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The Briefing

AIKEN Weekly Digest – 4th June

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by Aiken PR

04/06/2021

Will he, won’t he…

What a roller coaster first week in office its been for the new leader of the DUP, with him seeking to set down a marker by affirming that he would only unveil his Ministerial line up ‘when I am ready’. While the hangover from the fireworks at Shaw’s Bridge has anything but quelled, with accusation and counter accusation surfacing via the media, the Lagan Valley MLA got a morale boosting rousing reception from many of the Assembly faithful at Parliament buildings on Tuesday. And what’s more, the party leaders meeting at Stormont was by all accounts ‘positive and constructive’.

Yet throughout the week the abiding sentiment has been, is he, isn’t he….. and will he, won’t he… on a range of issues? Will he, won’t he attend the North South Ministerial Council, is he, isn’t he horse trading with Sinn Fein on commitments within NDNA, will he, won’t he implement the Irish Language / Cultural Act in this Assembly term, is he, isn’t he prepared to accept anything less than the scrapping of the protocol. The wrong set of answers for one group, will be right set of answers for another. What some see as strength, others see as weakness within unionism and beyond. Rock and hard place springs to mind but, hey, that’s leadership. We know of course that one side will already be disappointed, along with the SDLP and Sinn Fein’s lawyers, with Poots confirming his attendance at the North South gig following assurances from Micheal Martin last night. Straight out of the blocks was Jim Allister seizing on the opportunity, accusing the DUP leader of a dramatic U turn and rolling over. Oh and on Poots’ shoulder in Dublin….. Paul Givan, surely the First Minister elect.

What is also clear now is that Arlene Foster will remain in post until, at least, until the 11th June when she will lead the Executive’s delegation to the British Irish Council with the potential for drip feed team announcements in the interim. It’s the period after this, which triggers seven days for the nomination of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, that hastens the political crises hamster wheel that this Executive can never seem to get itself off. With health, education, economic and infrastructural investment in crucial need of progression, any polarised parlance on either side may well be just that, with pragmatism prevailing and overcoming the changing dynamic within the Northern Ireland Executive. Well, many of us hope that will be the case. As for Edwin Poots’ longer term outlook, which must be to lead his party to electoral victory in 2022, ‘will he, won’t he’ politics wont cut it and the pragmatism within him knows that. You can only run with the hare and hunt with the hounds for so long….

Meanwhile the Irish Government this week laid bare their Economic Recovery Plan that will inject billions into the economy whilst at the same time weaning households and businesses off the supports that for many have been a lifeline for the last year.

The plan included extensions of existing business supports such as the wage subsidy scheme and Restrictions Support Scheme beyond the deadline of June 30th which was welcomed by businesses across the board who were concerned about a cliff–edge like scenario. The map also includes a raft of measures for the hardest hit sectors in tourism and hospitality with the 9% VAT rat along with several supports for the live performance sector and a pilot scheme to guarantee a basic income for artists.

However, with the good can come the bad, where business supports have largely been maintained and extended, individual incomes have not. The PUP payment which many households have relied on will gradually be cut back until February 2022, when those still unemployed will return to the standard €203 per week payment. Separately to the recovery plan, the government covertly announced property tax hikes that will see about 33% of people who already pay property tax having their tax bill increased by around €100 every year.

With the government facing a massive bill for the supports provided throughout the pandemic, a word that dominated the early years of the last decade has reared its head once again. The dreaded austerity, the cause of huge societal upheaval in Ireland now cannot be ruled out.

NI

Health

• Covid–19 was mentioned on the death certificates of three people in Northern Ireland in the week up to Friday 28 May. That’s a decrease of one on the previous week, according to the government statistics agency Nisra. It brings the agency’s total of Covid–19–related registered deaths to 2,974.

• Northern Ireland’s health minister has told his party the health service is in “big trouble”. Robin Swann said fixing it would require “unprecedented collective action from the executive”.

Vaccination Programme

• The number of people seeking to change their second Covid–19 vaccination appointment has increased significantly. As many as 2,500 requests to change appointments have been made in the last seven to 10 days, according to the head of the vaccine roll–out. Patricia Donnelly warned mass changes could “jeopardise” the programme.

• The UK’s medicines regulator has said it has approved the Covid–19 vaccine developed by Pfizer/BioNTech for use on 12 to 15–year–olds, following similar clearances in the US and the EU.

Employment Support

• The UK government is “open–minded” on SNP calls to extend furlough, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has said. The scheme is currently due to expire at the end of September.

Brexit

• Agriculture minister Edwin Poots has denied he withdrew port staff doing Brexit checks for political reasons. Some physical checks were temporarily suspended following the appearance of intimidatory graffiti and allegations of threats to staff.

• The UK’s Brexit Minister has reiterated his belief that the NI Protocol is unsustainable in its current form. Lord Frost was speaking after meeting business leaders in NI. UK and EU officials are engaged in intensive technical talks aimed at simplifying the operation of the protocol.

• Stormont’s Department for the Economy is carrying out work on the “potential attractiveness” of the NI Protocol to inward investors. The details are contained in an outline trade and investment strategy produced by the department.

Economy

• The Northern Ireland economy should return to its pre–Covid level of output by the first half of 2023, Ulster University economists have forecast. They estimate the economy shrank by more than 10% last year, but will grow by nearly 6% this year and 4% in 2022. But they say it may be 2024 before all jobs lost during Covid are replaced.

Travel

• Holidaymakers travelling to Portugal will have to self–isolate for 10 days on their return to Northern Ireland, ministers have agreed. The executive has decided to remove the country from its so–called green list of destinations after the UK government also opted to do so.

Construction

• A global supply shortage has driven up supply costs and caused delays for Northern Ireland’s construction sector. An industry body said uncertainty about rising supply prices made it difficult for builders to cost projects. Federation of Master Builders director Gavin McGuire said: “We have seen price rises with steel, timber, cement and pipes. Timber for example is up about 70 or 80% already this calendar year.

ROI

Vaccination Programme

• HSE Chief Paul Reid said that as of yesterday evening, almost 2.9 million vaccines have now been administered. He said over 2 million involve people who have had their first dose, which is about 53% of the adult population. He said almost 900, 000 have received their second dose.

• The Chief Medical Officer has said that Ireland is in a “positive position” in relation to the coronavirus but “a number of key uncertainties and risks” remain. Dr Tony Holohan said that “case numbers and incidence remain relatively high” and “a significant proportion of the population, albeit at low risk to the severe impacts of Covid–19, will remain unvaccinated over the months of June and July.

Economic Recovery Plan

At a glance:

• The Pandemic Unemployment Payment will continue at its current level until September, when gradual reductions will begin.

• The Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme will be extended until the end of the year and businesses may apply for enhanced reopening payments.

• The Covid–19 Restrictions Support Scheme will be extended beyond 30 June until the end of the year.

• In addition to these supports, a new Business Resumption Scheme (BRSS) will be introduced in September.

• The 9% VAT rate for tourism and hospitality will be extended until 1 September next year.

• The plan also includes several supports for the live performance sector, as well as a pilot scheme to guarantee a basic income for artists.

Economy

• The economy grew strongly by 7.8% in GDP terms in the first three months of the year, according to the latest figures from Central Statistics Office. However, when the impact of foreign owned multinationals is excluded, the domestic economy shrank by 2.9% largely due to Covid restrictions.

• New figures from the Central Statistics Office show that there were 844,237 people in April either on the Live Register or in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment or the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme. The CSO said the numbers either on the Live Register or PUP decreased by just over 14% to 477,915 over the month to May.

• New figures from the Central Statistics Office show that more than 70% of responding SMEs reported a decrease in turnover in 2020 compared to 2019 due to the impact of Covid–19 restrictions.

Restrictions

• An extension of the emergency powers legislation introduced during the Covid–19 pandemic has passed all stages in the Dáil. The legislation allows restrictions on things such as travel and social gatherings to be reimposed without a further Dáil vote before November.

Brexit

• The EU is growing increasingly pessimistic about the prospects of a breakthrough on how the Northern Ireland Protocol is implemented, with senior officials and diplomats warning that the UK appears determined to undermine it.

Hospitality

• There are no plans to bring forward the reopening of outdoor hospitality for pubs, restaurants and cafés from Monday 7 June, the Tánaiste has said.

Travel

• Aer Lingus has proposed significant cuts to the pay, conditions and employer pension contributions of cabin crew and ground handling staff, as the airline struggles to recover from the Covid–19 pandemic.