Northern Ireland news

Michelle O'Neill dashes hospitality sector hopes of a reopening 'roadmap' this week

No reopening date for nightclubs has been agreed, with none likely to emerge from an executive meeting this week
Paul Ainsworth

THE hospitality sector has been warned not to expect "huge strides forward" in terms of a roadmap for reopening at the upcoming executive meeting on Covid-19 restrictions.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said it was unlikely nightclubs and venues affected by restrictions would receive good news this week in terms of dates to reopen after Thursday's meeting, but said the executive aimed to get them "to a state of readiness" instead.

The comments come as Hospitality Ulster demanded a "clear roadmap" out of the current restrictions and financial help for struggling venue owners.

The organisation has warned that price hikes in the sector, along with staff shortages, were compounding the ongoing problems caused by Covid restrictions.

However, asked yesterday about such a roadmap being agreed on Thursday, Ms O'Neill said: "I don't expect to see us being able to make huge strides forward in terms of that. I understand the hospitality sector have been hardest hit and we need to do all we can to support them.

"That's why I think it's really important to start or continue the conversations with them around ventilation, how to get them to a state of readiness to be able to open at some point, hopefully in the future.

"I do think that in terms of big moves forward or strides on Thursday, I don't suspect that's where we're going to get to."

Colin Neill, the Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster, has called the current restrictions on venues "punitive" and said they needed to "come to an end as soon as possible".

He said: "We have run out of time and feel left hanging with no dates and no support. Hospitality businesses are crying out for a plan of action to allow them to trade properly and build back to pre-pandemic peaks.

"For weeks upon weeks we have been waiting for positive movement from the executive after the cycles of lockdowns and never ending restrictions. These remaining restrictions are curtailing trading opportunities with businesses becoming more and more dismayed as we look to the critical Christmas period. Planning and preparation is being pushed to the wayside as business recovery slows. We can’t have this for a second winter in a row, the executive needs to acknowledge that."

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