Ireland

Leo Varadkar rules out reopening pubs a week early to discourage crowds as Hazel Chu insists Dublin streets will not be closed off this weekend 

Leo Varadkar has ruled out reopening bars and restaurants for outdoor dining a week earlier than planned in order to discourage the large crowds meeting outdoors seen over the weekend.

he Tánaiste said Cabinet had “toyed with the possibility” of reopening bars and restaurants earlier but said “we’re not going to change it now,” while speaking on Newstalk Radio today.

“The decision is Monday and that’s what’s going to happen. That’s the Cabinet’s decision on it. We did toy with the possibility but we’re not going to change it now.

“It does appear that the weather is not going to be so nice this weekend, unfortunately, but that’s probably a good thing in terms of people congregating outside,” the Tánaiste said.

Large crowds of people gathered in many major cities last weekend as the country basked in sunshine, leading to concerns around social distancing and littering ahead of the Bank Holiday Weekend.

As Dublin Mayor Hazel Chu also said this evening that none of the capital’s streets would be closed off for the Bank Holiday Weekend as rumoured, Mr Varadkar said he “didn’t like to see the scenes we saw on South William Street” and in other areas but said it should not be forgotten that public health guidance to people is to meet up outdoors.

“We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we are actually encouraging people to be outdoors. Outdoors is much safer than indoors.

“Certainly, what I saw yesterday… was people gathering outdoors responsibly, sitting in relatively small groups,” Mr Varadkar said.

Hotels and guesthouses can open from June 2 and bars, restaurants and cafés can open for outdoor hospitality from June 7 under the most recent plans from the government for reopening the country.

After chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan expressed dismay at large crowds in Dublin, which were mirrored in other areas including Galway and Cork, Mr Varadkar said it was important not to over-react.

“The vast majority of people, 90pc of the people, 90pc of the time, are following the guidelines”.

The Tánaiste called for Dublin City Council to provide more bins and public toilets but said “we think we may be able to get around that by allowing pubs, restaurants and shops to allow people to use their toilets”.

Mr Varadkar’s comments came as more than 50 businesses met with gardaí and Dublin council after large crowds gathered in the city centre over the weekend.
Concerns were raised about the lack of public toilets and bins as significant amounts of rubbish were left behind by people socialising.
The CEO of Dublin Town described the meeting as positive and that both gardaí and the local authority were keen to engage with businesses.
Richard Guiney said points raised included waste management and publicly available toilets to ensure that public parks aren’t being used as toilets.
He told the Irish Independent the message was that this is an outdoor summer, and that there needs to be a better communication.
“By and large people were well behaved in the city and they turned up in larger numbers than expected,” he said.
Mr Guiney also said that the current licensing laws should be temporarily changed to allow for pubs who sell takeaway pints to ensure their patrons are socialising responsibly.
He said this would allow the situation to be dealt with constructively and in an organised way.
The Dublin Town CEO described the contributions in today’s meeting as positive, and that gardaí and the council said they would take on board the concerns.
The Zoom meeting had only been organised yesterday evening after large crowds were socialising in the city centre.
In a statement over the weekend Dublin City Council said that the gatherings were contrary to public health restrictions.
Earlier today the council’s Director of City Recovery, Cóilín O’Reilly, said that adding more bins may increase the number of people who come into the city centre.
“We feel that if we provide toilets and bins at these locations, it’ll only drive more footfall and create more of an issue from a public health perspective,” he told RTE’s Today with Claire Byrne
“If we supply more toilets and bins, does that bring more people in? Do we end up with bigger public health issues? It’s a very difficult situation to manage.
“We obviously don’t want to shut the city street, I think that will have a detrimental effect for businesses on the street as well as citizens,” he added.
Four people were arrested on South William Street on Saturday for public order offences while the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said he was “absolutely shocked” by the scenes.
Garda operations were put in place over the weekend to deal with the large crowds, and dispersing people gathering in parts of the city.

This evening, Lord Mayor of Dublin Hazel Chu said there will be no closures of Dublin City streets this coming Bank Holiday Weekend.

Ms Chu acknowledged “rumours going around” about council planning to close off certain streets but said these were false.

The Green councillor said she spoke to city management about potential closures of South William Street and other streets but stated that these were just “rumours”.

“I know there’s lots of rumours going around on council planning on closing down South William Street and other streets after last weekend. Spoke to the management and it’s very much just a rumour. There’ll be no closure,” Ms Chu said on Twitter.

Limerick Mayor Michael Collins was one of those who had earlier said the problem of large outdoor gatherings that are hard to control could be solved if the pubs and restaurants were allowed to open.

“I think opening the pubs and restaurants is key, because they are good at keeping controls in place on their premises, and it would help disperse the large numbers on the streets. There is no doubt we have a difficult challenge ahead next weekend. There’s no simple solution,” he said.

“I am appealing to people to avoid gatherings where Covid might spread. We can’t have a nanny state and beat people over the head with sticks about this, but we can encourage people to be careful and help avoid another lockdown,” he said.

But Cork Lord Mayor Joe Kavanagh said people need to take personal responsibility.

“Lots of people are vaccinated but lots are not, and we have to open in a safe and secure way.” he said.

“Look what happened after Christmas. We don’t want to be going backwards just because of a party on a bank holiday. This is a medical pandemic, not an anti-social behaviour pandemic. At least when pubs do open the publicans are good at patrolling what’s going on within their four walls, but until then we should be guided by people who know what they are talking about.”

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