Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has announced that plans to ease coronavirus lockdown restrictions are being accelerated and the country will move to 'Phase 2 Plus' on Monday.

Quoting Roman Statesman Cicero who said "the safety of the people shall be our highest law", Mr Varadkar said that has been the approach "we have taken since the pandemic was declared in March". 

He said we have suffered as a country, we have lost loved ones and changed the way we live our lives, but we are making progress.

"Today I can confirm that it is safe to move to Phase 2 of the plan to reopen our country starting on Monday," Mr Varadkar said.

"I'm also announcing an acceleration of the roadmap," and there will now be four phases to reopening the country instead of five.

Phase 3 will start on 29 June, with Phase 4 on 20 July. 

He said this acceleration of the process has "been made possible by the considerable sacrifices that you have made to restrict the spread of the virus and protect others". 

Mr Varadkar said he had said we could accelerate the plan if conditions allowed it, and because those conditions were favourable, we could now move to "Phase 2 Plus" on Monday.

The Taoiseach said some measures on mass gatherings may need to remain in place until August. 

He said we all need to stick to what we have been doing right – social distancing, washing our hands, wearing face coverings on public transport, and self-isolating if we feel unwell. 

"As we ease restrictions and meet and interact more, this will become more important," he said.

Mr Varadkar said we must continue to avoid unnecessary travel – and the message now is to "stay local" - so from 8 June people can travel anywhere in their own counties and it is planned to remove all domestic travel restrictions in Phase 3 on 29 June. 

Until then travel restrictions will continue to be enforceable by gardaí.

For those over 70 and those who are medically vulnerable and who have been cocooning, a term Mr Varadkar said he knew "that some have found insulting, instead of reassuring", they will be allowed have a small number of visitors to their homes from Monday.

He said physical distancing should still be observed.

Shops will also provide dedicated hours for those who are over 70 or in an at-risk group. 

Mr Varadkar said that up to 25 people will be able to attend funerals for their loved ones from Monday.

Groups of up to six people can meet both indoors and outdoors for social gatherings.

Organised outdoor exercise, sporting, cultural or social activities of up to 15 people may take place where social distancing is observed.

Public libraries can also open on Monday.

He said there will be a new Summer Education Programme for children with special educational needs and disadvantage and the Minister for Education will bring proposals to Government on this next week. 

In welcome news for parents, he said outdoor facilities and amenities for children - including commercial ones - can reopen, and playgrounds, once they are supervised, can reopen.

Outdoor camps for children can also be run, once there are no more than 15 people mixing together.

Elite athletes may also return to their training facilities on Monday.

Marts can reopen and greyhound racing resume without spectators. 

The Taoiseach said the tourism and hospitality sectors will return on 29 June and bars can reopen if they serve food and provide a table service. Restaurants can also reopen.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan, when asked if people had to eat a meal if they were going to be in a pub, said that "a few fellas getting together for a few pints and having a packet of peanuts" does not constitute a meal in a restaurant.

He said people had to be sensible and not congregate at a bar, they had to sit down and be served. Dr Holohan said most Irish people know the difference between a restaurant and a pub and he felt they would be sensible.

Mr Varadkar said he would like to see places of worship resume services in Phase 3 if possible.

All retail can reopen from Monday, but the Taoiseach said it is important that the return to retail does not create crowding on public transport or interfere with essential workers getting to work.

He said those shops reopening from Monday will be required to operate staggered hours, opening no earlier than 10.30am and allocating dedicated times for elderly, vulnerable and at-risk groups.

He said shopping malls can reopen on 15 June, provided only the shops open and measures are taken to ensure people do not congregate at benches, fountains or food courts for example.

On easing restrictions, the Taoiseach said the data is going in the right direction, the R number has stayed below one, and there is a downward trend in the number of cases.

He said that "more and more this is going to be less about government rules and more about a long-term change in how we live our lives".

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said there was no deviation in today's announcements to the advice the National Public Health Emergency Team has given the Government.