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The Briefing

AIKEN Weekly Digest – 9th April

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by Aiken PR

09/04/2021

Riots on the street as politicians call for calm.

Rioting continued through most of the week as Loyalists took to the streets to showcase their general antipathy through the launching of petrol bombs and fireworks. Later in the week, Nationalist rioters turned out in opposition as community and political leaders physically sought to separate the two sides. Accusations of orchestrating protests were denied by the Loyalist Communities Council and the riots so far have retained at least a tinge of “recreational rioting”. That is to say, the strategic aims are not immediately apparent. However, they are linked to recent political events and could be an increasingly worrying indicator of what is to come. The ‘Northern Ireland problem’ was complicated enough and while the Good Friday Agreement brought peace, it did not solve the underlying issues. The consociational structure has to some extent acted to divide communities by encouraging political leaders to accrue credit in the short term at the expense of longer term benefits that can reach across communities. Any solutions will have to be mindful of that to an extent it hasn’t been previously. Similarly, Loyalist grievances that include another betrayal by London, a perceived two–tiered policing structure and witnessing the threat of Republican violence deliver political outcomes will also have to be addressed if this latest surge in street violence is not to be repeated.

In the short term, the death of Prince Philip earlier today at 99 has seemed to quell plans for immediate further rioting. Petrol bombs in the name of the crown you should be mourning doesn’t really send the right message. Following unanimous calls earlier in the week to cease the violence, there was some consensus today in the condolence offered to the Royal Family. Looking beyond this evening, clever solutions seem lacking, perhaps as much due to a lack of engagement as anything. However, as history shows, it is gaining consensus for clever solutions that is typically elusive. As much as it might be a bland request, increased and earnest engagement would be a welcome start. Yes, the UK government should stop appealing to its electoral base. At the same time, the EU has taken a hard–line stance that is felt acutely in Northern Ireland. In a place that ranks amongst the poorest in the UK and Europe and with such a recent history of sectarian violence, politicking in a way that hurts the consumer and damages rights is to be avoided. If the rioting has done anything positive, it has engaged politicians and commentators from outside Northern Ireland in a way they were not previously. Such a spotlight can be an effective way to root out the rot and avoid scenes that truly would bring back memories of the days of yore. With elections next year, a vote on the protocol in 2024 and marching season almost upon us, it is not too late to address concerns and start forging solutions that could avoid the worst.

Elsewhere, while scandal has trailed Leo Varadkar of late, the former UK prime minister David Cameron’s lobbying on behalf of failed financier has now landed at the door of Rishi Sunak. Released text messages showed Chancellor told his former boss that he had “pushed” Treasury officials to help Greensill participate in a multi–million pound Covid support scheme. It led to nearly two months of negotiations between the second most senior official in the Treasury and Greensill as they attempted to find a way to accommodate the company. When the decision was finally taken not to proceed with the scheme Greensill was lobbying to be part of, Sunak personally phoned Cameron to break the news to him. The Labour Party has pushed for an investigation into whether he broke the ministerial code. The inquiry, if it happens, may draw out little. However, the Chancellor is starting to collect baggage in a way his so far short political career has previously avoided.

In ROI, there is emerging evidence of the positive effect of the Covid–19 vaccination programme bringing hope that the country may finally be on the path out of lockdown. The 14–day incidence of the virus has fallen by 18pc in the last week to around 147.3 per 100,000 and the percentage of people testing positive is down to less than 3pc. HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said yesterday “while it is too early to say definitively, vaccination is certainly playing a role among healthcare workers and long–term care settings.” With the increased focus on the Oxford–AstraZeneca vaccine, the European Medicines Agency concluded that the overall benefits of the vaccine in protecting recipients from severe Covid–19 disease, hospitalisation and death outweigh the risks of a very rare event of blood clotting. The National Immunisation Advisory Committee will, however, consider whether any further advice is required.

NI

Health

• Twelve Covid–19 related deaths were registered in Northern Ireland in the week to Friday 2 April. That is seven fewer than the previous week and the lowest number to be registered in a week since October. It brings the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency’s (Nisra) total, based on mentions of the virus on death certificates, to 2,917.

Vaccine

• Almost a million Covid–19 vaccine doses have been administered in Northern Ireland. There have been 799,410 first doses and 173,772 second doses. About half of the total of 973,182 doses administered in Northern Ireland were the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Economy

• Northern Ireland’s economy shrank by 1.4% between the third and fourth quarters of last year, official figures suggest. The fourth quarter was marked by tightening lockdowns, a short relaxation in December, before a further lockdown from 26 December. The biggest impact was on the services sector.

Restrictions

• It is hoped the executive will give dates for the lifting of Covid restrictions around hairdressers and non–essential retail at its next meeting, Arlene Foster has said. Economy Minister Diane Dodds has put forward papers to ease restrictions further, the first minister added.

Infrastructure

• A review into an all–island rail network has been launched by Northern Ireland’s Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon and Irish Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan. It will look at improving rail connectivity between major cities and extending accessibility to the north west.

Brexit

• There appears to be “persistent and fundamental” differences between the UK and EU over a significant part of the NI Brexit deal, MPs have concluded. The European Scrutiny Committee has been examining the operation of the Northern Ireland Protocol. It said the EU and UK are still at odds over the extent to which EU subsidy rules still apply to UK businesses.

• Northern Ireland firms applying for new government backed Covid recovery loans will have to do so within EU subsidy rules. Some firms in Great Britain may also be covered by EU rules depending on the extent of their business in NI.

Sport

• The UK’s leading sports bodies are backing the use of ‘vaccine passports’ and Covid testing as a “credible” means of allowing full capacities at venues. In a joint letter to the leaders of the major political parties, the group said it could “see the benefit” of a certification process “in getting more fans safely back as quickly as possible”.

Government

• Stormont’s top civil servant in the Department of Finance is to move back to a job in Westminster. Sue Gray became permanent secretary at the Department of Finance in May 2018. The government has confirmed she has taken up a role as the new second permanent secretary in the Cabinet Office.

ROI

Health

• The number of people being treated for Covid–19 in hospital fell to 209 last night, the lowest level for 110 days. A total of 53 Covid patients were being treated in intensive care.

Vaccine

• The Health Products Regulatory Authority is investigating the first Irish case of a rare blood clot linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine. The State’s medicines watchdog said the clot was detected in a person who had received the jab.

Economy

• Minimum wage employees in Ireland are likely to be suffering disproportionately from job losses as almost half work in sectors worst hit by the Covid–19 pandemic, according to new research by the Economic and Social Research Institute.

• New figures show that consumer prices rose at their fastest monthly pace in two years in March to stand at the same level a year earlier, when the Covid–19 pandemic began to hit Ireland. The Central Statistics Office said the 0.8% monthly rise in March was driven by increased energy, housing and transport costs.

Travel

• There have been ten detected cases of Covid–19 since mandatory hotel and quarantine testing began in the quarantine facilities on 26 March, according to Niamh O’Beirne, the HSE’s National lead for Covid–19 Testing and Tracing.

• Spending by Revolut’s Irish customers in March was up 20% compared to the previous month, with a rise in travel related spend – both domestic and international. The latest data shows that spending in every travel–related sector rose significantly from February.

• Hotels in certain parts of the country are beginning to see an increase in bookings for July and August, according to the latest survey from the Irish Hotels Federation.

Corporate Tax Reform

• The Department of Finance has released a statement in response to a report in today’s Financial Times about a new proposal from the United States on corporate tax reform. The report says the US will table new proposals under the OECD’s corporate tax reform process that could see some of the profits of the world’s biggest multinational taxed in countries where they make their sales.

Transport

• New figures from the Central Statistics Office highlight the continued growth in the number of electric and hybrid vehicles licensed in Ireland. Despite the drop of 11% in the overall number of new cars licensed in the first three months of 2021, the number of new hybrid and electric cars licensed accounted for 32.2% of all new cars licensed.

Education

• Delegates from the Fórsa trade union’s education division have backed an emergency motion calling on the Government “to complete the roll–out of Covid–19 vaccinations to staff within all special education schools”.

Housing

• Irish house prices rose in line with the EU average of 28.9% over the past decade, according to figures published today by Eurostat, the EU’s statistical agency. The figures measure price and rent movements from 2010 until the fourth quarter of 2020.

Energy

• The ESB has confirmed that its giant coal burning plant at Moneypoint in Kilrush in Co Clare is to be transformed into a green energy hub. Two major offshore wind farms will be located off the Clare and Kerry coasts, along with the development of a wind turbine construction site there and the production and storage of the zero carbon hydrogen fuel.