A multi-million euro fund to help businesses serving food pay for more outdoor seating has been announced.

The hospitality sector has sustained significant losses because of coronavirus restrictions and when pubs and restaurants do reopen the emphasis will be on outdoor dining.

Minister for Tourism Catherine Martin, along with Fáilte Ireland, announced the establishment of a €17m fund where businesses serving food can apply for funding to help pay for more outdoor seating.

Minister Martin said the scheme aims to help businesses increase their dining and seating capacity in the short-term and "enable a long-term strategy for local authorities to develop appropriate permanent weatherproofed outdoor dining infrastructure".

Grants would average around €4,000 for each premises and can cover expenses incurred since last April.

Local authorities will also be able to apply for funding to develop permanent public dining spaces in specially zoned streets in towns and cities .  

This will facilitate weather-proofing to allow outdoor dining all year-round with parasols, wind breakers and electric heaters.

Each local authority can apply for funding of €200,000 and additional funding may be made available subject to the economic value of the proposals.

Meanwhile, the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation has given a cautious welcome to the easing of Covid-related restrictions.

But it says much more clarity will be needed for tourism businesses.

"We were looking for a clear roadmap as to when the tourism sector could reopen and there was positive news with attractions set to open in May and the accommodation sector in June," said ITIC chief executive, Eoghan O'Mara Walsh.

"However, there was no mention of large swathes of the tourism economy from restaurants to the broader hospitality sector and much more clarity is needed on this front."

The body also expressed significant alarm at the news that more countries, including the US, France, Germany and Italy, could be added to the list of countries from which travellers must undergo mandatory quarantining upon arriving in Ireland.

This is because 75% of the tourism economy is dependent on international visitors.

Mr O'Mara Walsh said the Government must adopt the European Commission’s Green Digital Certificate which would allow for the safe resumption of international travel.