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Pubs still on course to re-open, ‘stay local message’ dropped and it’s good news for weddings too

There will be a full return to outdoor sport and it has been agreed that the Irish Cup Final on May 21 can be used as an event 'for logistical and operational learning permitting 1,000 spectators'

The Executive has said that is remains committed to the reopening of indoor pubs from Monday, May 24.

This will be subject to review four days earlier and operational details have been outlined.

Meanwhile, additional changes have been agreed.

There are changes and relaxations ahead for numbers in gatherings, while attractions including bingo halls and cinemas are to open too.

There will be a full return to outdoor sport and it has been agreed that the Irish Cup Final on May 21 can be used as an event “for logistical and operational learning permitting 1,000 spectators”.

Schools will resume extra-curricular activities and libraries reopen too.

Additionally, the message ‘Stay Local’ is to be dropped.

In a statement this evening (Thursday), the Executive outlined its intended map for the days ahead:

“Thanks to the efforts of the public and the continued success of our vaccination programme, we are in a position to signal a further set of relaxations. We also discussed issues around international travel and travel within the CTA.

To assist preparations for reopening, we have also agreed the detail of conditions under which some of the sectors will operate.

We have good news for those with marriage and civil partnerships planned, as well on indoor visits in domestic settings and for the hospitality sector and for those needing a hug from families and friends.

In relation to our previous decisions, which come into place on 24 May, subject to a review on the 20 May, we have decided the following:

Reopen unlicensed and licensed premises indoors with mitigations

The Executive has previously indicated that hospitality will re-open fully, with mitigations, on 24 May. This will be subject to a ratification decision on 20 May.

The Executive discussed this again today, noting that the Covid data continues to have a generally positive direction of travel. The Executive remains committed to re-opening on 24 May and provided the data remains generally positive, that decision will be ratified. We recognize the steps the sector has taken to be ready for re-opening and it is important that we give clarity as soon as we can.

The Executive has also looked carefully at the mitigations which need to be put in place and we stress again the importance of contact details for test and trace. We have considered the seating arrangements again, and subject to review on 20 May, we will relax the table settings for indoor and outdoor hospitality to permit 6 people to sit together, removing the restriction on the number of households they can be from.

Other conditions are:

Children under 12 are not counted in the 6
Table service only
More will be permitted if all are from one household, to a maximum of 10.
All contact details must be taken and retained.
Social distancing required – minimum of 1m.
Must stay at table – no gaming machines, pool tables, etc.;
Face coverings must be worn once no longer seated for any reason, for example, to go to the toilet
No meal requirement
No dancing
No live music
Music must be at ambient level to permit normal conversation
Risk assessment as per current regulations for outdoors

Reopen the remainder of Tourist Accommodation

The indoor licenced areas will be covered as above.

The other conditions that will apply are:

All contact details must be taken and retained
Rooms/accommodation area booking in line with the permission re indoor domestic settings/bubbles
Shared facilities will reopen
Meeting rooms will be reopened – capacity will be to risk assessment maximum.

Post wedding and civil partnership events:

Risk assessment for capacity
No restriction on top table
Other tables maximum of ten (no household restriction)
Children under 12 excluded from table numbers
One dance permitted for the couple
Music same as for licenced venues

Other hospitality events e.g. gala dinners, functions, ticketed or not:

Capacity to risk assessment maximum.
Subject to other indoor hospitality requirements e.g. table seating, contact details, music etc.
Conference facilities in tourism sector – the closure will be removed from the Regulations to allow use for other purposes to risk assessment capacity.

As a result of the changes to tourism we are removing the restriction on staying overnight away from your normal home.

Allow visits indoors in Domestic Settings

6 people from no more than 2 households
Does not include children under 12
Can be more if household has more than 6, but not more than 10
Overnight stays permitted

Indoor visitor attractions – includes amusement arcades, bingo halls, museums, galleries and cinemas.

Social distancing
Risk assessment to maximum capacity
All contact details must be taken and retained

Resume indoor group exercise and training in numbers limited to suit the venue – includes soft play areas, leisure centres, gyms, swimming pools, equestrian centres, venues relating to motor sport and activity centres.

Social distancing
Risk assessment to maximum capacity
All contact details must be taken and retained

New decisions taken today are as follows:

We have reviewed the Stay Local messaging and concluded that with the reopening of tourism and other areas, it is time to step away from that message, to focus more on individuals’ behaviours rather than distance travelled.

From 24 May, subject to review on 20 May we have decided to:

Increase numbers permitted for indoor gatherings, (not including domestic settings), to those permitted by a risk assessment or the venue. This will allow the resumption of community events, such as mother and toddler groups. Where the gathering is of more than 15 people, it must be an organised gathering with a risk assessment.

Increase numbers for outdoor gatherings to 500 or capped at risk assessment level if lower. This would allow up to 500 spectators at any outdoor event. Any gatherings of over 30 people outdoors must be an organised gathering and would require a risk assessment. We would advise organisers to consider the use of Lateral Flow Tests for any planned larger events.

We have agreed that the Irish Cup Final on 21 May can be used as an event for logistical and operational learning permitting 1,000 spectators. (SEE MORE DETAIL BELOW).

We will be amending the Face Coverings Regulations to require mandatory wearing of face coverings in all indoor areas accessible by the public unless exempt. Guidance will be updated to provide examples of venues where face coverings must be worn and to take account of circumstances for individuals experiencing communication difficulties.

Libraries will re-open and provide limited in-library services in line with permitted gathering numbers.

Schools will be able to resume extra-curricular activities, indoor extra-curricular sports, outdoor inter-schools sports and day educational visits

There will be a full return to outdoor sport through the removal of:

the limit of 15;
the limit on squad training;
the requirement for outdoor sport being permitted only for those affiliated to a Governing body or an organisation that regulates a sport or sporting activity;
and the cap of 100 on competitive sporting events, and replace with an overall limit of 500 on all outdoor sporting events.

This will allow more informal sporting events, such as 5-aside matches to take place up to 500 participants, with 500 spectators also.

There will be a return to indoor club training in squads from 24 May, followed by a return to indoor competitive sport from 31 May.

And from the 21 June we have agreed to remove the restriction on audiences in seated theatres and concert halls and other venues and to the return of conferences and exhibitions. These decisions will be subject to review in June.

Finally, we are also conscious that people want to see their family and friends again in less restricted circumstances. While there is an ongoing need to be cautious and careful, and to think about individual circumstances and scenarios, the Executive sees benefit in people being able to hug their loved ones. However, physical contact with others will always be associated with risk of transmitting the virus, and that risk will be greater when one or more of those involved has not been vaccinated.

The rules on social distancing in hospitality and retail are not changing at this time and hugging is not permitted in those environments.

In relation to travel within the CTA, which is currently subject to advice and guidance, we have decided to remove the essential travel reasons requirement and retain the guidance on self-isolation and add two new exemptions to this:

visits to family and friends;
those who have completed mandatory managed quarantine on arrival at a point of entry elsewhere in the CTA and travelled directly to NI.

Those exempt from self-isolation will be asked in guidance to take a pre-departure LFD test, and LFD tests and days 2 and 8 post arrival in NI.

At present, there is advice not to travel in or out of Northern Ireland except where it is essential to do so. The list of essential reasons to travel is published on NIDirect.

If you are arriving into Northern Ireland from within the Common Travel Area and you plan to remain here for at least 24 hours, public health advice is that you should self-isolate upon arrival for 10 days, unless you are exempt.

We ask everyone to take care of yourselves and each other and remember outdoors is generally safer than indoors.”


The Executive has agreed to use the Irish Cup final as part of a study to inform the future safe return of spectators to large scale venues.

The cup final on May 21 at Mourneview Park Football Stadium in Lurgan, will be used as a learning event. Up to 1,000 fans will be able to sign up to attend.

Arrangements for the staging of the match include:

  • Access to the match will be strictly controlled and on a ticket-only basis to enable contact tracing systems to work effectively.
  • Spectators, teams and staff will be required to take a Covid test before and after the match, with proof of a negative result to be provided on arrival.
  • Reduced social distancing measures will be in place for the purposes of this event only.
  • No food or beverages will be served at the game.
  • Behaviours of spectators will be monitored.
  • Fans will be invited to provide feedback after the event.

First Minister Arlene Foster said: “This is a big win for people of all ages who have missed the shared experience of an outdoor match, concert or show.

“The staging of this learning event will provide a valuable opportunity to gather learning which will inform our plans for the safer return of all types of large audience-based events.

“This project is all about partnership working, across Departments, agencies and with the football community. We have taken a co-design approach to ensure that the event is designed, run and analysed in a way that will identify and reduce risks for participants.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “We are fully committed to bringing back those aspects of life that people have missed so much over the last year. We know that for many families and friends, attending matches or events is an important part of their lives.

“Each step on the pathway to recovery is based on the best available evidence and this event has been carefully designed to contribute to our bank of knowledge on the re-opening of large scale venues.

“I commend all those involved in the project, but most importantly I want to thank the supporters who will sign up to play a key role in ensuring future events can take place as safely as possible.”

Irish FA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson said: “This is another pivotal moment on the journey back to normality and we are delighted that football can play its part. We have worked closely with our partners in the NI Executive and the Department for Communities and will do likewise with the two clubs who reach the final.

“We understand the significance of this increase in spectators for the final and also the importance of all attendees playing their part by adhering to the guidelines laid out and following the Covid testing requirements.

“We are confident that this event will help further the case for increasing spectator numbers not just for football but for other sports and events across Northern Ireland, which is something everyone wants.”

Meanwhile, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has welcomed the planned return of spectators to sports events and further reopening of sports activities.

She said: “I am pleased that as a first step, 500 spectators will be permitted to watch sport whether at an underage game or a professional event.  This is a good sign of progress for those who enjoy watching these events. We will also work with our scientific and medical partners to learn more about the safety at these events and later this month aim to run an event with a higher number again of spectators.

“It was also important to recognise the importance of unstructured sport in our day-to-day lives and to permit those activities to open up again, whether that be 5-aside football in the local leisure centre or Park Run in the local park.  Participants must observe the maximum number of 500 people for gatherings when such activities are taking place.

The Minister added: “I must stress that it is important that we see a safe and sensible approach from everyone.  These decisions place enormous responsibility on Governing Bodies, clubs and venue operators as well as on individuals.  Where possible, everyone must observe social distancing and good hygiene practices.”

The Executive have agreed that from 24 May up to 500 spectators can attend organised outdoor sports fixtures or events where the sports Governing Body, club or venue operator can ensure compliance with social distancing, control numbers accordingly and have appropriate hygiene regimes in place.

The Executive also agreed further easements of sports activities from 24 May that will see the return of unstructured outdoor sport, the removal of the limit of 15 participants in outdoor sport and an increase in the cap of participants across all outdoor sport from 100 to 500 participants.

These planned relaxations will be subject to review on May 20.

Education Minister Peter Weir has also welcomed the Executive’s decision to allow schools to resume a range of activities.

The Minister has announced that schools will be permitted to resume extra-curricular activities, inter-schools sports and day educational visits from 24 May, subject to the Executive’s confirmation on 20 May.

Welcoming the decision the Minister said: “The Executive has identified education as a key priority within its Pathway out of Restrictions. It is vital that our children and young people are able to access activities that help them learn about themselves and develop and use their skills and knowledge.

“I fully recognise the importance of the breadth of learning experiences and opportunities that schools offer to children and young people. While access to the core curriculum is crucial, extra-curricular activities are a key element in enabling children to reap the full benefits of a return to face to face education to in a manner that supports their mental wellbeing as well as social and educational development.”

The Executive has also agreed to the resumption of inter-schools sport and day educational visits organised by schools and the youth sector.

Acknowledging this development the Minister continued: “I am aware of the importance of competitive sports being played against other schools for many pupils and the situation in recent times whereby a child could play a competitive sports match for their sports club but not for their school. I very much welcome that this decision will provide much needed clarification of this issue.”

“As regards the provision of educational visits, it is essential that children and young people have access to cultural sites and attractions to participate in field trips and other educational visits. These are important aspects of the school curriculum and youth provision.”

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