Northern Ireland news

Pubs' curfew postponed while arts sector funding agreed

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Finance Minister Conor Murphy at a press conference in  Stormont today. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire 
Michael McHugh, David Young and Rebecca Black, Press Association

Ministers have delayed a concrete decision on early closure of pubs and restaurants to finalise outstanding details, First Minister Arlene Foster has said.

Medical experts believe it would hamper the spread of coronavirus and 11pm has been considered by Stormont ministers.

Bars which do not serve food opened their doors again yesterday for the first time in six months.

Arlene Foster said: "There is a strong unity of purpose on the way forward.

"We will come to the Assembly at the beginning of the week on that issue.

"We will finalise more details over the next couple of days."

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said it was about "dotting the Is and crossing the Ts".

She added: "There is no failure to agree anything.

"We actually have an agreed way forward."

She urged people to act sensibly over the weekend and the Executive would make a firm decision next week.

In Britain, pubs and restaurants must close at 10pm.

In the Republic of Ireland it is 11.30pm.

In Northern Ireland, off-licences and supermarkets can sell alcohol until 11pm most days.

The DUP leader said the virus' reproductive rate was 1.5 but the level of infection in Ballymena where movement limitations were implemented had shown encouraging signs.

There have been 189 new cases of Covid-19 confirmed in the last 24-hour reporting period, the Department of Health said.

The Executive also disclosed new support for the beleaguered arts sector.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy said: "I am pleased to announce £29 million for cultural recovery."

Theatres, music and other creative venues shut their doors in March as the pandemic gathered speed and the ban on mass gatherings has hit them hard.

In July, Northern Ireland received £33 million from the British Government for the arts but had not yet decided how to spend the money.

Over £29 million is also being provided for business interventions including support for the tourism industry and a Holiday at Home voucher scheme, as well as investment in skills and youth training.

A total of £40 million is being allocated to ensure local councils can continue to provide essential services and support those in need.

Recognising the importance of capital projects to stimulating economic recovery, £15 million is being allocated for the A6 Derry to Dungiven road, with £15 million being provided to NI Water to accelerate a number of projects.

Mr Murphy added: "The allocations made today will provide vital help to businesses as well as continuing to protect the vulnerable."

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