Taoiseach Micheál Martin has confirmed that Covid-19 restrictions will ease from May 10th.
In an address to the nation on Thursday evening, Mr Martin outlined a detailed plan to reopen the country over the coming weeks and months.
Ireland is in a “better place” with a “degree of normality” returning as vaccines roll out and restrictions ease, Mr Martin said.
The easing of restrictions will proceed in two main phases over the course of May and June, with higher-risk activities such as indoor hospitality to be considered at the end of June.
The plan includes the lifting of the ban on intercounty travel, greater freedoms for vaccinated people, a relaxation of restrictions on outdoor gatherings, and the reopening of personal services and outdoor hospitality.
May will see the beginning of the new phased reopening of the country, with the full timeline here.
A significant number of restrictions will ease on May 10th, when intercounty travel is permitted to resume.
Restrictions on gatherings will be loosened, as three households or six people will be able to meet outdoors, including in private gardens. Organised outdoor gatherings can also take place with a maximum of 15 people.
There will be a vaccine bonus for the fully vaccinated, who can meet indoors without masks or social distancing with up to three other fully vaccinated households, or with low-risk unvaccinated people from a single household.
Non-essential retail will reopen on a phased basis in May, with the return of click-and-collect services on May 10th and the reopening of the remainder of the sector on May 17th. Personal services such as hairdressers will also reopen from May 10th, and in-person religious services can also resume.
The Government will proceed with a further reopening in June, subject to the situation remaining "stable" after May, the Taoiseach said.
June is earmarked to see the return of domestic tourism, with hotels, B&Bs, guesthouses and self-catering accommodation to reopen from June 2nd. Their leisure facilities, indoor restaurant and bar services will be restricted to overnight guests and residents only.
Bars and restaurants can reopen to outdoor patrons from June 7th, while indoor visits to private homes from one other household can begin again on the same date.
Restrictions will also ease for sports from June 7th, as outdoor sports matches can recommence without spectators and gyms, swimming pools, and leisure centres can reopen for individual training.
There has also been indication that cinemas and theatres could reopen in June, subject to public health advice.
A number of higher-risk activities will be considered at the end of June for a return later in the year, the Government confirmed.
These include the reopening of indoor venues such as restaurants, bars, nightclubs, casinos, along with indoor team or group sports such as exercise classes.
Mass gatherings with spectators, and international travel, will also be assessed.
The Government is also working on a plan for an "enhanced" on-campus experience for higher and further education students for the new academic year.
It is also considering proposals on the holding of a limited number of pilot live events for arts, culture, sport and live entertainment.
In a national address broadcast on Thursday evening, Micheál Martin said the vaccine rollout programme would accelerate in the weeks ahead.
"By tonight, more than 1.5 million vaccine doses will have been administered. That means close to 30 per cent of everyone over 16 has received at least one dose of the vaccine," he said.
With the virus suppressed following lockdown, young people are back at school and playing sport, while vital healthcare has resumed, Mr Martin said.
"The good news is that the strategy is working. Because of your hard work and sacrifices, we are in a better place," he said.
Mr Martin said the Government was "determined to do everything we can to ensure that when we open a sector of our society or economy, it stays open."
He added: "As we enter this next stage of a long and difficult journey... we try to find reassurance that there is a solid basis for the hope that is growing within us."
The Taoiseach said he had found hope in his visits to vaccination centres, and added that a "degree of normality is returning."
Mr Martin also warned of the risks of reopening too quickly.
The Government must closely monitor dangerous new variants, and learn from the experience of other countries that are "now in the grip of deadly new waves of the disease." Mr Martin said his thoughts and prayers were with the people of India.
Mr Martin told a later press conference that the phased reopening set out by the Government is considered low-to-medium risk by Nphet.
The reopening represents "a cautious move" for the month of May with its focus on outdoor activities, the Taoiseach added.
The Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) and other supports will remain in place for now "at least until the end of June", Tánaiste Leo Varadkar also told the press conference.
The Government will set out a plan for the future of these supports by the end of May but "there will not be a cliff-edge," he said.
Businesses currently availing of CRSS, and who can now reopen, can avail of double restart week payments for two weeks - subject to the statutory maximum of €5,000 per week - to support them in meeting the costs of reopening as they exit the scheme, Mr Varadkar confirmed.
Publicans and hairdressers react
The outlined easing of restrictions has been broadly welcomed by various sectors.
The Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) welcomed the announcement that publicans can reopen for outdoor trading from early June as “an important and welcome first step”.
It said it was “extremely pleased” at the Government decision to scrap last summer’s €9 meal rule and that the “artificial divide between pubs serving food and traditional venues no longer applies”.
VFI chief executive Padraig Cribben said it was “important to recognise the majority of pubs do not have outdoor space so those publicans will be anxiously waiting for confirmation of an indoor reopening date.”
We are delighted that the long wait is finally over equally for our customers, salon owners and staff
The Hair and Beauty Industry Confederation (HABIC) welcomed the planned reopening of hair and beauty salons from May 10th.
Chief executive Margaret O’Rourke Doherty said: “We are delighted that the long wait is finally over equally for our customers, salon owners and staff. We can now recommence to provide the essential personal care services we carry out in every town and village across Ireland.”
The Irish Hairdressers Federation (IHF) also welcomed the news.
"Hairdressing is extremely important to local communities and local economies, and many of our customers have been suffering badly since December. We are all looking forward to welcoming them back on May 10th,” the federation said in a statement.
Both the HABIC and IHF said its members were working to put extensive health and safety measures in place.
I would like to thank the Government and the Department of Sport for their co-operation
The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) meanwhile welcomed the slated return of training for adult amateur and youth teams, along with the lifting of the ban on intercounty travel.
FAI head of grassroots Ger McDermott said: “We are still awaiting clarification of the full guidelines around that return to training and also on the proposed June 7th date for a return to play for all levels of the game. We will meet on Friday to consider the Government update.
"I would like to thank the Government and the Department of Sport for their co-operation and consideration to date.”
The FAI said it will issue an updated Safer Return to Training Protocol, along with any other relevant information, to all affiliates and clubs next week.