Live music may return on June 21, say ministers
Live music could be ringing out from bars and other entertainment venues in Northern Ireland before the end of the month.
The Northern Ireland Executive has agreed to a provisional date of June 21 for the return of live performances, further lifting a sector that has struggled more than most during the pandemic.
That decision must now be rubber-stamped next week, in line with health advice.
However, Willie Jack, owner of some of Belfast’s most popular music pubs, including the Harp Bar and the Duke of York, sounded a note of caution about the plans.
“This can only work properly if people are allowed to stand up at the bar and order,” he said.
“The whole point of live music is that it makes you want to get up and dance and that freedom must be given to venues before the return of live music can really work.
“This all needs to be thought out and go hand-in-hand with the return of live music to make it work for bars and other venues as well.”
Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill said a fall in cases and a majority of people having had at least one vaccination meant allowing the return of live music is the right thing to do.
He added: “Live music is a huge part of the hospitality offering in Northern Ireland and brings hundreds of thousands of people to venues every year.
“People go out to our pubs, hotels and restaurants seeking a drink, good food, and to be entertained – live music is an integral part of that.
“There must now be huge focus on the lifting of all restrictions to get the entire sector on its feet again. We hope that our ‘freedom day’ isn’t far away.”
Along with the proposals on rules regarding live music in licensed and unlicensed venues, the changes could also see the return of some larger concerts, sporting events and festivals this summer.
Theatres could also reopen on June 21, if the executive gives the green light next week.
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey submitted a paper last week asking for ministers to look at the earliest date possible for the return of live music.
At the time she said: “I would be hopeful that the health advice is there, we have given an indicative date of June 21 for larger venues and that’s all predicated on the health advice.
“I have established a task force on culture, arts and heritage and the music sector have been heavily involved in that and it is through those engagements we are beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
The minister added there “will have to be a level of social distancing indoors” but that these measures will be under review and could be lifted under the right conditions.
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