Northern Ireland’s shops, gyms, pubs, restaurants and cafés reopen today for first time in four months as Stormont joins rest of UK governments in easing lockdown restrictions

  • Premises in Northern Ireland can now serve customers outdoors in groups of six
  • The rule changes bring it in line with those seen in England, Scotland and Wales 
  • However a number of bar owners are concerned they won’t be able to repoen
  • This is after they were told their outdoor areas do not conform to requirements 

Northern Ireland’s shops, gyms, pubs, restaurants and cafes will reopen today for the first time in four months as Stormont joins the rest of the UK governments in easing lockdown restrictions.

Licensed and unlicensed premises can now serve customers in outdoors setting in groups of six from no more than two households, bringing it in line with current rules in England, Scotland and Wales.  

Other changes include curfews on takeaways and off-licences being removed, while health clubs and swimming pools can reopen for individual activities.

Meanwhile, the limit on outdoor gatherings in domestic gardens has increased to 15 people from no more than three households.

Self-contained tourist accommodation, such as caravans and rented holiday homes, can also operate.

While the latest easing of restrictions has been widely welcomed, a number of bars have said they will not be able to reopen after being told their outdoor areas do not conform to requirements.

Chanele McGirr gets ready for the re-opening of non-essential retail at John J.Sloan’s shoe shop in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland

Valerie Douglas gets ready for the re-opening of non-essential retail at Karisma Boutique in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland

Pedro Donald, owner of the Sunflower Bar in Belfast said he fears he will not be able to reopen today after being told his outdoor area does not conform with requirements

Many bar owners say their outdoor areas, now judged to be too enclosed, have not changed from what was permitted to open following the easing of the first lockdown last year.

Outdoor premises should not be more than 50% enclosed, according to health guidance.

Hospitality Ulster said there was ‘chaos’ over the implementation of the rules and many venues had been told their outdoor seating areas did not adhere to guidelines from the Executive.

The Executive insisted on Thursday there had been ‘no change’ around rules for outdoor hospitality venues and the ‘definition of indoor and outdoor areas which applied last year’ still applied.

Local councils are inspecting hospitality premises in their respective areas.

In a statement, Belfast City Council said it had a ‘statutory obligation to ensure compliance within the coronavirus restrictions, set by the NI Executive’.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy said the issue was discussed at a meeting of the Executive on Thursday and that they want people to be able to open their doors as planned and that there was ‘no desire to put any additional obstacles in anyone’s way’.

Northern Ireland took its first steps out of lockdown last week after a series of businesses resumed trading for the first time in four months.

Last Friday, close-contact services, including hairdressers and beauty parlours, reopened while driving lessons also restarted, along with theory and practical tests. 

Outdoor attractions welcomed back visitors while competitive sport resumed outdoors, with numbers limited to 100, but with no spectators allowed. 

More restrictions are set to be lifted on May 24, although these are subject to review.

From that date, pubs and restaurants can operate indoors, people will be allowed to gather in homes, and indoor attractions can reopen.

Other tourist accommodation such as hotels and B&Bs can also reopen.

Wedding receptions and post-burial events can take place in indoor hospitality venues, after appropriate risk assessments are undertaken.

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