Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said that Government will make a comprehensive announcement next week regarding the easing of some restrictions in May and some aspects of June.

Outlining the restrictions that will be up for consideration, he mentioned hairdressers and barbers, retail, religious services and adult-level non-contact sport.

Mr Martin said he was very concerned about people's wellbeing, and the need for young people to get out and engage in their sport of choice.

Speaking at Leinster House, Mr Martin said that work is under way, from a technical perspective, to ensure that Ireland and other EU states will be able to implement the European Green Digital Certificate to allow for the resumption of foreign travel.

Regarding the reopening of hospitality, such as hotels and guest houses, Mr Martin said that Government would look at that in June.

Asked if more households might be allowed gather outdoors in the month of May, Mr Martin said that Government would take advice on that, but he cautioned that "when households meet, particularly indoors, there have been problems and it has been a factor in the spread of the virus".

Restrictions on public worship also look like they will be eased next month.

In a letter to Church leaders this evening, the Taoiseach Micheál Martin has acknowledged their concerns about a safe and speedy return to public worship, and assured them that the Government will give the question careful and "positive consideration".

The letter didn't stipulate on what date public worship might resume, but Mr Martin did say that public health advice will inform Ministers who are due to decide next week on easing restrictions.

The Taoiseach also reconfirmed that the number of people who can attended funerals will increase from 10 to 25 next Monday.

Mr Martin said he hoped this change will make a significant difference to those suffering a bereavement.

Also speaking at a Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting this evening, Mr Martin said the Government wants to ensure that whatever is opened, stays opened.

He said antigen testing will be used to help ensure that students will be back on campus for third level education this summer.

Young people have missed out on a lot, he said, and their education as been disrupted for nearly two years.


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Too soon to indicate inter-county travel yet

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said that he cannot give an indication about the lifting of inter-county restrictions in June.

Mr Varadkar said that the virus "keeps surprising us" and six weeks is a long time in a pandemic.

Speaking outside Leinster House, he warned that Covid-19 cases were levelling off or even rising slightly and there were also issues around vaccine supply.

For those reasons he said he believes that any lifting of restrictions in May would be along expected lines and would not go further than that.

This includes the phased reopening of non-essential retail, the reopening of hairdressers, and the full return of construction.

Mr Varadkar said he remains confident that indoor dining will be possible at some point in the summer but he did not say at which point.

Earlier in the Dáil, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that public worship will be considered next week, when the Government makes its decisions on the restrictions that can be eased.

During Leaders Questions, the Independent Galway TD Sean Canney raised concerns over restrictions on public worship and the publication of a Statutory Instrument to prevent people from gathering at specific events.

It could see people receive a fine of €127 or up to six months in prison.

Mr Canney said that churches were "exemplary" when they reopened last year.

In response, the Taoiseach said that he believed religious worship was a fundamental right.

However, he said that given the pandemic, restrictions must be put in place for the common good. He said the only motivation behind restrictions was to protect life.

Mr Martin told Mr Canney that the Government is not anti-religious.

Mr Canney said that nobody was calling the Government anti-religious, and that people understood why restrictions were in place, however he said that categorising religion with the opening of museums was "a bit off".

He said that churches played a significant role in society and he asked the Taoiseach to consider changing the statutory instrument to ban gatherings at specific events.

The Taoiseach said next week's announcement will depend on public health advice but also the Government's "own thinking".

Elsewhere, at the launch of the 'Be Summer Ready' campaign, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said that while restrictions may impact where people can go and what they can do, there are still some standard safety precautions that people should not forget.

Mr Coveney said people can look with more confidence in relation to the removal of restrictions, and in time can reconsider international travel restrictions.

He said he is asking people to stay within their own counties, even though people are frustrated with the measures.

People are "not too far away" from better times, he said, adding that the months of June, July, August and September will be months of loosening restrictions and people feeling more confident that they can meet outside and holiday.

He said the Government will give advice throughout summer months, and that the message for now is no non-essential international travel, and people should not holiday away from home.

This may change over the coming months, he said, as they work towards a green passport that would confirm if a person has been fully vaccinated.

He said that system should be in place by the start of June, adding that there will be potential for international travel "over the coming months".

"There is some good news on the horizon for that," Mr Coveney said, "but I would not be advising anyone to be booking holidays abroad ... due to the current advice we are providing."

The minister also said the Government will wait on National Public Health Emergency Team advice before considering whether or not to add India to the mandatory hotel quarantine list.

Call for full reopening of retail from May

Retail Excellence Ireland has called for all retail to be reopened on 4 May.

Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime programme, Managing Director Duncan Graham said the government should announce the reopening of all retail on this date, "not just click and collect".

"We have been living with this for long enough now. We need the government to give us a definite roadmap," he said.

Mr Graham called for the government to continue to support the retail sector via financial supports, particularly the extension of the rates waiver and restart grants, until the end of quarter 3, "if not the end of the year".

However, he said rent was "the elephant in the room".

"Retailers are being plagued by landlords to pay rent for the time that they have been shut."

He called for a legally binding arbitration body to manage the issue of retail rent.

"We are calling on the government to introduce some form of arbitration body, legally binding, that can help us get through this quagmire which is going to an unleash itself on us on May if we don't manage this rent situation."

Mr Graham also called for the reintroduction of an online retail scheme by Enterprise Ireland, which he said had been promised by the government to restart by February of this year.

Sinn Féin's spokesperson on Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Louise O’Reilly, said businesses will need help from the Government when they reopen.

Speaking on the same programme, she said there is a "massive amount of warehoused debt".

She said the yo-yo effect of coming in and out of lockdowns has been very damaging for businesses.

Additional reporting by Paul Cunningham, Sharon Lynch, Mícheál Lehane and Mary Regan