Dodds has 'Grand' reopening breakfast amid speculation her job's now up

Waiter Conor Sullivan serves up breakfast in the Grand Central Hotel in Belfast to minister Diane Dodds, the hotel's general manager Stephen Meldrum and NI Hotels Federation chief executive Janice Gault. Picture: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker.
Gary McDonald Business Editor

ECONOMY Minister Diane Dodds believes “driving a sustained economic recovery” is vital to ensure business in the north can quickly return to its pre-Covid levels of normality.

And while she insists many of the building blocks have been put in place by her own department, which has administered around half a billion pounds of aid to help companies survive and ensure people have jobs, it seems highly unlikely now she will be around to sign off on future support schemes.

As she tucked into breakfast yesterday at Belfast’s Grand Central Hotel to welcome the reopening of indoor hospitality, one observer remarked that it was “more akin to a last supper”.

Political analysts believe Ms Dodds will be relieved of her economy portfolio this Friday when new DUP leader Edwin Poots is expected to reveal details of a ministerial reshuffle.

Ms Dodds revealed that she, like all her party's MLAs and MPs, has had a one-to-one meeting with the leader-designate, which said said was “a critical way forward” for the party.

She added: “The most important thing the party can do from now on is to ensure we attract the greatest and widest proportion of those people who are pro-union voters and who are concerned about the economy, and who know we have the policies, drive and energy to make Northern Ireland a great place to live, work and in which to do business.”

Asked directly if she believes she will be economy minister after Thursday, Mrs Dodds said: “As for now, I'm continuing to do my job and trying to make sure businesses are open and able to operate and thrive.

“Later this week I will be launching the consultation on a new skills strategy, ensuring the skills of our people are matched to the needs of our economy and that we create a pathway for businesses to move forward.”

She added: “The last five months have been a difficult time for many of our businesses but hotels, cafes, restaurants and pubs have been hit particularly hard.

“So I share the sense of relief felt by everyone across hospitality and tourism and the sense of anticipation felt by the public who are eager to enjoy a more normal social life again.

“Reopening all businesses as soon as it is safe to do so is the single biggest driver of economic recovery, and while there is still more do, today marks an important step forward.”

Despite the concerted efforts of Stormont departments to keep businesses' heads above water, there has inevitably been collateral damage, and some cafes, restaurants, pubs and hotels weren't able to share in the reopening-day euphoria.

NI Hotels Federation chief executive Janice Gault said: “There are massive challenges ahead right across the sector and there will be a period of adjustment after 150 days of lockdown.

“The sector has had two increases in the minimum wage during the pandemic and has been burning through combined costs of close to £3 million a week, even when closed.

“And while we're obviously delighted to be welcoming back guests and taking the first step towards restoring business confidence and rebuilding the economy, there are further easements to come around the likes of live music and weddings which we'll need sooner rather than later.”

She added: “Hoteliers have shown tremendous resilience over the last year, and it's quite refreshing to see the strong levels of staycation bookings.

“But this has to be sustained. And we can't return to situations where, after the last Christmas lockdown, hotels were left to dump £30,000, sometimes up to £50,000, worth of food and stock.”

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access