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NI Executive adjourns for the night with no agreement on new coronavirus restrictions

Northern Ireland’s lockdown is due to end at midnight tomorrow.

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill
First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill
Image: Kelvin Boyes via PA Images

Updated Nov 11th 2020, 8:49 PM

THE NORTHERN IRELAND Executive has been adjourned for the night without reaching an agreement on new coronavirus restrictions. 

NI’s four-week circuit-break lockdown ends at midnight tomorrow, at which point regulations that have forced the closure of much of the hospitality sector will fall away.

Divisions at the head of the Stormont executive have been laid bare as ministers struggle to agree on the restrictions. 

The DUP has already vetoed a proposal from health minister Robin Swann to extend the current circuit-break by two weeks, despite the other four executive parties backing the move.

During a third executive meeting in three days on Wednesday, it is understood that Swann suggested a one-week extension of the measures, which have forced much of the hospitality sector to close.

It is understood the DUP’s initial reaction to the proposal was not positive.

Ministers were due to resume talks today on proposals to partially reopen the hospitality sector after late night meetings on Monday and yesterday broke up without agreement.

The administration is facing mounting criticism for failing to tell businesses whether they will be able to reopen on Friday.

During yesterday’s executive meeting, Alliance Party justice minister Naomi Long was particularly critical of the deployment of the cross-community vote – a mechanism designed to protect minority rights in a post-conflict society – to torpedo health regulations.

After Swann’s paper was voted down, ministers turned to debating the alternative proposals tabled by DUP economy minister Diane Dodds.

A majority of Stormont ministers also voted against proposals from Economy Minister Diane Dodds that would have led to a partial reopening of the hospitality sector in Northern Ireland.

Other plans

It is understood Justice Minister Naomi Long is developing a paper that would fuse Robin Swann’s one-week extension proposal with Diane Dodds’ plans for partially reopening the hospitality sector.

Under the proposal, the circuit break would continue for a further week before the introduction of measures that would allow cafes and coffee shops to reopen and close contact services to resume.

Ministers will resume discussions in the morning on the proposals tabled by Naomi Long.

PA understands that a paper tabled by Robin Swann to the executive this afternoon warned ministers that failure to extend the circuit break by two weeks would “significantly increase” the likelihood of a pre-Christmas intervention in Northern Ireland.

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The paper makes clear that even a two-week extension may not be enough to avoid the need for new measures being imposed ahead of the festive period.

The paper, which proposed a one-week extension to give ministers more time to develop an agreed approach, warns that hospitals in Northern Ireland are all currently operating “at, close to, or above full capacity”.

It highlighted that if hospitals are overwhelmed with Covid-19 cases then capacity to deliver other services will be “adversely impacted”, leading to increased deaths from other causes.

In the document, Swann also expressed doubt about whether alternative proposals tabled by Economy Minister Diane Dodds could be translated into regulations in time for the lapsing of the current circuit break on Thursday.

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