All restrictions at marts relating to COVID-19 have been lifted, with the exception of mask wearing which will stay in place for now.

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue welcomed the lifting of social distancing rules and restrictions on numbers at marts and paid tribute to those who kept marts operational throughout the pandemic.

“This is a great day for our network of marts across the country. Buyers can now return to the ring without the previous limits on numbers, while online sales can continue as part of a blended approach.

"Mart managers, their staff as well as buyers and sellers of livestock, have shown tremendous resilience, agility and resourcefulness during the pandemic in dealing with the challenges of COVID-19 while continuing to trade online and at the ring,” said Minister McConalogue.

“I’m convinced the efforts of farmers and marts, adhering to the COVID-19 measures, has undoubtedly played a role in minimising and reducing the threat of COVID-19 in our communities, while protecting Ireland’s food security,” he added.

Ray Doyle of the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS) has welcomed the return of the "full mart experience" but said that COVID-19 restrictions brought many positives to marts also.

"Once you stretch an elastic band, it never goes back to the way it was before.

"For people who have part-time jobs and want to drop their animals and go, COVID-19 has benefited them greatly," he said.

Doyle also said that COVID-19 restrictions brought an added health and safety element to marts, thus reducing accidents.

"Farmers were no longer congregating around the penning areas and I think that legacy will stay there.

"They will be looking at animals in the previewing area, there will be pre-determined viewing times and they will be able to view them online," he added.

Michael Harty, CEO of Central Auctions, said that farmers are still wary of going back to full capacity at marts.

"We were in Birr this morning and there were no big crowds, they dropped their cattle as usual and we sold them for them.

"People have gotten into the habit of dropping their cattle and being able to pull up for 10 minutes and watch the sale on their phones.

Harty said that this was particularly beneficial for people who don't have a lot of help at home.

"Only for COVID-19 there would be no online selling system, people just wouldn't have bought into it. Being able to buy and sell online provides the farmer with a serious service," he added.