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'Not the time to play politics': Businesses and unions unhappy with Stormont deadlock over lockdown measures

Some businesses plan to reopen regardless of what the Executive decides.

Image: /Photocall Ireland

SOME NORTHERN IRELAND businesses are planning to reopen regardless of whether the Stormont Executive moves to extend lockdown measures.

Talks aimed at breaking the deadlock over the circuit-break lockdown measures, due to expire at midnight tomorrow, are continuing today after the DUP torpedoed a proposal to extend the measures by two weeks.

Last night, the DUP also vetoed a second proposal by UUP health minister Robin Swann to extend the circuit-break measures by one week.

Dr Michael McBride, the North’s chief medical officer, is reported to have advised politicians early this week that any move to lift the restrictions will cause “excess deaths”.

It emerged today that businesses had been given the wrong deadline for the end of the current circuit-break lockdown.

The Department of Health said it had received “revised legal advice” that regulations forcing the closure of many hospitality businesses expire at midnight on Friday, 24 hours later than the department had previously understood.

But business owners, many of whom expected to reopen from Friday night after four weeks, are expressing frustration over the situation. 

Two Belfast city centre pubs, The Dirty Onion and The National posted “enough is enough. We are opening tomorrow,” on their social media channels. 

The pubs are part of the Beannchor Group, founded by businessman Bill Wolsey, who has been critical of the lockdown restrictions and the impasse in Stormont.

“How can I be sitting here and not knowing if I am able to open tomorrow? How do we get to this state?”

Wolsey added, “Here we are with R below 0.7 and still not able to open. How did those politicians not talk through these scenarios four weeks ago and agree that?”

A further eight new Covid-19-linked deaths were announced in the north yesterday, with 791 new cases of the virus.

While some business leaders have hit out at the possibility of the restrictions being extended, trade unions are less bullish.

In a statement released this afternoon, the Irish Congress of Trade Union’s Northern Ireland Committee expressed concern about the DUP’s decision to veto the one-week extension.

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“While we accept that a five-party involuntary coalition is a challenging form of government, we are in extraordinary times within the context of the coronavirus pandemic and therefore our Executive must come to a resolution to these matters immediately,” ICTU said.

“The Chief Medical Officer has sought that the Executive agree to an additional 2 weeks of restrictions. This is perfectly understandable given that today we have more people in hospitals and in ICU than in the Republic of Ireland, despite having a little over one-third of their population.

“What is of particularly serious concern at this point in this crisis is that even when the Minister for Health sought by way of a compromise that the restrictions be continued for 1 week rather than 2, it is reported that the DUP alone rejected this compromise.

“This is not the time nor the issue to play politics.”

— Additional reporting by PA 

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