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Ireland's Six Nations games against France and England earmarked to trial return of fans

Ireland have two home fixtures at the Aviva Stadium in next year's Six Nations, against France on February 14 and England on March 20; Dundalk's fixtures in the Europa League could also see fans return to the arena if League of Ireland team qualify from their group

24 February 2018; Ireland fans celebrate their side's second try scored by Bundee Aki of Ireland during the NatWest Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and Wales at the Aviva Stadium in Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Image: Fans could be allowed to return to the Aviva Stadium in February

Ireland's Six Nations fixtures in the spring have been earmarked to trial a return of fans to stadiums.

Junior Sport Minister Jack Chambers said a trial run of a "limited number" of spectators in stadiums could take place if the public health situation allows it.

Ireland have two home fixtures at the Aviva in the Six Nations tournament, against France on February 14 and England on March 20.

Dundalk's fixtures in the Europa League could also see fans return to the arena, but the League of Ireland team will have to qualify from their group first.

Minister Chambers said: "What we've been looking at, for example, is for the Six Nations next year. The Dundalk games potentially next year in the Europa League, you could have potentially bigger stadia.

"The aim first would be trial this at the bigger stadia and see how that goes, that we could try it out. But for level five and our epidemiological position, there won't be fans at games.

Image: The Aviva Stadium in Dublin will host two of Ireland's Six Nations matches next year

"The intention is for levels one and two to trial and test it and get stakeholder feedback.

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"If we're in a better epidemiological position in the spring, we'll have the guidance out and we'll be trying particular matches for how we trial a limited number of spectators in our bigger stadia."

Minister Chambers said a report probing how to facilitate the safe return of fans to stadiums is due shortly.

Under the Government's COVID-19 roadmap a maximum of 200 people are allowed in stadiums that hold fewer than 5,000 people.

But the Government is examining what it can do to allow fans to return to larger arenas.

The minister said: "There is ongoing work on stadia with capacity in excess of 5,000. We've had extensive talks with all the NGB's (non-Government bodies) to work through that.

"We've been open ended in the plan, particularly for levels one and two on how we can do this in a collaborative way to try and ensure that stadia, in as safe a way as possible, can facilitate the return of spectators.

Conor Murray is tackled by Elliot Daly
Image: Ireland will host England at the Aviva Stadium on March 20

"The report is being produced and it is intended to assist Nphet and Government on proposing plans for the opening of sports grounds for spectators in as safe a way as possible. Obviously in level five that's not going to happen."

Mr Chambers said there were many issues to consider around transport and policing in addition to the public health guidelines.

He told the Oireachtas committee on sport: "We've to think not only about the stadium, but broader stakeholder engagement.

"Whether it's with the NTA (National Transport Authority) and transport capacity for attending a possible match or how we engage with An Garda Siochana to ensure you have safe physical distancing outside of stadia.

"So obviously you have the specific logistics within a stadium, but also how you'd manage the entry and exit and how you would ticket the event."

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