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Taoiseach says DUP was 'wrong' to use cross-community veto on public health measures

The DUP had disagreed with other parties in the Stormont Executive on continuing the Covid-19 restrictions after today.

Image: PA

Updated Nov 13th 2020, 2:00 PM

HEALTHCARE WORKERS HAVE been betrayed by Stormont’s “negligent” decision not to impose a fresh lockdown, a senior doctor said.

British Medical Association Northern Ireland chair Dr Tom Black warned that hospitals are over-capacity; Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the situation in Northern Ireland was “very challenging” as the pressures on the system are “fairly significant there”.

Circuit-breaker restrictions have been extended by one week, with partial reopening of hospitality next Friday, following a political wrangle which has exposed divisions between the parties in the executive. 

Dr Black said: “The national response to a situation like that would be to bring in a further lockdown, to make that more severe, yet politicians have decided to ease restrictions over the next two weeks and open up society.

“That decision is incompetent and negligent and saying to the healthcare workers that ‘we are abandoning you’.

“If the healthcare workers thought that they had been betrayed by the Executive, I think that would be a reasonable stance to take.”

‘Wrong’ for DUP to use veto

Taoiseach Micheál Martin told RTÉ the News at One that helping to tackle the coronavirus pandemic in Northern Ireland was “challenging”.

There are different political parties around the Executive. They have differences on this. Their Chief Medical Officer liaises with out Chief Medical Officer – but also is connected to the UK medical system. So, from the get go, we’ve had this different set of perspectives.

He said that the DUP using the cross-community veto to block the extension of Covid-19 restrictions was “wrong”.

You cannot be using the cross-community veto in the context of a public health initiative. That is not what it was ever designed for, and I was very disappointed to see that… Public health should transcend that.

The Taoiseach said that he was “glad” that they were continuing their restrictions because “their numbers are worryingly high” and “the spillover effect is there”.

He cited one example of when North-South cooperation was effective, though it was an ‘informal’ arrangement: “One time when we got Donegal and Strabane and Derry all on one wavelength, because of informal workings with the systems in the North and the Republic – that was good.”

Alliance and Sinn Féin react

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said that the tactics being used were  ”shameful and embarrassing”, refencing the DUP’s use of the cross-community veto to block the extension of restrictions for two weeks. 

“The degree of perversion of the original intent of that protection is laid bare for all to see,” she said. 

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald echoed those comments speaking later on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne. 

“I think the use by the DUP of a cross-community vote and a veto which is what Naomi was referring, to was shameful was disgraceful was depressing. The idea that the DUP can turn public health and our need to keep all of us safe and to do the right thing for everyone in very difficult circumstances, that they can turn that into an orange versus green, them versus us issue is, really very very shocking,” she said. 

A total of 78 deaths involving Covid-19 occurred in the week from 31 October to 6 November, and the overall toll has reached 1,141, official statistics showed today.

On Thursday, at the 11th hour, a deal was struck by the Executive to end the deadlock over exiting the current coronavirus circuit-breaker.

Hair and beauty salons and premises without an alcohol licence like cafes and coffee shops can reopen next Friday, with hours restricted to 8pm.

Driving lessons can resume by appointment only.

Restaurants, pubs and hotels can lift shutters on November 27.

Pubs and bars will be permitted to sell sealed off-sales from November 20.

Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF) chief executive Janice Gault said her sector had lost out.

Turnover is forecast to fall to less than a third of 2019 and the extended six-week closure will see a loss of sales in the region of £70 million.

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She added: “From a hotel perspective, it has been a bleak month with frustration morphing into exasperation over the last week.

“The air of despondency at the start of the process has been replaced with one of disbelief and distress.”

Sinn Féin voted against the successful proposal because it ran contrary to the guidance from Stormont’s medical and scientific advisers to extend the circuit-break in its entirety for two weeks.

It was outnumbered around the ministerial table as ministers faced mounting public criticism over the delay.

The DUP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance Party voted for the breakthrough proposals.

- With reporting by Rónán Duffy and Gráinne Ní Aodha

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