Northern Ireland news

Covid-19: Who will have final say on a way forward?

First Minister Arlene Foster, Economy Minister Diane Dodds and Junior Minister Declan Kearney at yesterday's Covid-19 press conference at Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire 

Declan Kearney joked that he was the last member of the Sinn Féin ministerial team still standing, the rest of his party colleagues all self isolating at home.

It's a rare occasion that the junior minister and the DUP leader have shared a podium together, a space usually occupied by Michelle O'Neill.

The rapport between the two politicians was a little pricklier than we are used to, but it was the difference in messaging that really stood out.

Arlene Foster all but ruling out any chance of a second circuit breaker, with the first minister saying we must now "learn to live with the virus".

Economy Minister Diane Dodds put forward plans to provide financial support for traders and sporting bodies, which had been approved earlier that day at an executive meeting, many of the attendees participating via an online conference call.

Her intervention comes almost a week after close contact retail, including hairdressers, barbers and beauty salons were closed with just days notice.

Mrs Dodds defended the delay in implementing the financial package for those who fall between existing schemes, saying it was a much more complicated process that compensating businesses based on rateable premises.

There has been recent criticism of the contact tracing App with some members of the public saying they had doubts over whether it was working or not.

However, it seems to be functioning fine up in Stormont where it has been taking politicians out like skittles over the last seven days.

Asked whether Sinn Féin would be in favour of extending restrictions after the current four week period, Mr Kearney said "no-one is a clairvoyant" but "we are determined this intervention will work."

So neither a yes nor a no.

However, the DUP leader was much more forthcoming with her answers saying "we cannot keep closing the country down or forcing specific sectors to close in order to beat back this virus".

Adding "That strategy designed to buy time is in reality a failure".

These disagreements on a way forward are being aired in a very public, albeit politically mature way.

But it is clear the DUP are keen to completely rule out any future further lockdown, when just a few weeks ago senior Stormont sources were citing evidence claiming two or three circuit breakers would be required to control the virus.

The next few weeks are crucial, politicians cannot squander this time to prepare for what life living with Covid will require from the public as we head into the Christmas season.

With Sinn Féin and the DUP seemingly looking at different solutions to the same problem, it will also be interesting to see who really is the last man standing when it comes to getting the final say on the way forward.

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