Pubs have been given a glimmer of hope that they will be able to reopen when gardaí are given more powers to police them.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has said new laws providing gardaí with the authority to shut pubs for up to a month will help the country to return to a more open society and would pave the way to reopen 'wet-pubs'.
Gardaí have inspected thousands of premises since pubs serving food opened in June and have so far found 185 potential breaches of Covid guidelines. However, they have limited powers to act.
In all cases, gardaí found customers consuming alcohol, but no evidence of food also being consumed and no evidence of receipts to show that food had been sold.
The emergency Bill debated in the Dáil last night will allow gardaí to enter pubs to inspect them. A garda superintendent will have the power to immediately close a premises for the remainder of a day if they are found to be in breach of Covid-19 regulations.
If a pub continues to breach the guidelines gardaí can also apply for a temporary closure order to shut the premises for three days. Businesses that repeatedly fail to comply with the rules would see that closure order extended for up to 30 days.
Ms McEntee told the Dáil: "The vast majority of people and businesses in Ireland have complied with public health restrictions across the last six difficult months because they understand that doing so is the most sure way, not only of keeping us all safe but also of helping us to return as quickly as possible to the more open society that we have enjoyed but can no longer take for granted.
"My firm belief is that this bill will help to bring us further on that road."
However, Labour TD Brendan Howlin described as "very dangeous" the fact that "we do not actually know what specifically is to be criminalised either now or into the future," as part of the bill.
"How we can pass legislation that creates criminal offences that we do not know, and which can be renewed or changed tomorrow by new regulations?" he asked.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting last night that he doesn’t know why Ireland should be the only country with pubs not open, stressing that 3,200 publicans should be given a chance to show they can open and operate while observing social distancing rules.
He told his colleagues that there needs to be a change in how matters are being handled, again making the point that pubs and theatres are fully open elsewhere is Europe.
“Leo has stressed the point that Ireland is an outlier and is keen to see pubs and theatres return to some sense of normality where possible,” said one Fine Gael source.