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Taoiseach says Government expects 'easing' of Covid-19 restrictions to begin next week

Minister Eamon Ryan says restrictions should be lifted ‘quickly’ as ICU admissions are holding ‘steady’

Pictured: Green Party Eamon Ryan, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Taoiseach Micheál Martin

Taoiseach Micheal Martin

Paul Hyland

Taoiseach Micheal Martin said the Government will give members of the public “clarity” on its plans to begin easing Covid-19 restrictions on Friday, after Cabinet meets.

The Taoiseach said the Government will consider the advice from Nphet – which meets tomorrow – but there are reasons to be “optimistic” in the “medium-term”.

He said; "The Omicron situation... the widespread nature of it, transmission and so and the fact that we've managed so far to weather that storm, gives us grounds for optimism in that medium-term right up to March and throughout the year,” Mr Martin said, speaking on the way in to Leinster House this morning.

Meanwhile, speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland, Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said the Government will give members of the public advanced notice before restrictions are lifted and he does not expect any measures to be eased ahead of this weekend.

Minister Ryan said no one should “underestimate” the danger which Covid-19 still poses but restrictions should be lifted “quickly” and “widely” as ICU admissions are holding “steady”.

The Green Party leader said the first easing for public health measures will likely begin next week.

“I think it might be better on Friday to give people advanced notice. It’ll be towards the end of next week, I expect that we’ll start to see restrictions to be lifted.

“We’ve got the Cabinet sub-committee on Friday… we could decide to have [the discussion] next Tuesday instead when we have an ordinary Cabinet meeting, but we’ll be giving people a number of days advanced notice for people to get ready as we start to lift some of the restrictions,” he added.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin

Minister Ryan confirmed that the restrictions which he wants to see removed first include the 8pm curfew for hospitality businesses, limits on cultural and sporting events and work from home guidance.

“We need to start bringing some of our social life back,” he said, adding that this includes giving workers the option to return to the office.

“I think that the likes of our sporting, our cultural, artistic events – particularly outdoors obviously first – it makes sense that we start bringing them back. In my mind as well it’s important that people who are working from home do start to have the chance to come back into the office.

“A lot of young people particularly, they’ve missed out at the benefits you get from that socialisation. So, in my mind, fairly quickly, restoring the return to work,” he added.

Minister Ryan said the exact order of the lifting of restrictions has yet to be worked out, but he echoed the comments made by the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar yesterday, who said it is realistic to expect public health guidelines to end by the start of April, when emergency legislation for restrictions will lapse.

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The Green Party leader said the Omicron variant is “following the course that we thought it would” with a “very rapid downward spike” and the booster and vaccine programme have placed the country in a strong position.

“The vaccination and booster programme has worked, it is working. I think it’s important, if I was giving out one message today, I think a lot of younger people haven’t availed of the booster. I’d encourage them to do so for their own health and for the wider health of the country.

“That has worked. What we’ve done there I think particularly in Ireland because we have such high levels has been really significant in allowing us to get numbers down,” he said.

Minister Ryan added that expects the advice on mask wearing in schools and retail outlets to be one of the last measures to be lifted.

Meanwhile, regarding the investigation into the champagne reception at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) during the June 2020 lockdown, Minister Ryan said it is “appropriate” for the secretary general from the Department to investigate the incident.

It comes as the Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has instructed his secretary general Joe Hackett to conduct an investigation into the incident, however, in the UK a former civil servant, Sue Gray, has been brought in to investigate similar breaches by government officials there.

Minister Ryan argued that the circumstances of the party held by Irish officials and those in the UK are “not exactly similar”.

“The Department (of Foreign Affairs) immediately acknowledged and was very public that it wasn’t appropriate and immediately acknowledged that two years ago,” he added.

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