The ramifications from the funeral of the late Bobby Storey continue to play out.
The ramifications from the funeral of the late Bobby Storey continue to play out.
This week saw the coming and going of April’s fool jokes, thankfully. Volkswagen had to apologise for a rebranding stunt, Piers Morgan announced his return to GMB and Paddington declared he no longer liked marmalade. The worst? Well, it has to be Denise Coates, billionaire joint chief executive of Bet365. The gambling executive is understood to have received a record £421 million last year, taking her total pay to more than £1.2 billion over the past four years. If you’re going to bother, you at least have to make it believable.
The ramifications from the funeral of the late Bobby Storey continue to play out following the Public Prosecution’s Service decision not to pursue any prosecutions over related alleged breaches of Coronavirus restrictions. The report has led to a barrage of accusations that there is one rule for Sinn Féin and one for others. Now, there is a certain credibility to those shouts, as several anecdotes read out in the Assembly and presented through the media testify to. However, the calls for the head of the PSNI, Simon Byrne, to resign, also testify to the broader truth that there can be one rule for politicians and one for the rest. The irony has already been well observed that Byrne’s resignation, called for as a result of actions by one party leader who has refused to resign, was demanded by another party leader who refused to resign for their role in the RHI scandal. The question is perhaps not who is more right, less wrong, or whether Byrne should go in general, but how does Northern Ireland continue to find itself in these situations. The report from the PPS found that those attending the Storey funeral were seemingly confused as to the legislation – who hasn’t been – but failed to address adequately the presence of legislators who created the laws. If they don’t know, why should the countless many who have felt the PSNI’s heavier hand over the last 12 months. In the meanwhile, the SDLP tabled a recall motion to the Assembly to debate a motion of censure against Sinn Féin. That motion, non–binding, was passed unanimously and its political difficulties have subsided. Though the PPS will now review the decision, it is internal, and a reversal would be unexpected. One is left thinking: was it all worth it? Actually, let’s not waste even more time by asking ourselves such a patently obvious question.
To move on, if only slightly, and consider the ambiguity defence in the face of queries about potential breaches takes us down an interesting path. As discussed previously, there are plenty of areas to fall into confusion with the Executives current pathway to recovery, even if you don’t happen to walk around with an MLA in tow. One positive out of this week’s palaver might be a greater transparency in respect of the policy making and a better communications and engagement to bring people and business onside. I wouldn’t bet on it, but anything that mine shine a light on the precariousness of the different measures, easing at different rates and susceptibility of business and individuals to fall foul might be a good thing. This goes doubly with the expected reopening of non–essential retail now slated for 12th April. As social activity increases, while hospitality continues to cling on, clear communication and open and honest planning could still endear the Executive to the public. Yet, with a bust up over the budget, now approved, it might be really is just Covid–19 holding, or rather pushing everything together. Once the pressure of the pandemic is removed, taking with it the need to provide any form of political leadership to prevent or at least help to prevent health crises, I find myself with a slight sense of lingering concern.
Down to Dublin and the Taoiseach played a decidedly more optimistic message than those we have heard from his typical repertoire. Micheál Martin forecasted that “this summer our businesses and public services will safely open, we will finally be meeting and enjoying the company of friends and family, and we will be able to travel within and enjoy our beautiful country”. Though the next easing of restrictions on 12th April will bring little change, the 26th April will bring about, amongst other things, outdoor non–contact sport training. That is unless you happen to play for Dublin GAA and got a head start this week. Of course, if you happened to tune into the Dáil, you might have seen Alan Kelly TD, the Labour Party leader, ask of health minister Stephen Donnelly in a slightly more sour tone, “what the hell is going on here?”. The question was in relation to forecasting vaccine figures, a pastime Donnelly claimed can inspire anxiety amongst the public. Well, I suppose if it comes to vaccines delivered being below those ordered leading to a more delayed reopening, he does have a point.
• Scientists from Northern Ireland are playing a global role in developing treatments around coronavirus. Data from trials in local hospitals and universities has been key in forming national policy and influencing the public health response.
• The first vaccination has been delivered after the SSE Arena in Belfast opened as a mass vaccination centre on Monday. Up to 40,000 people could be vaccinated each week at the arena, where the AstraZeneca jab will be used.
• The UK has delivered its “road map” for implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol to the EU. Lord Frost, the UK’s lead Brexit Minister, and EU Commission Vice–President Maroš Šefčovič spoke on Wednesday.
• Economic development agency Invest NI has said it’s spent nearly £400,000 on paid–for media promotion of NI which has included highlighting its trading position under the NI Protocol.
• The UK is poised for a “decade of unprecedented economic change” after Covid–19 and Brexit, it has been suggested. It comes ahead of the launch of a three–year–long inquiry, with economic and policy experts seeking to examine the nature of economic change and what it means for people. The Economy Inquiry 2030 is part of a collaboration between the Resolution Foundation and the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics (LSE).
• Hundreds of business leaders and owners from across Northern Ireland have signed a letter calling for the economy to reopen. The letter, addressed to the first minister and deputy first minister, is signed by 407 business representatives. Those who have signed the letter said they want to avoid the devastating mental health impact that flows from high levels of unemployment.
• Local house prices grew by 7.4% in the early part of the year to an average of £154,012, according to a survey by Nationwide Building Society. The report on sales by the lender is the first statistical indication of the performance of the housing market during the first quarter of the year.
• Thousands of civil servants in Northern Ireland could switch to blended working under an “enduring” working from home policy. The post–pandemic plan is being developed by the Department of Finance and trade unions, and is expected to be finalised in the coming months.
• Derry City and Strabane District Council is to ask the UK government to contribute £15m to running City of Derry Airport over six years. The proposal was supported at the council’s governance and strategic planning committee meeting on Tuesday.
• The CEO of the Health Service Executive has said the HSE is looking ahead to April, May and June with a “fine balance of caution and optimism”. Speaking at the HSE’s weekly Covid–19 update, Paul Reid urged people to “plan their Easter in a safe manner”.
• The Deputy Chief Medical Officer has said there is “a critical window” in the coming weeks to prevent a “significant” fourth wave of Covid–19 infection and people “have to work together” to avoid such a situation.
• The World Health Organization has criticised Europe’s “unacceptably slow” vaccine roll–out and said the region’s surge in coronavirus infections was “worrying”. “Vaccines present our best way out of this pandemic… However, the roll–out of these vaccines is unacceptably slow” and is “prolonging the pandemic”, WHO director for Europe Hans Kluge said in a statement.
• A multi–million euro fund to help businesses serving food pay for more outdoor seating has been announced. The hospitality sector has sustained significant losses because of coronavirus restrictions and when pubs and restaurants do reopen the emphasis will be on outdoor dining.
• The unemployment rate, including those receiving temporary Covid–19 jobless benefit, fell slightly to 24.2% in March from 24.8% in February, as the Covid–19 crisis continues to have a significant impact on the labour market here.
• Electric Ireland has extended its disconnection moratorium until the end of June, meaning that residential customers who can’t pay their bills won’t have their service cut.
• Consumers are being warned to brace themselves for a raft of energy price increases which will start to come into effect from today and continue throughout the month of April.
• Irish agri–food exporters got a welcome reprieve after the UK government announced a six month delay to customs controls that were due to come into effect today.
• The CSO has found that despite the record increase in unemployment last year, household incomes actually rose slightly. In figures released today, the CSO finds that total household disposable income rose because of the ‘large–scale intervention’ of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme.
• Household savings reached another high in February of nearly €128bn as people reduced their spending due to the Covid–19 pandemic.The latest statistics from the Central Bank show the level of money on deposit rose €1.3bn during the month, twice the €662m put aside in February last year.
• The Teachers’ Union of Ireland has called for the provision that has allowed pregnant teachers to work remotely during the Covid–19 pandemic to be continued after the Easter break.
• From today, employees will have enhanced rights to disconnect from work outside normal working hours, under a new Code of Practice published by the Government. Under the code launched by Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar, employees will be entitled not to have to “routinely” perform work outside their normal working hours – and cannot be penalised if they refuse to respond immediately in such circumstances.