Taoiseach Micheál Martin has signalled again that the hospitality sector in the Republic will face new Covid-19 restrictions soon after Christmas Day.
Mr Martin acknowledged after a virtual meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council (NSMC) on Friday that the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has recommended that such restrictions should begin from December 28th.
He said the Government was “very minded” to accept this advice although he did not specify when these restrictions would begin.
A virtual press conference after the NSMC was also marked by how the fallout from the Bobby Storey funeral in June is still causing tensions between DUP First Minister Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill.
At that press conference Ms Foster also took exception to a reporter referring to Northern Ireland as the "six counties".
Mr Martin said that Nphet was “proposing significant restrictions on hospitality before New Year’s Eve”.
“Government is minded to go with that recommendation, but Government has to discuss this and we’ll decide ultimately on Tuesday,” he said.
“But certainly given the rising numbers over the last week - and they will increase again today – we are very minded to accept the advice that Nphet has given us in terms of bringing forward that date before New Year’s Eve, which will involve additional restrictions on hospitality,” said Mr Martin.
“That is very serious for the hospitality sector, that I acknowledge, and Government stands ready to support the hospitality sector during this very, very difficult period,” added the Taoiseach.
“We are much disposed to moving in accordance with the advice that we are receiving from Nphet.”
Mr Martin said how long the new restrictions lasted would be a matter for the Government, which will consider the matter at Cabinet on Tuesday. The Government would also be guided by the incidence of Covid-19 at that stage.
During the press conference BBC political correspondent Gareth Gordon asked Ms Foster and Ms O'Neill about the continuing controversy over the large attendance at the funeral of leading republican Bobby Storey at the end of June.
The PSNI has concluded an inquiry into whether senior Sinn Féin figures such as Ms O'Neill and finance Minister Conor Murphy had breached the Covid regulations by their attendance at the funeral. It has sent a file to the North's Public Prosecution Service to decide whether prosecutions should follow.
Gordon referred to how Ms O’Neill on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland said that the DUP had “worked against the entire public health team” and against the entire Executive over tackling Covid.
He also asked Ms O’Neill how she could also say “with a straight face” on Morning Ireland that she had never deviated from public health advice when last week she was interviewed by police over the Storey funeral.
Ms Foster said that before the funeral Covid regulations' compliance in Northern Ireland was very good and the North was the "envy of other colleagues in the United Kingdom".
“But at the end of June one party, Sinn Féin, decided that whilst they made the laws they were also above the laws. And now we ourselves are in a situation where messaging is very difficult. We have seen a breakdown in compliance and I very much regret that that is the case,” added Ms Foster.
Ms O’Neill told Gordon that she was sure Morning Ireland would be delighted he paid “such particular attention to their programme in the morning”.
“In terms of following the public health advice I said I have never deviated from the advice of the chief medical officer when he brought forward...proposals for how we respond to Covid.”
Ms O’Neill did not elaborate or address the reference in the questions to her attendance at the Storey funeral.
Ms Foster later was affronted when the Irish Examiner’s political editor Daniel McConnell, in asking about the Northern Executive’s handling of the Covid crisis, referred to the “six counties”.
Said Ms Foster, "I haven't heard the phrase six counties in quite a while. But it is interesting to see that the Belfast Agreement and the principle of consent doesn't make its way into some of the Republic's media."
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar also attended the occasionally barbed press conference. All leaders, at least, agreed that it would be good if the UK and the EU would strike a trade deal.