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Northern Ireland sets up taskforce with aim of reopening venues in June

A Culture Recovery Taskforce has been set up in Northern Ireland to help venues to reopen and performances to resume when restrictions are lifted on June 21.

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey (pictured) set up the 25-person taskforce, which includes those who run festivals, music, theatre and arts venues and organisations, to recommend measures for the live events industry in Northern Ireland, which remains under tighter restrictions than the rest of the UK.

Indoor cultural attractions, cinemas, museums and outdoor events have been given an indicative reopening date of May 24, though music venues and theatres are excluded from this plan. Those businesses have been given an indicative date of June 21, though it remains unclear whether live music will be able to return on that date.

Hargey told BBC News NI: “We wanted to give that date so that it’s something to work towards.What I would like to see the task force do is how then we can open on 21 June safely.

“There are a number of pilots that are taking place in England, we’re obviously getting information on that via the SAGE committee which the health minister and the chief medical officer sit on. We’ll be monitoring those closely, and I want all of that to go through this taskforce.

“But also to look at the local knowledge and expertise here, people who run events, people who organise safety around key events in planning for coming into the summer season. But doing that in a safe way that keeps the opening long-term and sustainable.”

She added that she wanted to see live music return “as quickly and as safely as possible,” and hopes to build up to the June 21 date.

However, Hargey said that if some restrictions on performances or audiences remained in place past next month, there would need to be further financial support for venues and those working in the sector.

The chairwoman of the taskforce, Rotha Johnston, said the group will want to look at the measures that have been put in place for live performances in England, which yesterday (Monday) moved into phase three of the UK’s roadmap out of lockdown.

The changes now allow “performances and sporting events in indoor venues with a capacity of 1,000 people or half-full (whichever is a lower number), and in outdoor venues with a capacity of 4,000 people or half-full (whichever is a lower number).” It has paved the way for many grassroots venues  in England that have remained shuttered since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 to reopen.

Johnston said: “What can we learn from those measures and can they be applied safely here? We will be guided by the views from the executive and the guidelines in place at that time, but the sorts of issues we’ll want to look at are in terms of capacity, in terms of social distancing, in terms of track and trace.

“But also for these organisations the viability – what does it mean for them opening in terms of those additional requirements. We’ll want to look at every possibility.”

Image: Sinn Féin / CC BY 2.0 / Edited for size