Irish government makes wedding U-turn after bridal backlash

Orla Hogan, Ali O'Mara, Brana Culle, Anna Killeen and Orla O'Huadaigh hold up signs at a protest march to Government Buildings in a bid to allow up to 100 guests to attend weddings this year in Dublin, Ireland, July 27, 2021. REUTERS/Lorraine O'Sullivan

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Exasperated brides-to-be dressed all in white to protest outside Ireland's parliament on Tuesday while others inundated radio call-in shows to criticise COVID-19 restrictions, forcing the government to ease limits on wedding guest numbers.

Ireland, which has implemented some of Europe's toughest restrictions during the pandemic, has been gradually unwinding its third and longest lockdown and this week permitted pubs and restaurants to resume serving fully vaccinated diners indoors.

Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, however, said last week that plans to double the number of guests allowed at weddings and receptions to 100 in August were unlikely to go ahead due to concerns over the highly transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant.

His comments provoked the ire of betrothed couples, some of whom have already twice postponed their big day in hopes of inviting more friends and family.

A handful of future brides took to the streets during Ireland's weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday, marching from the department of health to parliament carrying signs reading "love is not cancelled".

"I think a wedding generally is pretty stressful, but having two guest lists is difficult," said David Hare, 31, who protested alongside his fiancée Anna Killeen.

The couple had been facing the prospect of halving the number of guests for their Aug. 21 wedding.

"It just really allows us to have a wedding with a chunk of our friends as opposed to just family, which is great," he said after ministers headed to the cabinet meeting indicated they would loosen the limits.

Cabinet later confirmed the decision to allow 100 guests.

Just across its open border, British-run Northern Ireland does not have restrictions on wedding guest numbers.

Britain launched its vaccination programme earlier, but Ireland has since caught up and has now fully vaccinated close to 70% of its adult population.

But around 18% of the Irish workforce has been left either permanently or temporarily out of work amid the government's tough COVID-19 measures, with the events and hospitality sectors hit hardest.

"It's been a very quiet two years because everyone wants everyone at their wedding, and you can't do that with 50 people," said Tony Barry, a 21-year-old waiter for a Dublin catering company, who attended Tuesday's protest dressed in a tuxedo.

"It's some good news."

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Joe Bavier)

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