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Children’s training and outdoor sports in line for April return as hospitality bosses voice anger with Cabinet

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Philip Ryan

The return of non-contact sports training for children, along with golf and tennis for all ages, are under consideration as part of the Government’s plans to ease Covid-19 restrictions next month.

Non-contact training for senior inter-county GAA may also be permitted as restrictions on sports activity are eased.

Senior government officials are considering a range of outdoor activities which may be allowed if transmission of the virus falls significantly before April 5.

Central to these discussions are allowing people to take part in more sport such as golf and tennis.

Equestrian sports may also be permitted if cases remain low and the vaccine programme continues to progress. Outdoor non-contact training in pods for under-age sports is also being considered under plans to slowly reopen the country over the coming months.

Ahead of the national GAA league potentially returning in May, non-contact training for senior inter-county teams is also on the table.

The Government’s plan for managing the virus, The Path Ahead, commits to cautiously beginning to ease restrictions next month.

Ministers will consider easing restrictions on outdoors activities while also allowing more people to meet outside. At present, only people from two households can meet outdoors for exercise.

The plan commits to the “staggered start of easing of other areas of activity with a focus on outdoor activities including sport and some areas of construction”. There is also a commitment to consider easing the 5km travel ban.

Restrictions will only be lifted if they are in line with National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) advice.

The key indicators being considered by Nphet are the transmission of the virus, the number of patients in intensive care units, the impact of the national vaccination programme and the presence of new coronavirus variants.

The Cabinet Committee on Covid-19 is not expected to make a formal decision on restrictions until the week starting March 29.

Yesterday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said non-essential retail and hairdressers won’t open until at least the end of April or early May.

Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast , Mr Varadkar said the easing of restrictions on April 5 will be “limited”.

He said relaxing the 5km limit, allowing small outdoor gatherings and reopening construction will be the first in a “slow” reopening.

“Reopening of shops, personal services, hospitality, that wouldn’t be happening on April 5. You’d be talking realistically, at the earliest, end of April or early May,” he told the programme.

The Tánaiste said shops and hairdressers will likely open before hospitality, and recommencing sports is under consideration as part of the reopening next month.

Earlier this week, Mr Varadkar also suggested the 5km travel restriction will be lifted.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Micheál Martin told his parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday that the Government will only review restrictions around the 5km ban, outdoor gatherings, sports and constructions head of April 5.

Mr Martin said he will not be “engaging in speculation” beyond those restriction and insisted focus must be put on reducing the number of new Covid-19 cases.

Mr Martin and Mr Varadkar left representatives of the hospitality sector incensed after a meeting with the industry on Wednesday.

Lobby groups for restaurants, bars and hotels were left furious after they were given no information on when they could reopen after a meeting with the two Government leaders and Tourism Minister Catherine Martin.

Sources at the meeting said representative groups were asked to prioritise the State grants which best suit their industry and send the list to Ms Martin.

“Most sectors want Government grants doubled and now they’re talking about pairing them back by June,” a source said.

“People are getting really cheesed off with the Government’s treatment of the hospitality sector,” they added.

Another source criticised the Taoiseach for refusing to give an indication of when hospitality could return.

“People were genuinely wondering why he attended the meeting, he had nothing to say,” they said.

The Government’s Path Head plan only commits to easing restrictions on April 5 and gives no other dates for when other regulations will be lifted.

However, it is expected consideration will be given to easing restriction on the hospitality sector until June or even July.

The reopening of traditional or wet pubs may have to wait in even longer with some industry sources suggesting it could be the autumn before they are permitted to open their doors.

No dates have been given for the reopening of non-essential retail but it is not expected the sector will be reopened next month.

The Government insisted the shortfall in their vaccine programme is so far not having an impact on their reopening plans.

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