- Irish Cup decider to be used as a ‘learning event’ by Executive
The Northern Ireland Executive has agreed to use this year’s Irish Cup final as part of a study to inform the future safe return of spectators to large scale venues.
It said the final on Friday 21 May at Mourneview Park in Lurgan will be used as a “learning event” – and up to 1000 fans will be able to sign up to attend.
Arrangements for the staging of the match include access to the game, which will be strictly controlled and on a ticket-only basis to enable contact tracing systems to work effectively.
In addition spectators, teams and staff will be required to take a Covid test before and after the match, with proof of a negative result to be provided on arrival.
The Executive further agreed that reduced social distancing measures will be in place for the purposes of the event, while no food or beverages will be served at the game and the behaviours of spectators will be monitored. And fans will be invited to provide feedback after the event.
First Minister Arlene Foster said: “This is a big win for people of all ages who have missed the shared experience of an outdoor match, concert or show.
“The staging of this learning event will provide a valuable opportunity to gather learning which will inform our plans for the safer return of all types of large audience-based events.
“This project is all about partnership working across departments, agencies and with the football community. We have taken a co-design approach to ensure that the event is designed, run and analysed in a way that will identify and reduce risks for participants.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “We are fully committed to bringing back those aspects of life that people have missed so much over the last year. We know that for many families and friends, attending matches or events is an important part of their lives.
“Each step on the pathway to recovery is based on the best available evidence and this event has been carefully designed to contribute to our bank of knowledge on the re-opening of large scale venues.
“I commend all those involved in the project, but most importantly I want to thank the supporters who will sign up to play a key role in ensuring future events can take place as safely as possible.”
Irish FA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson said: “This is another pivotal moment on the journey back to normality and we are delighted that football can play its part. We have worked closely with our partners in the NI Executive and the Department for Communities and will do likewise with the two clubs who reach the final.
“We understand the significance of this increase in spectators for the final and also the importance of all attendees playing their part by adhering to the guidelines laid out and following the Covid testing requirements.
“We are confident that this event will help further the case for increasing spectator numbers not just for football but for other sports and events across Northern Ireland, which is something everyone wants.”
The semi-finals of this year’s Sadler’s Peaky Blinder Irish Cup are also being staged at Mourneview Park next week. Both games - Larne v Crusaders and Ballymena United v Linfield – are being staged on Tuesday and both will be played behind closed doors.