Q&A: What are NI’s Covid rules on weddings?

Q&A: What are NI’s Covid rules on weddings?

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When the coronavirus pandemic took hold in March, couples preparing for their big day had to abruptly stop planning.

Lockdown was eased in June and wedding ceremonies could take place again – but they were subject to strict conditions.

With cases of Covid-19 rising again, there have been further changes across the UK to the rules for weddings, civil partnerships and receptions.

Here’s a guide to Northern Ireland’s rules.

How many people can attend my ceremony?

In Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the UK, there is no fixed limit.

Guidance from the Executive Office states that indoor and outdoor ceremonies are allowed, and numbers are based on venue size and risk assessments.

This includes places of worship, local government offices, hotels and other venues licensed for ceremonies.

No additional guests should be invited for an evening reception, add the guidelines.

In England, only 15 people can attend a “Covid-secure venue”, in Scotland wedding ceremonies of up to 20 people can be held and in Wales, receptions of up to 30 people are allowed.

There are different rules again in the Republic of Ireland. In Dublin and Donegal, where tighter restrictions are in place at present – ceremonies can only take place with 25 guests.

Other counties are permitted to have up to 50 guests in attendance.

Can I have my ceremony at home?

The rules on gathering in people’s homes changed in Northern Ireland on 22 September, making it illegal for more than six people from two households to meet in a private garden.

There is no exemption in the legislation for larger wedding and civil partnership ceremonies to take place in someone’s garden.

However, in the circumstance that one of the couple is terminally ill, a ceremony inside a private home is allowed.

The guidance also states that a reception can take place in a “barn or marquee” in a private garden, so long as other regulations stipulated for receptions are followed.

What about getting ready?

Hairdressers and make-up artists are often an important part of the day, but the coronavirus laws state that indoor home visits are not currently allowed in Northern Ireland.

However, hair and beauty salons reopened on 6 July and can carry out services in their premises.

There is also an exemption for hairdressers and make-up artists to visit someone’s home in a “professional capacity”.

But in practice, this may mean that the hairdresser will need to attend the homes of the wedding party separately, if they do not live in one household, the guidance adds.

A photographer or videographer can come to your home, as long as no-one from another household is present.

Do guests have to wear face coverings during the ceremony?


The Executive Office guidance says there is no expectation that the couple or their party must wear face masks during the ceremony or reception afterwards.

However, it adds that wearing face coverings in public and indoor places is strongly advised, especially where social distancing is difficult to maintain.

Anyone travelling by public transport to a wedding must wear a mask during their journey – with limited exemptions.

What about table numbers at the reception?

Organising a table plan was difficult enough for couples before coronavirus came along.

The latest regulations for the hospitality sector, published last week, state that no more than 10 people can sit at a table at a reception. This does not include children under the age of 12.

Guidance says the couple should try to keep guests in “social groups”, and that families should be seated together,

However, there is no limit on numbers at the happy couple’s table.

Drinks receptions can only be staged outdoors with social distancing measures in place, adds the guidance.

Can I have music at my ceremony and reception?

That appears to depend on where you are getting married.

The regulations state that places of worship are exempt from a ban on music, meaning you could have a singer or musician perform at a church ceremony.

However, the laws specifically ban music – whether live or recorded – from hospitality venues that serve alcohol such as hotels, restaurants and pubs.

Hospitality representatives have called for clarity about the rule, questioning why there is no exemption for music to be performed at a wedding or civil partnership service in these settings.

What about the first dance?

Dancing in hospitality venues is banned under the latest laws, however a couple can still have their first dance – but it must be to pre-recorded music.

The law says background music can only be played if guests can “conduct conversation at normal loudness of speech”.

The Executive Office says background music can be provided by a DJ “provided it fully complies with the requirements set out in the regulations”.

But DJs are not permitted for the purposes of dancing.

Do the new rules on hospitality closing times affect receptions?

Yes, they do.

From Wednesday 30 September, hotel bars, restaurants and pubs must close at 23:00 in Northern Ireland.

First Minister Arlene Foster said there could be “no exceptions”, and the rule also applies at hospitality venues where a wedding reception is taking place.

That means all receptions must be concluded and guests have left the room by 23:00. No late licences will be permitted.

Table service also applies at hospitality venues, meaning guests cannot go to the bar to purchase alcohol during the reception.

What about speeches and toasts at the reception?

According to the guidelines, these parts of the big day can still take place.

It says microphones should be sanitised if shared, and voice projection should be avoided.

How long might these restrictions be in place?

No-one can say for sure.

That depends what happens with the spread of the virus in Northern Ireland.

The Executive Office has deemed that indoor marriages and civil partnerships, in the context of Covid-19, must “still be seen as carrying a serious risk”.

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