Clarification of Covid regulations needed, says expert as new hospitality guidelines issued

ireland
Clarification Of Covid Regulations Needed, Says Expert As New Hospitality Guidelines Issued
Fáilte Ireland issued updated guidelines for the hospitality industry after the Government said certain outdoor events with up to 200 people were permitted. Photo: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images
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Updated: 2.30pm

Legal expert, Dr Laura Cahillane has called for the law about Covid-19 guidelines to be made clearer as very few people actually knew exactly what the law is in relation to such restrictions.

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s News at One, Dr Cahillane, a senior lecturer of law at the University of Limerick, said the Government had been "very poor" about clarifying its messaging about Covid-19.

“They've often given the impression that advice or guidelines are actually binding law, although this time they've gone back to demonstrate exactly the opposite.

“The law must be clear and must be accessible, the difficulty here is that very few people actually knew what the law is,” Dr Cahillane said.

There had been a lot of “blurring” of two very different things – regulations and guidelines, she added. Guidance had been spoken about as if it was legally enforceable when it was “only advisory”.

Rule of law

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The idea of the rule of law was important to any functioning society, she said, but it had to be clear so people could understand it and obey it. There had been 100 statutory instruments with regard to Covid-19 regulations, but it was clear that “even the legislators” had not read every statutory instrument.

It should not have been necessary for the Attorney General to intervene and clarify the regulations, Dr Cahillane added.

Her comments come after updated Covid guidelines for the hospitality sectors were published by Fáilte Ireland earlier today.

Under the new guidance, outdoor events with gatherings of up to 200 people, along with live music and other performances, are permitted.

The update came after the Government said certain open-air events with up to 200 people are permitted, under advice from the Attorney General, during the fallout of an event held by former minister Katherine Zappone at the Merrion hotel in Dublin, attended by 50 people including Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

Under the new guidelines multiple tables can be booked in an outdoor area, although intermingling between tables is not permitted. There must be “robust protective measures” in place, and overall capacity up to the limit of 200 “will depend on the size of the outdoor event area where customers will be seated.” The 11.30pm cut-off point, by which all customers must be off the premises, remains in place.

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The CEO of the Vintners Federation of Ireland, Padraig Cribben, welcomed the new guidelines released by Fáilte Ireland, telling the News at One that the update brings “a new level of clarity”, however, added that he wish stakeholders had been involved in the process.

“It’s now only a matter of time before all restrictions in pubs such as mandatory table service and the ban on people sitting at bar counters are removed,” he added.

Matt McGranaghan of Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland described the revision as “a small and significant step” towards the full reopening of the sector.

Some events which had been planned in the belief they were adhering to the guidelines had been cancelled following intervention from local gardaí in the belief that they contravened regulations, he said, adding: “No-one, not even the Department [of Health] last week, were aware that events could go ahead.”

Meanwhile, the chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, Adrian Cummins, said the guideline prohibiting intermingling between tables was “nonsense”.

“I don’t know how people expect our industry to police this issue of trying to stop people from moving from one table to another,” he told Newstalk radio.

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“I mean, that’s total nonsense in my opinion, that the hospitality industry is going to have to police up to 200 people in a premises, that you could have multiple tables of six people, and you’d have to stop them from moving from one table to another.”

Vaccine evidence

The guidelines state outdoor hospitality can continue to operate for customers who are unable to provide evidence of Covid-19 vaccination or immunity to the disease through recovery.

Face coverings should be worn by customers at all times other than when seated at their table, and face masks must be worn by all staff in customer-facing roles.

Dedicated employees must “always monitor and manage” physical distancing, rather than simply relying on signage, the guidelines state.

Queueing procedures must be implemented if customers cannot be seated immediately, and physical distancing of at least one metre should be maintained between people seated at tables.

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A maximum of six people are permitted at a table, with this limit not including accompanying children aged 12 or younger. The total combined capacity at a table cannot exceed 15 overall.

Customers must remain seated at their table except when availing of food counter service, using the toilet, paying, arriving and departing.

Live music and performances are permitted in outdoor hospitality settings, subject to adherence to all other Covid-19 guidance, with the performance area to be located at least two metres from customers.

The guidelines specify that indoor organised events are currently not permitted other than for weddings, “non-social meetings”, training and educational programmes that can take place when considered essential to a business's operation.

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