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The Briefing

AIKEN Weekly Digest – 11th June

AIKEN Weekly Digest – 11th June Banner

by Aiken PR

11/06/2021

The last hurrah.

As Arlene Foster leads her final hurrah as First Minister in her native Fermanagh today at the British Irish Council meeting, she clears the way for an intense period of political negotiation between the DUP and Sinn Fein before the nominations of First Minister and deputy First Minister can be completed.  Michelle O’Neill has warned that she wants more than fluffy words, so we can expect a rocky ride…..but with a society coming out of the pandemic, a health system in disarray, rising educational under achievement and an economy needing re–ignited, there can surely only be one outcome that will resonate with the electorate less than 12 months from an election.  Edwin Poots too is seeking to move internal DUP issues on by placing a firm marker in the sand on allegations and accusations despite the dismay of party colleagues, not least the outgoing Economy and Education Ministers, on his new Executive team ‘picks’.  Not sure it will be that easy, Sammy ‘his own man’ Wilson, delivered a rebuke to his party leader on the reference to those who had left as being ‘peripheral’. The very ‘non–peripheral’ Jeffrey Donaldson went several steps further by stating that if the leader ‘fails to get a grip”….”many others may also conclude that the DUP is no longer capable of being a broad church and providing a home for the type of unionism we espouse”.

As if all of that wasn’t enough for Mr. Poots, the EU and UK protocol negotiations have gone nowhere fast this week with Joe Biden not shy on sharing his thoughts.  That said, even before the 46th President of the United States touched down on UK soil on Wednesday evening, Biden and Johnson were making moves to cool the rhetoric that arose on the back of the revelation that Washington had issued what Sir Keir Starmer referred to as an ‘unprecedented rebuke’ to London over the Northern Ireland Protocol.  Biden let it be known that he wasn’t in the UK to ‘give a lecture’ to Johnson while Johnson said he would not disagree with ‘anything’ the President said. The rebuke, which some commentators speculated to be a formal demarche, a rare reprimand amongst such close allies, took the form of a senior official berating the UK Brexit Negotiator Lord Frost saying he will inflame tensions in Northern Ireland if he does not compromise over border checks.

This US president has arguably shown more interest in Northern Ireland’s politics in the first months of his presidency than the former president showed in his entire tenure. He has warned that the Good Friday Agreement must not be jeopardised by rows over trade and urged the UK government to ‘stand behind’ the protocol. Feathers were ruffled in London and of course, in Northern Ireland with Edwin Poots saying that the President is ‘not well informed’ on the protocol citing it as the cause of tension and disruption.

While Presidential news has focused on NI, the President has crossed the Atlantic for the G7 which takes place today through Sunday with the rebooting of the world’s economy, the roll out of the Covid vaccine and allied unity on the agenda.  A taskforce to tackle the re–emergence of international travel is mooted.

After the G7, where world leaders are meeting face to face in Cornwall, the President will travel to Windsor where he will meet the Queen.  It will be more than avid Royal watchers who will be noting where he stands… it is almost certain he will not follow his predecessor’s lead and stand in front of her.

In other Northern Ireland news, the appointment of a new head of the Civil Service has been announced. Jayne Brady who currently works as Belfast City Council’s digital innovation commissioner takes the helm leading some 23,000 civil servants and acting as chief policy adviser to the Executive.  Her appointment comes after a second recruitment drive, the first held when David Sterling announced he was stepping down last August, failing to result in an appointment.

NI

Update on Cases

  • The number of suspected cases of the Delta variant of Covid–19 in NI has doubled with it spreading to different parts of Northern Ireland. It estimated now to accounts for around 25% of all new cases, according to the Department of Health.

Update on the Vaccine Rollout

  • The gap between the first and second doses of the Covid–19 vaccine is to be cut in Northern Ireland. The gap between doses will now be reduced to a maximum of eight weeks, the Department of Health has confirmed.

Update on Public Spending

  • The cost of responding to Covid–19 in Northern Ireland has risen to more than £6.2bn, according to a new Audit Office report. Within these costs, the report by Comptroller and Auditor General Kieran Donnelly estimated that the cost to Stormont was £3.9bn.

Update on Brexit

  • Trade between the UK and Ireland showed a sharp improvement in April, official figures suggest. UK goods exports to Ireland were worth just over £2bn according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). That was up 11% from £1.8bn in March and up by 43% on April last year.

Update on local politics

  • A review by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has backed the decision not to charge anyone in relation to the funeral of senior republican Bobby Storey. It involved re–examining the case against 24 Sinn Féin politicians investigated for a suspected breach of health regulations.

Update on Legislation

  • Proposals to extend opening times for pubs and nightclubs in Northern Ireland have taken another step towards becoming law after passing the second stage this week in the Assembly. It is thought the legislation could pass its final stage in the assembly by the end of the month, with most of the changes then becoming law from October.

ROI

Update on Cases

  • Eight adult hospitals have no Covid–19 inpatients today including St James’s hospital in Dublin and hospitals in Sligo, Galway and Waterford.
  • HSE Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry said 64% of cases have been in the under 35s – this shows the huge protective impact of the vaccine programme.

Update on Employment

  • The number of people claiming temporary Covid–related jobless benefits fell by 8% to 285,000 this week, its lowest level since December last year, new figures from the Department of Social Protection have shown.
  • The Taoiseach has said the Government may signal at the end of this month that some workers can return to their offices by the end of August. Micheál Martin said many more people will be vaccinated by August and this will allow for a vaccine dividend.

Update on Corporation Tax

  • Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has said that Ireland will be vigorously making the case for tax competition and for maintaining a corporate tax rate of 12.5%. With negotiations on the issue set to proceed, Minister Donohoe said he is confident that Ireland will continue to be a really attractive place to do business.

Update on the Economy

  • Price increases are the biggest Brexit concern for 42% of responding small and medium sized enterprises, a new Central Statistics Office survey reveals.
  • The European Central Bank has raised its growth and inflation projections for this year and next as the euro zone economy started to roar back to life after over a year of restrictions to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

Update on Housing

  • New figures from the Central Statistics Office show that the number of homes granted planning permission fell by 50.7% in the first quarter of this year compared to the same time last year.