“Unbelievable,” was the reaction of Soho co-owner Sean McCarthy, who said he was asked if it was ‘April Fools’ while watching the announcement by Taoiseach Micheál Martin this evening.
Mr Martin told the nation capacity restrictions and the early closing time for hospitality and events would be removed, along with the requirement to have a valid digital Covid certificate to enter various premises. There will also be no limit on household gatherings.
Mask-wearing is, however, to continue in some settings, along with protective measures in schools and early learning and care facilities until February 28, when they will be reviewed.
Addressing the nation, Mr Martin said: “Solidarity with each other and trust in science has got us to where we are today, and will get us through whatever else this virus may throw at us.
“Today is a good day, and we should all take a moment to appreciate how far we’ve come; to appreciate the effort and sacrifice of those who put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe; to remember and appreciate the lives and contributions of those we lost.”
The Taoiseach also urged anyone who had not received a vaccine or booster to make it a priority.
Rearden’s manager Mr Styles said it would take a week or so to get his city centre bar running at full capacity and full hours, but he was looking forward to it.
Mr Styles said they would be opening their new nightclub Cabaret along with The Secret Garden and The Hidden Attic from next week, once they had applied for their late-night licence again.
The nightclub and pub manager said he had been expecting a staggered relaxation of the measures but said now it was all systems go to get up to speed for a full reopening.
Co-owner of Soho Sean McCarthy said he was utterly shocked to see the restrictions dramatically lifted: “Its almost unbelievable.” Mr McCarthy said the removal of Covid certs and table service was a massive relief and of huge benefit to the operations of his establishment.
“These things were very labour intensive and frustrating for customers and for staff alike.”
Mr McCarthy said he was looking forward to getting back to entertaining people and seeing people enjoying themselves.
General Manager of The Kingsley Hotel and Cork City Chair of the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) said he couldn’t wait for the buzz of a big event.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to normality, the restrictions, which were to keep both staff and guests safe, definitely dampened the hotel experience and we are looking forward to being able to enjoy the atmosphere of weddings and conferences in the coming months.”
Mr Harte said while he was delighted, he said a lot of damage had been done to the industry and it would take some time to recover.
CEO of Cork Opera House Eibhlin Gleeson said it was a very significant day for the Arts as capacity limits were also lifted on indoor and outdoor events.
“It’s what we have been waiting for, it's great to have hope again. I feel like we have finally been allowed to breathe again.”
Vice President of the Cork Business Association (CBA) Kevin Herlihy said the Taoiseach’s announcement brought a lot of changes that would benefit the traders and businesses of the city. One of which is the phased return to office working.
“Bringing people back to work in the office will bring much-needed business to cafes and restaurants and other city-centre businesses that rely on daytime trade.” In terms of hospitality, Mr Herlihy said the removal of the 8pm closing time was a cause for celebration.
“I can’t wait for the buzz to be back in the city,” Mr Herlihy said.
Meanwhile, Cork Chamber CEO Conor Healy said: “The easing of restrictions announced this evening is a welcome boost for business, the economy and society.
Philip Gillivan of the Shelbourne Bar said he was “absolutely delighted”.
“I wasn’t expecting it to come so fast, but we will adapt. I'm very excited. I want to thank my team in the Shelbourne Bar who have worked for the past two years under incredibly difficult conditions, and the customers who stood with us and supported us. We are delighted to be back.”
Cork chair of the Restaurant Association of Ireland Mike Ryan who runs the Cornstore Restaurant said the announcement was a relief.
“We can now plan and deal with the substantial challenges ahead in a progressive manner instead of the mental strain of firefighting and damage limitation measures to just survive on a week by week or even at times a day by day basis over the past few years. I hope it’s not too premature but it really feels like a weight has been lifted” Tara Lyng of Dwyers of Cork also said she was delighted to see life “getting back to normal”.
“We’re just ecstatic to get going. We’ve plenty of exciting plans in the pipeline for our customers who have remained loyal throughout the last two years. It’ll be a welcome return to our musicians, bands & DJ’s who felt the full effects of the last two years also. Here’s to 2022 and the return of the bar stool.”
With almost all restrictions lifting, the Pandemic Unemployment Payment will close for new applications from January 22. Anyone remaining on PUP will move to a weekly rate of €208 from March 8.
Meanwhile, the reduced levels of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme, 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.
Fees for special exemption orders for late licences will also continue to be waived until April 30.