Northern Ireland news

Failure to lift restrictions a complete disgrace, says business chief

Simon Hamilton, chief executive of Belfast Chamber.
Jonathan McCambridge, PA

The failure to lift remaining Covid restrictions in Northern Ireland is a “complete disgrace”, the head of a leading business representative organisation has said.

Belfast Chamber chief executive Simon Hamilton, a former DUP minister, blamed “instability at Stormont” for the lack of progress this week on removing regulations.

Health Minister Robin Swann received legal advice yesterday which highlighted potential legal complications of him acting without the wider endorsement of an Executive.

He has now written to other ministers asking for their input.

The present Covid-19 regulations are not due to expire until March 24, but were previously reviewed by the Executive every three weeks.

But Northern Ireland has no functioning Executive after the DUP removed Paul Givan as First Minister as part of a protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mr Hamilton tweeted: “It is, quite frankly, a complete disgrace that it appears, as feared, people and businesses in NI may be stuck with Covid restrictions because of instability at Stormont whilst the rest of the UK and Ireland begin to benefit from their removal.”

Yesterday Sinn Féin former Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said that there was a “real prospect” Covid restrictions, such as the legal duty to wear face coverings, may have to remain in Northern Ireland.

But DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has insisted that Mr Swann has the legal authority to act and that the removal of restrictions does not need to be a collective decision.

SDLP Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon said the situation had arisen as a result of the “DUP boycott of Executive responsibility”.

She added: “Today should have been a major milestone in our recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“After all the sacrifices that people, families and businesses have made over the last two years, we should have been in a position to lift a significant number of the remaining legal restrictions.

“Instead, we’re all locked into out-of-date restrictions because Jeffrey Donaldson and the DUP continue to boycott the Executive and shirk their responsibilities to people.”

Remaining Covid restrictions in Northern Ireland include the requirement for vaccine certification to enter a nightclub, a maximum of gatherings of 30 people and the legal requirement to wear face coverings in some public settings.

Meanwhile, four more people who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 have died in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health said.

Another 2,923 confirmed cases of the virus have also been notified in the past 24-hour reporting period.

This morning, there were 423 Covid-19 inpatients in hospital, with 12 in intensive care.

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