Aiken PR

The Briefing

AIKEN Weekly Digest – 30th July

AIKEN Weekly Digest – 30th July Banner

by Aiken PR


In a damning report, the Lords described both approaches as “fundamentally flawed” which is risking turning NI into a “permanent casualty” of Brexit.

The ramblings of Brexit continue on, following the EU’s decision to pause legal action against the UK over breaches of the NI Protocol. Along with this, the EU published its draft proposals on how to simplify the protocol to reduce the tension and friction currently being experienced in Northern Ireland. The EU proposes a two–pronged approach wherein, the existing mechanisms of the protocol are used to find technical improvements whilst also offering the UK a Swiss–style agri–food deal that would eliminate the need for most (GB)–(NI) checks.

However in true Brexit fashion, this was almost immediately rejected by the UK government who instead would prefer a fundamental renegotiation of the protocol with Johnson hoping to secure an agreement that allows all British goods destined to remain in Northern Ireland to be excluded from checks. Moreover, Johnson wants the EU to agree to the removal of the oversight role European courts currently have in interpreting the NI Protocol, as well as the need for a dual regulatory regime to operate in Northern Ireland. The EU responded with some bite and stated these demands to remove custom checks “requires trust, and all trust has gone,” with the European Commission rejecting the demands as complete non–starters.

The European Commission also published two papers aiming to address challenges within the NI Protocol on some of the less significant issues such as the transport of animals for agricultural shows and guide dogs – two small matters that already benefit from existing flexibility in EU law. Crucially though, within the command papers, the EU recognised the clear need to address the problems surrounding medicines entering NI from GB, as this is where NI receives the majority of its supply.

Who would have thought we would still be at this level of continuous back and forth after an agreement was reached already, it only serves to show how complex and challenging that international agreements are. The intransigent nature of the negotiations between the two has prompted the cross–party House of Lords select committee to call on both the EU and UK to show greater flexibility in dealing with these issues. In a damning report, the Lords described both approaches as “fundamentally flawed” which is risking turning NI into a “permanent casualty” of Brexit.


Update on Health

• Staff who work in critical roles across Northern Ireland could be exempt from adhering to strict isolation rules even if they are close contacts of confirmed Covid–19 cases. The Department of Health has said it is considering whether such a move could be taken to address staff shortages being created by the rising number of Covid–19 cases in Northern Ireland.

• There have been calls for “transformational reform” of the health system after it emerged that the amount spent by health trusts on locum doctors has increased by 43% since 2016 – with last year’s bill coming to almost £100m.

• The health service in Northern Ireland is operating under “huge pressures”, as the Southern Health Trust has had to delay elective orthopaedic lists this week affecting five patients. Twelve people being treated in the South Eastern Trust area have also been told that procedures scheduled for this week will not go ahead.

Update on Employment

• The Northern Ireland hub of WISE, the campaign to improve gender balance in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), is calling for women working in these fields to become role models on its careers platform My Skills My Life.

• Insurance giant AXA is to open a new £14 million state of the art building at Derry’s Springtown Business Park with the creation of 60 additional jobs.

• Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) will consider a motion to support a united Ireland before its annual meeting this year. A veteran peace activist Rev Chris Hudson has warned that the motion will alienate Protestant and unionist workers in unions under the ICTU banner and risks splitting NI trade union movement.

Update on Economy

• The Economy Minister Gordon Lyons has revealed roll out for the much–delayed high street voucher scheme will be launched in “early September” with cards delivered shortly after. Mr Lyons also confirmed the financial services company PFS has been awarded the contract for its operation. The High Street Stimulus scheme will see a £100 pre–paid card given to every adult to be used in shops and hospitality establishments throughout Northern Ireland

Update on Travel

• Students arriving from red–list countries will be put into managed isolation facilities.

• People who have been fully vaccinated in the EU or the US will not need to self–isolate when entering Northern Ireland from Monday.

• International cruises will restart from 31 July.

• Villarreal football fans coming to Belfast for next month’s UEFA Super Cup final against Chelsea will not have to self–isolate.

• The Department of Health confirmed its Covid certification service for people travelling abroad will resume on Friday morning after it was “temporarily interrupted” by a technical problem.

Update on Trade

• Northern Ireland businesses increased the value of their external sales by 3.3% to £23bn in 2019, official figures suggest. Great Britain remained the biggest external market with sales of £11.3bn, up nearly 7% on 2018. Though compared to 2014, total sales to GB were down 13% from £13bn to £11.3bn.The biggest export market remained the Republic of Ireland with sales up 10% to £4.5bn. In 2014, the figure was £3.5bn. For the first quarter of 2021, Northern Ireland goods exports to the Republic were up 44% from 519m euros to 748m euros. Goods exports from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland were up by 22% from 557m euros to 682m euros.

• EU has blocked the UK from the Lugano Convention, which is an international treaty negotiated by the European Union on behalf of its member states and attempts to clarify which national courts have jurisdiction in cross–border civil and commercial disputes and ensures that judgments taken in such disputes can be enforced across borders. Brexit has seen the UK drop out of the treaty and although it reapplied to join in April 2020, the European Commission has recommended the EU deny the request. According to the law society, legal services contributed nearly £60billion to the UK in 2018, while a year earlier exports of legal services amounted to £5billion.

Update on Brexit

• The EU has published its proposals for simplifying Northern Ireland Protocol, with a two–pronged approach. Firstly use the existing mechanisms of the protocol to find technical improvements. Secondly, to offer the UK a Swiss–style agri–food agreement, which would eliminate most Great Britain–Northern Ireland checks. The UK has rejected both these approaches and has instead suggested a fundamental renegotiation.

• A cross–party House of Lords committee has called on Britain and the European Union to act urgently to resolve their differences over the Northern Ireland protocol, accusing both sides of showing a lack of flexibility.

Update on Restrictions

• The executive agreed the 1m (3ft) social distancing regulation will be applied in indoor settings such as supermarkets and shopping centres from 18:00 BST on Friday 30 July. The 1m rule remains as guidance outdoors.

• It was also agreed that function rooms and community halls can put on live music from 30 July.

• Plans to reopen conferences and exhibitions have been delayed – that will be considered in August.

• A final decision to drop the wearing of masks in schools has also been delayed although earlier this month ministers said the wearing of face coverings may just be regarded as guidance when schools return.

• On Monday, ministers agreed that a total of 10 people from three households would now be allowed to meet inside a home. Children under 12 do not count towards the total.


Update on Health

• Health officials have warned of mounting strain on hospitals as coronavirus infections increase, although the absolute number of admissions remains below previous surges of the disease. Prof Philip Nolan, chairman of Nphet’s epidemiological modelling group, reported rising intensive care admissions but said the rise in hospital and ICU admissions was “far less” than “if we didn’t have so much of the population protected through vaccination”.

• Chief medical officer Tony Holohan has raised the prospect of a further easing of coronavirus restrictions, saying such steps “may not be far away” as vaccinations intensify in coming weeks.

• The Minister for Health announced a €2 million investment in National Irish COVID–19 Biobank.

Update on Vaccines

• On Tuesday the government took the decision that children aged 12 and above are now set to be included in the next phase of vaccinations.

• Residents of nursing homes, people aged over 80 and frontline healthcare workers will be the first to be offered Covid–19 booster shots in the coming months, under plans considered by Cabinet.

Update on Hospitality

• More than half of hospitality staff say Covid guidelines were not followed in their workplaces during lockdown, according to a new survey.

• Restaurateurs have called on the Government to bring forward the phasing–out of pandemic unemployment payments (PUP) as they struggle to fill “thousands” of vacancies.

• Monday saw the resumption of indoor hospitality for the first time since last December. People who are fully vaccinated or who have recovered from Covid–19 in the past six months can avail of indoor hospitality, along with accompanied minors. Contact tracing is now only required for the lead person at a table and for solo customers under new updated guidelines.

Update on Employment

• Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has said he expects that many workers will return to the office from September, as a further easing of Covid–19 restrictions are considered.

• Almost half of professional artists considered abandoning their career in the arts over the past year, largely due to lack of income and financial pressure.

Update on Housing

• A new 30 million euro medical centre for Dublin’s homeless population should be constructed by 2024, after being beset by delays caused by the Covid–19 pandemic.

• Cork aims to become the fastest expanding city in Ireland over the next two decades with its new development plan backed by €3.5bn in ring–fenced Government funding over the next 20 years.

• More than 450 homes were delivered in 2020 by Co–operative Housing Ireland (CHI), a record number for the organisation which provides social homes using a co–op model.

• The Government’s five–year housing blueprint has been delayed by at least two months as ministers continue to debate the amount of money that will be allocated to solving the crisis. It had been promised that the already delayed Housing for All plan would come before Cabinet next week for sign–off. However, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien now won’t have his finalised proposals ready until late August or possibly September.