The Taoiseach sampled the food and atmosphere as he dined al-fresco on Cork’s Prince’s St today, the poster-child for our summer outdoors, but cautioned that the great re-opening will be done “one step at a time”.
Micheál Martin, who also officially opened a new docklands office block, said while it was great to see hospitality re-open and that the last few days have been heartening for many, such progress must be consolidated and the situation reassessed before decisions to ease restrictions further can be made, and office workers are cleared to return to the workplace.
“It’s great that outdoor dining is back,” he said before tucking into lunch outside Nash19.
“I think the city has been very innovative - the traders and the city council - in terms of pedestrianisation of streets, in terms of the adaptation of certain streets with the umbrellas and so on.
“It’s all helping to get the city back on its feet and to give people opportunities as we emerge from Covid-19 and relax restrictions.
“The last couple of days have been very heartening for people and now with matches coming back, of people being able to attend matches, we are making progress. But we must consolidate the progress and we will make further progress as the summer rolls on.
“We will take it one step at a time. We’ll see how this works out and evaluate this towards the end of the month and will make further assessments on it.”
Publican Paul Montgomery, who runs Clancy’s, helped spearhead the ‘eat on the street’ initiative last year, when with the support of other traders, he wrote to City Hall on April 3, 2020, calling for the street to be pedestrianised.
“It was about survival at the time and the concern that we had was that with restrictions on numbers, that we couldn’t survive two or three years of business. It was all about the art of the possible,” he said.
He said by making the area a destination, it has helped boost the food and drinks businesses but that it can also lift the entire city.
"Everyone can win," he said.
The Taoiseach then officially opened the new Penrose Dock office development, where earlier, one of its 18 tenants, data security and analytics company Varonis, announced plans to create 60 jobs over the next three years.
Despite Covid-19, the office block has nearly 90% of its floorspace let, with 1,100 workers employed there, a figure set to increase by 500 over the coming years.
But while Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has backed a return of the office from August - a month earlier than planned - Mr Martin said the government will have to wait and see, with the focus first on trialling crowds at sports events and then focusing on the return of students to third-level colleges in autumn.
“We want to offer a normal campus-like experience for young students in further education,” he said.
“In the world of work, a lot of young people have not yet been in their offices after being recruited last year. We want them to get the office experience as fast as they can.
“We are going to take this step by step. I can understand for a lot of young people who have been recruited (last year), that a blended experience would be worthwhile.
“We will take advice on this and take it step by step."
Later, the Taoiseach sampled one of the Cork Midsummer Festival’s ‘arts gifts’, featuring an outdoor performance by John Spillane at Elizabeth Fort.
Such gifts will be available to buy, and send to local communities, when the festival opens later this month.
Earlier, the Taoiseach also opened the first ASD unit at the North Monastery Primary school, a senior boys school which caters for 125 pupils from second to sixth class.
Principal Carl O’Brien said it marks the start of a new chapter in the school’s history, which is set to convert from a senior boys school to a “vertical co-educational school” when it welcomes its first intake of junior infants in September.
He also presented certificates to students at Terence MacSwiney College.