Indoor hospitality in Ireland is set to reopen for people with evidence of full vaccination or immunity from Covid-19 from July 26th at the latest.
The Cabinet approved new legislation on Monday so those who are fully vaccinated or have had the virus within the last six months can enter cafes, restaurants, pubs and other licensed venues.
Accompanying minors will also be allowed to enter with parents or guardians and social distancing measures will still apply.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar confirmed the decision on Monday evening, but admitted it is “not the ideal way” to reopen indoor hospitality.
He said he hopes the approach is not seen as “discrimination”, adding it is “entirely a public health measure”.
The reopening plan comes following days of talks between the hospitality sector and senior Government officials about the resumption of indoor hospitality.
The legislation is set to be passed by the Dáil this week to come into force next week, or by July 26th at the latest.
It will run until October 9th, after when any extension must be approved by the Dáil and Seanad.
Under the legislation, people caught attempting to use fake Covid-19 certificates in order to avail of indoor dining will face a fine of up to €2,000.
“This new law means that people who have evidence of immunity through vaccination or infection in the past nine months will be able to enter indoor hospitality venues,” Mr Varadkar said.
“We are entering a new phase of the pandemic largely due to the vaccination programme.
“Last year we tried to live with Covid, and we were unable to do so, but we believe this is now possible as a consequence of the vaccination programme.
“We intend to reopen in a sustainable way.”
He added: “Our intention is to move forward slowly and never to have to move backwards, and we’re conscious of what we have seen in other parts of Europe.
“I can’t guarantee that won’t happen here but our objective is that it shouldn’t happen, and that’s why we’re moving slowly in steps so that we can get businesses open and get people back to work, and make sure they don’t have to close again.”
The Restaurants Association of Ireland welcomed the move as a “giant leap towards reopening hospitality businesses safely, viably and sustainably”.
Chief executive Adrian Cummins said: “While we don’t live in perfect pre-Covid world, the announcement will give confidence to a sector we are moving forward in a direction that will give the opportunity to 20,000 hospitality businesses reopen indoors and 180,000 employees return to work
“It’s vital we protect our staff and customers by following public health advice and abide by the guidelines.”
Earlier, the Taoiseach said he did not accept England’s approach of allowing Covid-19 to “rip” through the country.
Micheál Martin refused to give a date for when restaurants and bars will be allowed to serve customers indoors, saying only that a plan will be in place for July 19th.
He added that the legislation will be in line with public health advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).
He also said antigen testing for indoor dining will be considered in later phases.
Monday saw an additional 600 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland, the Department of Health said.