Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys has backed calls for off-licences to close early and suggested they could shut at 6pm or 7pm.

"Covid loves to party and loves to drink alcohol," she told RTÉ's Your Politics podcast.

She said she supported her Fine Gael party colleague Patrick O'Donovan who has called for off-licence closing times to be curtailed.

"I do support it, I think it is something we should look at, I have asked the NPHET [National Public Health Emergency Team] to look at it."

Minister Humphreys said it would be a good idea to limit the amount of alcohol being bought by people because "the evidence is there that house parties have helped to spread the virus".

It was not about discouraging people from having a drink at home, but she did not agree with "crates and slabs of beer being pushed out of shops in trolleys".

Questioned about limiting off-licences' opening hours, she replied "maybe they should close at 6pm or 7pm".

When asked about people heading to pubs over the border (before they close under new restrictions this Friday), Minister Humphreys said people "shouldn't be going into places where you might get the virus".

Earlier today, Higher Education Minister Simon Harris told RTÉ's Today With Claire Byrne show that the Government had not ruled out changing the times that alcohol is permitted to be sold.

He said: "I note with interest that they have done it in Northern Ireland. I don't want to get ahead of myself here but I think this is something that the Government should give more consideration to.

"It is certainly in the mix. This is something that we have not ruled out doing."

Minister Humphreys also spoke about the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and said the Government will not take a decision on whether to extend or further reduce PUP until the New Year.

"We will look at it in January, to see what the state of play is. It's hard to know what level the virus will be at then."

In terms of planning for Christmas, she said she understands the difficulties families are facing, but said people have certainty now that the PUP will be there until the end of January.

In her spare time, Ms Humphreys loves playing piano, and is particularly partial to Beethoven, but nobody at home appreciates her playing skills!

She hopes to be able to listen to a special concert tonight.

To relax, she likes to get out in her vegetable garden, where she grows potatoes, carrots, cabbages.

Her interview on the RTÉ Your Politics podcast can be downloaded on Apple, Spotify and Soundcloud.

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