Last night, following weeks of uncertainty, there was clarification for people in recovery after it was confirmed that the most recent Government restrictions on gatherings do not apply to meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

More than six people can attend meetings while maintaining physical distancing.

The confirmation from Minister of State at the Department of Health Frank Feighan was long awaited and badly needed.

Following public discussion and debate, the question over when the country's remaining pubs would reopen was answered by Cabinet yesterday.

In the meantime, those who purposefully avoid pubs and attend Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous, were also seeking answers.

Meetings are a lifeline for thousands of attendees across the country, seeking to better their lives.

Daily or nightly meetings are often the reason that "one day at a time" is manageable.

When those meetings are not accessible, it's serious.

Lockdown led some in recovery to turn to Zoom for support, but it's not for everyone, and some struggled to cope.

When restrictions were lifted in July, meetings resumed much to the relief of many, but this was short-lived after new restrictions were announced, reducing the number allowed in a room down to  six.

This was problematic as, given that a chairperson and secretary are required, it left four available seats for those attending meetings.  

Those guiding people through recovery recognised the difficulty and the NA advised members not to physically attend meetings in some areas of Dublin, to  ensure they would not be turned away at the door.

The restrictions introduced last month proved too much for some.

There were people sober for 10, 20, 30, 40 years who couldn't cope with uncertainty and the lack of interaction any longer and some succumbed to the addiction they spent years battling to overcome.

There are stories of dedication and desperation on the part of people who couldn't access meetings in rural Ireland, with one man travelling hundreds of kilometres to Dublin to access a meeting.

From its earliest days, AA has promised personal anonymity to all who attend its meetings.

It is a culture that is maintained from the top of the organisation down and maintained worldwide.

Therefore, a campaign calling on the Government to ease restrictions on recovery meetings wasn't going to happen.

People desperate for meetings called public representatives including Sinn Féin's Addiction, Wellness and Recovery Spokesperson Deputy Thomas Gould of Cork North-Central, who contacted Minister Feighan to see if numbers could be expanded for recovery meetings.

The minister responded but his focus appeared to centre on those continuing to feed their habits, rather than those in recovery.

He said officials in the Department of Health had been working with Drug and Alcohol Task Forces and the HSE Social Inclusion Services to ensure that services and supports continue to be provided for those with problem drug and alcohol use, in line with public health advice.

He said: "It is important to note that among individuals with addiction problems there are higher levels of physical comorbidity and alcohol itself may make an individual's immune system less effective.

"As a result this cohort of people are more vulnerable to the effects of respiratory disease and infection in general. Information about the effects of alcohol on your health and tips to cut down can be accessed on the HSE website askaboutalcohol.ie".

Mr Gould wasn’t alone in receiving calls on the matter from constituents. .

Fianna Fáil TD for Clare Cathal Crowe posted a video message on Twitter last Thursday, noting that a number of people had contacted his office.

In the video he stated he had a "chat" with Minister for Health (and party colleague) Stephen Donnelly.

"They are essential meetings, they are of vital support to people who are battling alcoholism and trying to overcome it, so up to a maximum of 50 people can attend those meetings", he stated.

He continued: "But of course the organisers and co-ordinators of those meetings need to operate to a large degree of common sense".

Deputy Crowe's video, which was watched 1.5k times, caused confusion as the weekend approached.

A query to the Department of Health seeking confirmation or clarification from RTÉ News received no response.

In the meantime, the General Service Office on Behalf of the General Service Board of Alcoholics Anonymous Ireland pointed out "in the strongest possible terms, that the Government/HSE/NPHET had not issued any update or changes to the Covid-19 regulation".

"The guidelines remain unchanged", it said, adding "we are acutely aware that there is much confusion among members and groups regarding what they can and cannot do.

"We can confirm that we have contacted the Minister for Health, HSE and NPHET seeking clarification for AA Members and Groups and we are assured that a response will be issued shortly.

On Friday, AA Ireland was awaiting official word.

On Monday, RTÉ News followed up on the same query with the Department of Health and that afternoon, the Department said it would be best addressed to the Department of An Taoiseach.

And so it went to the Taoiseach's office, but despite a number of emails seeking a response, none came.

In a follow up phonecall, assurances were given that it would be pushed up the line.

Just before 10pm last night, Minister Feighan finally issued a statement confirming that more than six people could attend the meetings.

Unlike the reopening of bars that don’t serve food, there was no major announcement or public discussion.

There is no doubt, the lack of clarity in recent days caused some confusion, stress and anguish.

On a positive note, the repercussions can be discussed in the safety of larger groups.

It is welcome news for those in recovery.