough that people will have some reticence, but we have gone through two years now, we are not talking about wild abandon here," he said.

"It is a gradual comeback to the workplace and thanks to the conditions, it can be done a little faster," he added.

Mr McCoy said businesses working with employees will look to stagger and phase the return but hopefully that can be quite short and they find a new normal.

"There will be more hybrid working - there is no doubt about that," he said