Ulster games could potentially host 5000 fans

By Alan Rodgers

A SERIES of high-level discussions are taking place around permitting substantially more than 500 fans at forthcoming Ulster Championship games.

Ulster GAA, the Stormont Executive, Sport NI and Croke Park’s Covid Advisory committee are considering permitting upwards of 5000 fans at next month’s clash between provincial champions Cavan and Tyrone.

If the larger number of fans is allowed, then it would represent the largest official mass gatherings of people since the Covid-19 pandemic began. But the move is dependent on the Stormont Executive meeting to permit an easing of the restrictions around the number of people allowed to attend sporting events. Their meeting due today (Thursday) is not taking place due to the current political impasse over an Irish Language Act and the nomination of First and Deputy First Ministers, leaving the question of attendances at sporting events in limbo.

It means that the easing of the restrictions look set to come too late to permit more fans into next weekend’s opening round meeting of Down and Donegal at Páirc Esler in Newry.

The move to allow more fans with one metre social distancing could ensure what would be viewed as a major step forward in the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Chief Executive of Ulster GAA, Brian McAvoy, this week told Gaelic Life that they were hopeful that legislation would permit a 25 percent risk assessed attendance and the recognised guidance around social distancing in time for the game.

“The earlier that we get notification on what’s permitted the better, but if we don’t get a decision then we will be restricted to the current level of 500,” Mr McAvoy said.

Conor Sally, chairman of the Omagh, St Enda’s club, said Healy Park is ‘prepared and ready’ to host whatever attendance is authorised for the high-profile clash between the Red Hands and the Ulster champions.

“Our club has been working in partnership with Ulster GAA, the Department for Communities and Fermanagh and Omagh District Council in terms of deciding on a figure for the number of spectators allowed that is deemed safe in accordance with guidelines,” he said.

“At the moment it is difficult because the guidelines around the easing of restrictions are evolving. We are hopeful that the figure will be above the 500 currently permitted.

“Ultimately, the decision will be made in conjunction with the relevant bodies. It will be incumbent on Fermanagh and Omagh District Council to provide a licence which would permit what they consider to be a safe number of spectators taking into account the current guidelines.

“Given the general opening up of society during recent weeks and the figures at other events, including indoors, I have no doubt that ourselves and other county grounds are capable of safely hosting several thousand spectators.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Department for Communities said that the Executive was due to ratify today a decision that outdoor gatherings would be permitted to the maximum allowed as per a risk assessment for venues.

“The Department continues to engage regularly with sports governing bodies, including Ulster GAA, on the safe return of greater numbers of spectators.

“That includes ensuring that any fixtures are fully compliant with the regulations and the relevant health advice and guidance, including on matters relating to social distancing.”

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