Ireland plans to open all pubs on September 21: minister

FILE PHOTO: Pub doors are locked in the Temple Bar area, as bars across Ireland close voluntarily to curb the spread of coronavirus, in Dublin, Ireland, March 15, 2020. REUTERS/Lorraine O'Sullivan

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland plans to allow the reopening of all pubs on Sept. 21, dropping a ban on bars that do not serve food, a senior minister said on Tuesday.

Bars that serve food have been allowed to open since the end of June under strict conditions after public health officials said they represented a safer environment than pubs that only serve alcohol.

The disparity led over the last week to small protests from other publicans, whose premises have been closed since March.

A minister confirmed that the government would allow all pubs to reopen, but under strict conditions such as a requirement for table service.

“What we are not proposing to do on Sept. 21 is to reopen pubs, packed bars, crowded places. We’re talking about allowing a pub to reopen with table service and not serve chicken goujons to justify it,” Simon Harris, minister for Higher Education and Science, told reporters.

Ireland exited lockdown at a slower pace than most of Europe and a pausing of the final stage of its initial reopening plan since July has made it the only country in Europe not to fully reopen pubs.

Ministers have twice set a reopening date for pubs but postponed it after a rise in COVID-19 cases.

Data on Monday showed that Ireland’s average number of cases has continued to rise slowly over the past week and is at a higher level than when the government significantly tightened nationwide coronavirus restrictions last month.

The country’s chief medical officer warned residents of Dublin and Limerick on Monday to limit their social interactions as much as possible to control concerning spikes in cases in two of Ireland’s largest cities.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries, editing by Ed Osmond