As Ireland reopens, supports will be key

Business leaders cautiously welcome lifting of many Covid-19 restrictions but emphasise key role of supports for businesses.

Government supports will be invaluable in guiding businesses back to pre-Covid levels of trading.

That’s the view of Ibec CEO Danny McCoy in response to the Government’s decision on Friday (21 January) to lift restrictions.

“It will take time for many companies to return to pre-Covid levels of trading. These Covid supports will be invaluable in guiding them to this point”

On Friday Taoiseach Micheál Martin, TD, said that based on public health advice, the Government agreed that most of the public health measures in place since December can be removed.

Lifting of restrictions

From 6am on Saturday 22 January, the following restrictions have been removed:

  • Guidance in relation to household visiting
  • Early closing time for hospitality and events
  • Capacity restrictions for outdoor events, including sporting fixtures
  • Capacity restrictions for indoor events, including weddings
  • Sectoral protective measures
  • Restrictions on nightclubs
  • Requirements to have a valid Digital Covid Certificate to enter various premises

From Monday 24 January, a return to physical attendance in workplaces can commence on a phased basis appropriate to each sector.

A number of public health measures will remain in place until 28 February 2022:

  • requirements for mask wearing in all settings where currently regulated for
  • protective measures in schools and early learning and care facilities

Heading for recovery

Ibec CEO Danny McCoy welcomed the lifting of restrictions. “After many challenging months, it is welcome to be able to acknowledge the progress that our society and business has made collectively to reach the point whereby Government are announcing an easing of most Covid public health restrictions. This will mark an important next step towards recovery for many industries, including the Experience Economy which bore much of the burden of previous restrictions. 

“While challenges remain, Ibec holds that greater personal responsibility for individuals, and autonomy for businesses in their office operations must be central to the Government’s approach in managing the next phase as we progress towards a return to normality. It is welcome to see Government aligned with the business community in supporting a phased returns to the workplace over the coming weeks and business will continue to work to ensure that this is done safely.

“In addition, business welcomes Government’s commitment to the continuation of Covid supports for businesses. While today is undoubtedly positive, it will take time for many companies to return to pre-Covid levels of trading. These Covid supports will be invaluable in guiding them to this point.”

Padraig Cribben, Vintners Federation of Ireland CEO was also positive about the lifting of restrictions that had impacted member companies. He said: “After a nightmare 22 months this is the news our members have been waiting for. The removal of all restrictions this weekend is the green light for pubs to get back to doing what they do best and I know for a fact they can’t wait.

“Across Ireland there are 7,000 pubs employing 50,000 staff so the benefits of reopening will be felt everywhere. Overnight, we are saying goodbye to vaccine passes, mandatory table service, contact details, six per table, sitting at all times, 1-metre social distancing, no pool or darts and the ban on using bar counters. It really is remarkable to see it all coming to an end.

“Over the course of the past two years there have been numerous false starts and deep disappointment as we returned to various lockdowns, but there is a strong belief this time is different. We must learn to live with Covid, which means solutions must be put in place for any future waves. The hospitality trade can’t return to rolling lockdowns so Government must engage with the sector about meaningful solutions to keep us open.

“The trade must also be given time to get back on its feet so maintaining the EWSS at the current rate for another couple of months is vital. Our members have taken a hammering over the past two years so it is reasonable to maintain supports during the initial reopening phase.”

Paul Moynihan, VFI President, added: “When we stood with the then Minister for Health, Simon Harris, as he announced the closure of all pubs on 15th March 2020 none of us could have foreseen the crisis that lay ahead. Almost two years later, as restrictions end this weekend, we can finally start looking to the future.

“We closed our pubs due to public health advice and all through the crisis we said public health is the number one priority. The vaccine rollout was the game-changer for the country so I want to thank everyone in the health sector for getting us to the point where the country can open up again,” Moynihan said.

Responding to the Government announcement, Paul Kelly, CEO of Fáilte Ireland, said: “The easing of restrictions announced by the Government is a hugely positive step forward and provides much needed hope that in 2022 we will see the beginning of the recovery for our tourism sector. Our priority at Fáilte Ireland throughout this pandemic has been on supporting the survival of tourism businesses and driving the recovery of the sector.
“Our focus remains steadfast and we have extensive work plans this year to help rebuild tourism and deliver a strong recovery in partnership with the tourism industry and Government.”

Supports still in place

  • The reduced levels of Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme(EWSS), due to commence on 1 February, will be delayed by a month for businesses that were directly impacted by the public health restrictions introduced in December 2021
  • A restart payment of 1 week’s support will be paid to Covid Restrictions Support Scheme(CRSS) recipients to assist reopening
  • The tax debt warehousing scheme to provide liquidity support to businesses will be extended by a month to 30 April 2022
  • Fees for special exemption orders for late licences will continue to be waived until 30 April
  • The PUP will close for new applications from 22 January. Anyone remaining on PUP will move to a weekly rate of €208 with effect from payments made on 8 March. After that, remaining PUP recipients will start transitioning to standard jobseeker terms, and if eligible, will move onto a jobseekers payment with effect from payments on 5 April
  • Enhanced Illness Benefitwill be extended until the end of June 2022
John Kennedy
Award-winning editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.