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The Briefing

AIKEN Weekly Digest – 2nd July

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by Aiken PR

02/07/2021

Sausage Wars, Court & the Protocol.

Wednesday week ago saw the 5th anniversary of the Brexit vote. What a very different world we lived in on the 23rd June 2016, in so many ways. Even the innocuous and insignificant word ‘protocol’ meant something very different. Depending on the genre or circumstances, people would often ignore it without fear or favour. While in the context of Brexit it may still be ignored, it is anything but insignificant. It was of course the talk and chatter of the High Court this week with Justice Colton, adjudicating over the legal challenge of the border in the Irish Sea.

Refusing the case for a Judicial Review which had been brought by unionist politicians, including Jim Allister, Arlene Foster and Lord Trimble, the ruling stated that although the protocol conflicted with the 1800 Act of Union, modern legislation effectively overrode it. The judge also ruled that the aspect of the Withdrawal Agreement that changed the cross–community voting mechanism within Stormont did not impact the constitutional status of the Good Friday Agreement.

There is, however, every expectation that Wednesday’s judgement will be appealed, and the case could ultimately be heard by the Supreme Court before the end of 2021 with Jim Allister stating, ‘This battle is far from over because we refuse to accept that the Union is over, which is the message of the protocol.’ EU UK tensions did ease however, with the announcement that there would be an extension of the grace period for the importation of GB chilled meats into Northern Ireland, enabling a temporary cease fire in the ‘sausage war’.

The protocol, of course, remains the DUP’s top priority and at the third time of asking it appears to have finally found a leader that will take the party through to the next Assembly election. Akin to the multi–layered administrative burden that the humble Cumberland sausage has to endure crossing the Irish sea, the DUP leadership process came to a close with Sir Jeffrey Donaldson having been, endorsed, ratified, rubber stamped, and all nicely packaged up. While the message had more than a familiar theme, the tone was conciliatory and inclusive both for internal and external audiences. Despite his own personal turmoil, Edwin Poots’ appeal from the floor of the gathering for party unity and Paula Bradley’s admonishment of and apology for some colleague’s treatment towards the LGBT community sought to set a marker in the sand on recent issues and a refreshed focus going forward. But the ever–present fly in the ointment was Alex Easton who waited for the bell to toll on Donaldson’s leadership, before absconding as an independent citing the lack of ‘respect, discipline or decency’ in the party. That said, it’s as good as the party might have wished for following its recent turmoil. And with the summer recess beckoning it will provide some much–needed time to reflect for both the DUP and the Executive Office, with the fledgling partnership of Givan and O’Neill, dare I say it, stumbling through the last few weeks rather nicely. Now for the respite, that is the marching season.

Meanwhile in ROI, the worst ever kept secret was finally confirmed with the government delaying the re–opening of indoor hospitality and other easing measures due to the Delta variant and its impact on cases throughout Ireland. The rationale for NPHET’s recommendation to the Government was based on modelling that suggests a fourth wave is possible if restrictions are eased too quickly and cases spiral out of control. Whilst the Deputy Chief Medical Officer stated that public health officials are not predicting a fourth wave or another lockdown, they have stated it remains a possibility.

While the move came as no shock to the hospitality sector, what did fire their flames was the lack of an indicative date to re–open with the Government announcing that they were developing a plan that would see fully vaccinated people allowed to dine indoors, leaving those that are not sitting outside in the rain. Many in the hospitality industry have been disparaging, to say the very least, raising questions to the feasibility of such a scheme with the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) stating the proposed system would be “unworkable and not legal”.

Sources within the government have indicated that the cabinet has not even begun to plan the scheme which is supposed to be in place by July 19th. The Irish Government’s cautious approach completely conflicts with its Northern Ireland neighbours who announced on Thursday plans for live music and concerts to return, and with indoor hospitality already reopen for several weeks now, it might offer some explanation as to the why the Dublin to Belfast Enterprise train is fully sold out for the next two weekends.

NI

Update on Restrictions

• The Northern Ireland Executive agreed several new restriction relaxations this week, they include:

o Live music in Northern Ireland can resume from 5 July

o From Monday, the number of households allowed to gather in a private garden increases to five from three, but the maximum number of people is still 15.

o Also from 5 July, all gatherings – indoors and outdoors (excluding those in domestic settings) – will now only be subject to a risk assessment if they have more than 15 people for indoors or more than 30 for outdoors.

o Overnight residential stays for children and young people can also resume.

o From 17:00 BST on Friday, the cap on outdoor gatherings will be removed, and from Monday, more households will be able to gather in a private garden.

Update on the Vaccination Programme

• This week it was announced that more two million doses of the Covid–19 vaccination have been given out in Northern Ireland. It is the total figure for first and second doses, with about 80% of the adult population having received a first jab, and 60% fully vaccinated.

Update on Legacy

• Details of “short and focused” multi–party talks on dealing with the legacy of the Troubles have been announced by the Northern Ireland Office (NIO). The talks will aim “to find an agreed way forward” which will lead to legislation being introduced by the end of autumn, an NIO statement said. Working groups with the main political parties and UK and Irish governments “will begin meeting immediately”.

• Two Army veterans facing murder charges from the Northern Ireland Troubles, including on Bloody Sunday in 1972, will now not face trial. The cases involve individuals known as Soldier F and Soldier B.

Update on Brexit

• Some drugs companies have said they intend to stop supplying some medicines to Northern Ireland next year when a NI Protocol grace period ends. Northern Ireland gets most of its medicines from distributors in Great Britain, but that is due to become more difficult in January.

Update on Hospitality

• Long–awaited plans to extend opening times for pubs and nightclubs in Northern Ireland have passed their final hurdle at Stormont. The changes will allow pubs and clubs to serve alcohol for an extra hour, until 02:00, almost every weekend. Easter drinking restrictions have also been removed, with the changes backed by assembly members (MLAs) after a debate in the assembly this week.

Update on Employment

• The number of people on furlough in Northern Ireland fell by 36% during May as many businesses reopened. At the end of April there were 92,900 people on the scheme but by the end of May that was down to 58,600.

• A major £180m investment into further education is set to produce 20,000 traineeship places in NI. The Department for the Economy announced the money would create the places over the next seven years, starting in September 2021.

ROI

Update on Health

• The World Health Organization (WHO) has said Covid cases were on the rise again in Europe after two months of decline and warned a new wave would come “unless we remain disciplined.”

Update on Testing

• Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has asked Professor Mary Horgan, President of the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland, to head up a group to progress use of rapid antigen testing. It will provide advice to facilitate the rollout of tests in various sectors.

Update on the Economy

• The Central Bank has upgraded its forecasts for growth in the economy in its latest quarterly bulletin. It has also said that any decision to permanently increase spending in upcoming budgets will have to be balanced by new taxes or reduced spending in other areas. The Central Bank has now forecast GDP growth of 8.3% this year and 5.4% next year.

Update on Travel

• European Union Commissioner Mairead McGuinness has said that Ireland’s Covid–19 travel cert, which will plug into the EU’s Digital Covid Certificate, should be ready by 19 July. The Digital Covid Certificate went live today and so far 21 out of 27 countries are connected to the system.

Update on Employment

• Unemployment fell in June to 18.3% from 21.9% in May, according to the latest figures from the Central Statistics Office, as the economy continues to re–open from Covid–19 restrictions. This includes those in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.

• When those on the PUP are excluded, the traditional measure of unemployment fell to 7.6% in June on a seasonally adjusted basis. This compares to 7.8% in May.

Update on the Property Market

• A total of €1.5 billion was invested in property in Ireland between April and June, new figures from property advisor Savills shows. Savills said that brought spend in the first half of the year to €2.7 billion, which it said was the second highest figure on record.

Update on Education

• Next year’s Leaving Certificate students will be granted more choice and more time in State exam papers to compensate for the loss of learning they have suffered, the Minister for Education has announced. The accommodations on offer to next year’s students will be similar to those announced for the class of 2021 in August and December of last year.