WATCH: FAI to seek talks with Government following 'mass gatherings' directive

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The Football Association of Ireland has confirmed that it is to seek talks with Government and Department of Sport officials on new proposals to ban mass gatherings of more than 5,000 people until the end of August.

The FAI will seek clarity on what this latest ruling will mean for the SSE Airtricity League and also its potential effect on international football if it is extended into September.

The Association’s Interim CEO Gary Owens told FAI TV: “This is breaking news this evening and in two respects for us. The obvious question is, can we hold the international matches in the autumn period?

“We really need to be able to hold those matches and have mass gatherings in September. Hopefully we can get to the end of August and that 5,000 limit will be increased.

“On the other hand, it gives us an opportunity with the League of Ireland clubs. That is a significant input now into the debate we will be having tomorrow with the National League Executive Committee because 5,000 could now be a level on which we could now resume the League of Ireland.

“That is a significant input and we need to take that into account, along with all the other factors which we are now analysing in advance of making a decision on the 5th of May when the Government will make their formal decision known.”

Gary Owens also confirmed plans to talk to Government officials as soon as feasible about this latest decision.

He added: “Like everything else, the devil is in the detail. We really need to understand what they mean by 5,000 in terms of mass gatherings and whether that applies in stadiums and what are the criteria we would have to comply with.

“We have been working with the medical team in UEFA who are helping us with guidelines but  obviously, we need to talk to the HSE and try and understand whether or not they would allow mass gatherings in football stadiums and if they do up to that level of 5,000, that could be a significant breakthrough for us.”

The SSE Airtricity League is currently scheduled to resume on June 19th with the Women’s National League set to kick-off a week later. The FAI are also to meet with the National League Executive Committee on Wednesday when this date will be reviewed.

Speaking to FAI TV, Owens said: “We will wait until we hear what the HSE and the Government have to say on May 5th. We are working through the National League Executive Committee and we are considering all the options.

“We have a number of scenarios which include putting it back, includes working behind closed doors, it includes looking at restricted stadiums so I think until we hear what the government have to say and what their advice is, we really can’t make a decision.

“I think the most important thing for us at the moment is to analyse all the options, look at all the scenarios and be ready to make a decision that is appropriate.”

According to Owens, UEFA remain committed to dates in late July for Irish clubs to enter next season’s European club competitions.

He explained: “The latest is they are sticking with the dates. The Irish clubs look like they will be competing on the 28th of July so that is probably the most optimistic date. They have two options, one starting 28th July and one only a week later so they are still committed to making sure the European qualifying competitions for our clubs take place in late July and early August.”

The Republic of Ireland’s EURO 2020 Play-Off Semi-Final away to Slovakia is now likely to be played in October, with UEFA Nations League games to go ahead as planned in September.

Owens, who took part in a tele-conference meeting with UEFA on Tuesday, told FAI TV that new Ireland boss Stephen Kenny could have as many as five games played before the trip to Bratislava.

Owens revealed: “There has been a slight move on that. Originally, we thought it may well be November but it now looks like the semi-final is the preferred option in October.

“They don’t want to have the semi-final and the final of the play-offs in the one month. It looks like the Nations League matches will be in September and October with the semi-final play-off in October and the final Play-Off in November.”