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The Briefing

AIKEN Weekly Digest – 18th June

AIKEN Weekly Digest – 18th June Banner

by Aiken PR


The Preacher who forgot his flock.

At exactly 9:37am yesterday morning fresh from back–to–back BBC interviews and after yet another late–night dramatic development, an email popped into Edwin Poots’ Outlook from his Westminster Parliamentary colleagues (well, with the exception of one notable absentee). The simple act of opening that email became the beginning of the end, or should I say the end of the beginning, of the shortest smash and grab leadership attempt in the history of local politics.  And, of course, it set the wheels in motion of a day of the highest political drama.

Their dismay……which included advocates and opponents alike, was Mr. Poots’ decision to acquiesce with the most unlikely of alliances between the British government and Sinn Fein which would see the cultural bill within NDNA being legislated for from Westminster, if the Executive failed to do so.

This was perceived as close to treachery from the party members with no consultation except with his side kick First Minister elect.  The accusation was that it gave Mary Lou McDonald the armour to proclaim that she had outmanoeuvred Mr. Poots by ‘side stepping’ the DUP and enabling the British Government to give Sinn Fein special dispensation which added insult to the protocol injury.

WhatsApp awash, within a couple of hours the full assembly team, except for Arlene Foster who was ‘having a lovely lunch at Deane’s at Queens’, had gathered in the beautiful Dining room at Stormont to discuss the developments and take a vote on the imminent nomination process. Before a staggering 24 against to only 4 in favour could be counted, the DUP leader abruptly left the proceedings and his credibility and political leadership with it, as he went to complete the nomination process. 

He lost the changing room even before the key was put in the door, directly bypassing the players to parade his new captain onto the pitch to take the toss for the start of the big game.

Later in the evening as his party colleagues filtered in one by one to a meeting which had hastily summonsed the lamest of lame ducks, the writing was on the wall of 91 Dundela Avenue.  It was Sammy Wilson who delivered the verdict before even entering the hearing, ‘you can’t lead people who are not following you, and if you have no followers you can’t be the leader can you?’

Mr. Poots’ mistakes were threefold, taking a tactical approach to the leadership coup and not a strategic one, not reaching out to heal the wounds of the split when appointing his Assembly team and playing fast and loose with borrowed support.  To be fair it was a short window, but that’s a lot of flaws in a three–week period.  While a tactical approach was just about enough to get him over the leadership battle line, it required a strategic one to deal with the unintended consequences of the First Minister’s nomination process.  Not only did he grossly miscalculate Sinn Fein’s commitment and ability to pin him to his cultural amendment collar, but he also completely misread the durability of his support. Despite every indication to the contrary, Edwin Poots had protested profusely that there was and would be tangible differences in his leadership with incremental change, grassroots engagement, inclusive and collaborative decision making.  Some would claim there wasn’t an iota of that, and when he unilaterally doubled down on his decision to back Brandon Lewis’ approach by publicly ignoring his colleagues in the Assembly at lunchtime yesterday, he was always on borrowed time.

The broad DUP Church to which former leader Peter Robinson, and potential new leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, espouse requires a strong preacher to listen to and lead his or her flock, making sure all vocal ranges contribute to the hymns and making them all feel that theirs is the predominant voice in the choir.  No easy feat.  Edwin Poots abjectly failed to achieve this.

As for the next steps, well there is a First Minister and deputy First Minister now in place and the Executive is expected to stagger on until a new leader is agreed to give the DUP Assembly party some direction. All the money appears to be on the Sir Jeffrey, as the close runner up who has the personal skills to bring some healing to bear and treading carefully not to fan the flames of an extremely fragile Assembly team.   

On the cultural bill, despite the calamitous events of yesterday and it taking yet another political scalp, the UK government will legislate for the NDNA commitment in the Autumn.  The upshot for a pragmatic leader is that it’s one less nettle for he or she to grasp. 

One final irony in all of this, is Sinn Fein’s leveraging of political personnel and institutions at Westminster to further legislative aims on the island of Ireland. Jim Allister sharp as a tack, as always, with tongue firmly in cheek referred to the party President and her colleagues as the new ‘West Brits’.  If it was an episode of West Wing you’d think great imagination, but too far–fetched.

Finally, having predicted an ephemeral Poots leadership in this digest three weeks ago I’m putting my new found clairvoyance skills to good use, and I’m off in my kilt to the bookies to place a bet on tonight’s big match and I might even do the lottery on the way home!  


Update on Health

  • Northern Ireland’s Health Minister has unveiled a £700m plan to tackle NI’s waiting lists. The five–year strategy will aim to fully banish long waits by March 2026. 
  • Covid–19 was mentioned on the death certificates of two people in Northern Ireland in the week up to Friday 11 June. That’s consistent with the previous week, according to the government statistics agency Nisra. It brings the agency’s total of Covid–19–related registered deaths to 2,978.
  • Public Health Agency confirms enhanced Covid–19 testing is to begin in Ballymoney and Omagh, after a number of “probable cases” of the Delta variant were identified.

Update on Vaccination Programme

  • Almost 75% of NI care home staff have received a Covid–19 vaccination, according to Chief Medical Officer, with 90% of residents also having received at least one dose.

Update on Employment

  • NI labour market showing signs of recovery as number of people on company payrolls increased by 5,000 during May. Almost two–thirds (8,631) of the 14,000 jobs lost from HMRC payroll in the first six months of the pandemic have now been recovered.

Update on Brexit

  • The UK has asked for three–month extension to grace period for chilled meats. Exports of chilled meats from GB to NI are due to be banned at the end of June under the terms of the NI Protocol.
  • Brexit minister has suggested the EU could change its agrifood rules if it wants the NI Protocol to work. Lord Frost claimed checks on food products were a political position by the EU.

Update on Economy

  • Northern Ireland Executive has announced the relaxation of rules around live music would be delayed to 5 July, with review expected on 1 July.
  • NI’s service sector shrank 2.1% in the first quarter of 2021, down by 3.3% compared to the same period in 2020.
  • Finance Minister has confirmed all commercial properties in Northern Ireland are to be officially revalued for rates by 2023.
  • Full MoT testing for all vehicles in Northern Ireland is set to resume on 26 July.

Update on Travel

  • ROI Transport Minister announced that travellers entering the Republic of Ireland from GB and NI would be required to quarantine for 10 days and take an additional PCR test.
  • Tourism NI says local tourism industry should return to 80 per cent of pre–pandemic levels by the end of 2022.
  • MSC Virtuosa becomes first cruise ship to dock in Belfast since pandemic began. One–day visit allowed 1,000 passengers to visit the city in controlled bubbles. 

Update on Construction

  • Annual review published by AECOM indicates that NI’s construction sector is now one of the country’s better performing industries, despite challenges presented by Covid and Brexit.


Vaccination Programme

  • HSE Chief Paul Reid said that as of yesterday evening, almost 3.45 million vaccines have now been administered. He said 2.3 million involve people who have had their first dose, which is about 55% of the adult population. He said nearly 1.2m have received their second dose.
  • Professor Philip Nolan has confirmed the 14–day cumulative incidence rate is under 100 for the first time in “many, many weeks.” The 7–day moving average of new cases in ROI, previously at 400 and 450 earlier this month, has shrunk to 322 bringing the R number below 1. 

Update on Economic Recovery Plan

At a glance:

  • Suspension on the rights of workers who have been temporarily laid off to seek redundancy from their employer has been extended for a seventh time until the end of September 2021.
  • Almost 24,000 people closed their claim for the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) over the past seven days to return to work.
  • There are now over 214,000 fewer people being supported by PUP compared to the second week of February.

Update on Economy

  • Deloitte Ireland’s latest consumer tracker report reveals significant uplift in consumer confidence, with two in three “now happy to engage in person–to–person services.” The tracker also reveals an increase in confidence in air travel – up 3% to 33%.
  • Research by Bord Bia finds Ireland’s food market recovery has been slower than forecast. Prolonged lockdown and gradual reopening will see an 11% growth in sales across 2021 compared to a year earlier, down from the 16% worst case growth scenario predicted in November.
  • Sinn Féin has called on the government to reintroduce a blanket ban on rent increases and evictions for all renters until the end of 2021.

Update on Restrictions

  • Irish government confirms people arriving from Britain will have to quarantine for a minimum of five days. Those who are fully vaccinated people will have to self–isolate for five days, and unvaccinated people for 10.
  • Irish university students will resume face–to–face learning in September, with some online learning aspects. Simon Harris expects majority of students to have at least one Covid vaccine upon their return.

Update on Brexit

  • Ireland is to receive the biggest share (€1 billion) of the Brexit Adjustment Reserve (BAR), which is aimed at countries and sectors worst hit by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

Update on Hospitality

  • Electric Picnic festival has been pushed back by three weeks, to September 24–26, to give it the best chance of proceeding.

Update on Travel

  • Central Statistics Office confirm easing of restrictions on inter–county travel has led to a sharp increase in car traffic volumes. Total number of rail and bus journeys are also at their highest since the beginning of 2021.
  • ROI’s Chief Medical Officer has advised the public against non–essential travel to the UK amid concerns over the Delta variant. Dr. Tony Holohan is to meet with NI colleagues on Friday about cross–border travel.