Leadership and legacy.
Leadership and legacy.
The vaccine programme in Northern Ireland has now delivered second doses to 32.6% of the population. That is marginally more than the other countries within the UK and far in excess of the 12.4% in ROI. At the same time, in March there were 99,400 furloughed jobs in Northern Ireland, down from a recent high of 117,700 in January. There is clearly some way to go and the debate around the changing face of work has been well explored, but these numbers provide a welcome way to start the weekend.
Meanwhile, the candidates for leader and deputy leader of the DUP have been confirmed. As expected, it appears to be a straight shoot out for leader between Edwin Poots and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson. Despite the aggressive briefing by those on behalf of Poots, the contest looks far from a done deal. Voting will take place next Friday amongst DUP MPs and MLAs and we should know the result before the weekend, so hold onto your socks. The candidates are keen to avoid being seen as publicly critical of the others and the party has rejected the opportunity for debates between the two. Of course, that has not stopped anonymous sources providing their insightful opinions. Nor has it stopped the Executive functioning, a welcome occurrence. In that spirit, DAERA today released a report entitled ‘Final report from the Fishing and Seafood Development Programme’ which found that the bureaucratic burden placed onto GB exporters of seafood to the EU created a “positive situation for the export–dependent NI seafood sector”. This is a snapshot, and the report notes the difficulties for east–west trade, but it will be embarrassing for Poots to have his own department highlighting the potential benefits of a protocol he has so maligned. It also follows Poots demanding a “full explanation” from officials as to why they had restarted recruited staff for border control posts despite “no authorisation” being given. Though he has said he wants to focus on restructuring the DUP and would not take up the post of First Minister, a party so vehemently against the protocol might begin to doubt his credentials on such a critical issue.
The Queen’s Speech, the medium by which the UK government sets out its programme for the coming year, is due next week and is expected to include plans amounting to an amnesty for those accused of committing legacy crimes during the Troubles. That group would include soldiers, police officers and paramilitaries. The government has denied the claim that it amounts to an amnesty, despite off the record sources accepting that even in the event of new evidence, there would be no action. The plans have been roundly panned north and south, with the Taoiseach terming any such move a “breach of trust”. Naomi Long said the manner in which the plans emerged, via leaks reported in print and via Twitter, showed the government considered victims with “contempt”. The Northern Ireland Office has defended the leak as a ‘genuine’ one, as opposed to a coordinated attempt at pre–briefing. Nonetheless, the deputy First Minister also tweeted, “Another cynical move that will put British forces beyond the law. This is legal protection for those involved in state murder.” Gavin Robinson took a slightly more holistic view, if not an entirely different position. The East Belfast DUP MP, said: “We must be clear that if someone has committed murder, they should be prosecuted for that crime regardless of who they are.” All told, it is evident that if the plans are to gain the support of anyone on the island of Ireland, a great deal of consultative work must be undertaken first. Next week’s plans are expected to contain scant detail, so we will all be waiting a while yet.
South of the border, the Tánaiste said it would be “ideologically extreme” to ban investment on certain types of housing and that investment funds have a “role to play” in the property market. The government is seeking to find a resolution to the controversy as criticism builds over its handling of the housing crisis. However, this week the Labour Party threatened to bring legislation before the Dáil which Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien had tabled as an opposition TD that aimed to prevent vulture funds buying up swathes of new homes. In 2019, O’Brien proposed legislation which would allow local authorities to earmark up to 30pc of zoned land for first–time buyers. Presently, he is facing criticism from FG TDs and senators over his affordable housing plan and the FF minister will address their parliamentary meeting on 19 May. Should Labour bring his proposals before the Dáil, O’Brien will be forced into voting against plans he himself devised only two years ago. With Sinn Féin making gains in the election based on, amongst other things, housing, both FF and FG will be acutely aware of how significant this issue is.
• Health officials in Northern Ireland have urged people to keep coming forward for their Covid–19 vaccine. It comes after the Joint Committee on Vaccine Immunisation (JCVI) said under–40s were to be offered an alternative to the AstraZeneca jab.
• Covid–19 was mentioned on the death certificates of eight people in Northern Ireland up to Friday 30 April. That’s an increase of one on the previous week, according to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra).
• Seven cases of the Indian variant of Covid–19 have been detected in Northern Ireland. It is the first time it has been confirmed in the country but three cases were detected in the Republic of Ireland last month.
• Health Minister Robin Swann has asked his Irish counterpart for a meeting to discuss the potential spread of Covid–19 from cross–border travel. He wrote to Stephen Donnelly on Wednesday to make the request. The letter states that both governments should be doing “all we can to prevent non–essential cross–border travel”, and “clear messaging” and enforcement should be used, if required.
• Brexit and the Irish Sea border are still causing difficulties for Northern Ireland manufacturers who buy materials and parts from Great Britain, an industry survey has suggested. It found that Great Britain suppliers’ unpreparedness or unwillingness to adopt Brexit regulations are the largest issues firms currently face. Most companies believe the NI Protocol is here to stay, but needs improved.
• Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has threatened legal action over the post–Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland. On Tuesday he said that a senior barrister has been instructed to examine the Northern Ireland Protocol.
• There are three candidates in the running to be Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) deputy leader. They are East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell and MLAs Paul Frew, of North Antrim, and Paula Bradley, of North Belfast. The deputy leader post became vacant after Lord Dodds announced on Tuesday that he would not bid to remain in the post.
• The number of people on furlough in Northern Ireland fell to 99,400 by 31 March 2021, according to the Treasury. This is down from 108,600 at the end of February. The provisional figures indicate that more women are furloughed than men. The Treasury said the figures show that levels of furlough decreased more significantly across the UK in March 2021.
• Every adult in Northern Ireland will be eligible for a £100 voucher to spend on the high street, Economy Minister Diane Dodds has announced.
• Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn has today described the overall situation was “stable but uncertain”. He said that while deaths and hospitalisations were down, and the impact of vaccines was being felt, people still needed to be on their guard as restrictions are eased next week.
• The head of the Health Service Executive has said the country is “at the point of strong momentum” with between 220,000 and 240,000 doses of Covid–19 vaccines being administered this week alone. Paul Reid said that 46,000 vaccines were administered yesterday but cautioned against slipping back on any gains as just over one in three people have been vaccinated with their first dose and one in eight having had both doses.
• The number of new dwellings completed in the first three months of this year is sharply down, according to the latest figures from the Central Statistics Office. The overall number of new dwellings is down by just over 20% compared to the same period last year.
• New figures from the Central Statistics Office show that the Covid–19 crisis continues to have a significant impact on the labour market here in April. The CSO said that the standard measure of Monthly Unemployment stood at 5.8% in April. But it added that its Covid–19 Adjusted Measure of Unemployment indicates a jobless rate as high as 22.4% if all claimants of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) were classified as unemployed.
• Household net worth reached a record high of €855bn in the final quarter of last year due to an increase in deposits and savings, according to new data from the Central Bank.
• Micheál Martin has said that Ireland would be part of the EU programme on travel and will restore connectivity as soon as it is safe to do so. He said this was crucial for aviation and tourism.
• Travel agents have told an Oireachtas committee they need clarity as to when they can restart trading, with a safe reopening of international corporate and leisure travel.
• Lynne Embleton, the newly appointed chief executive of Aer Lingus, has said the company is burning cash and will not get through the pandemic without jobs being impacted.
• The European Commission has rejected a UK compromise proposal on the Northern Ireland Protocol that would require the EU to take a more flexible approach to the issue of food safety and animal health.
• €5m is to be made available to help businesses upgrade their websites to boost opportunities in online retail. The latest round of the Covid–19 Online Retail Scheme is open to applications from Tuesday.