Minister of State for Sport Jack Chambers has explained the rationale behind Gaelic games losing elite status in sport, while League of Ireland soccer is allowed continue.

Yesterday the GAA revealed that Government representatives had clarified that inter-county Gaelic games activity is not covered under the current Level 5 exemptions for elite sports.

He said that the sport was given an exemption last winter during a period where the Covid-19 landscape was not as difficult as the last number of weeks, and that none of the Gaelic games organisations had not shown "massive appetite" to return in the "medium term".

He confirmed that the National Public Health Emergency Team has not been in communication regarding the GAA specifically.

In an interview on Today with Claire Byrne on RTÉ Radio 1, the minister indicated the GAA, the Camogie Association and LGFA were not seeking to resume their games in the short term and were keen to support the public health effort.

The League of Ireland employs around 200 full-time sports people and a similar number part-time, and the professional aspect of that sport allows their activity to continue.

The Dublin West TD said: "In the roadmap that was published last autumn, we gave exemptions for professional sports. For example, the League of Ireland is a professional league. That is the distinction.

"But we do want to review the plan and how we live with Covid. That is why sport will be included in that.

"To be clear, the Government has been very thankful to the GAA and broader sporting organisations for supporting the public health effort. I want to see the championship this year. I want to see our young people getting back playing.

"When the GAA championship was run off, that was done in the context of Level 5 and there was a concession outside of Level 5 framework approved by Government. Once the championship finished in December, as you know, there were no fixtures scheduled at that point. 

"There was also a very difficult Level 5 lockdown for the country so the regulations didn't capture that because there were no fixtures in the current schedule. The concession concluded at the end of last year.

"When you look at the context of the number of cases in January, that is why the Government is revising the plan. I haven't any communication from NPHET on this. It is a case of giving a direct answer on a concession for inter-county GAA."

The junior minister said that the GAA did not request an extension to the concession for January and February.

"They made it clear that there was not a massive appetite to return in the medium term," he said. 

He added that it wasn't a case of losing permanent elite status, but that an exemption had run its course and the worsening picture had led to a decision not to continue with the exemption

"We had a very positive discussion with the GAA and the other organisations. They've made it very clear they want to support the public health effort. We've had more Covid-19 cases in January than all of last year. It's also important to say in the broader context of the return to sport, as the Taoiseach said this morning, in the next two weeks.

"There was no decision taken to remove the GAA from the elite category. It's a case of giving clarity on the regulations as they currently stand. It wasn't a case of removing, it was a case of giving clarity.

"What I'm seeking to do is work with the GAA and other sporting organisations is provide an update in the context of the revised plan and hopefully we can give certainty on the timeline for the broader return to sport."

Taoiseach Micheál Martin had praised how the GAA ran off the championship in the winter. The League of Ireland also played off its competitions with very few Covid cases within their squads.

The minister indicated that the decision on an exemption was not taken because of the danger of playing the games, but more on what it says in society.

"The priority at this point is to reinforce the public health message for people to stay at home and that gives us a lot more opportunity in the sport and the broadening of the reopening of society through the year.

"I think the GAA is capable of protecting the safety of players and I commend what happened in 2020 and how they ran out the championship. But there is no championship planned for the next two to three weeks for example. This is a case of revising the plan and giving certainty through the year. We want to see young people back playing with their local clubs.

"We aren't in a position to give a specific date (for a return to play) at this point and we'll try to give that later in the month when we revise the plan."

Chambers concluded by saying there has not been a discussion with the GAA on a timeline on when they wish to return.

The League of Ireland season begins on 19 March.