The three Musketeers or band of brothers.
The three Musketeers or band of brothers.
Once upon a time it would have been the dream triumvirate. Instead it will be full on competition in the DUP Lagan Valley Constituency offices in the coming months with the current First Minister, DUP leader (and possible First Minister) and former DUP leader all standing for the Assembly elections within the said constituency. From the outset of his tenure Jeffrey Donaldson has expressed his desire to be First Minister of Northern Ireland and he will compete for one of the constituency seats alongside Paul Givan and Edwin Poots. With the DUP only holding two seats in the constituency at present, it is by no means a certainty that all three will be elected, nor is it a certainty that the DUP will remain the largest party which could scupper Donaldson’s plans. Jeffrey, who is currently an MP for the area will have to resign his seat to stand in the Stormont Election and thus force a by–election that could offer one possible solution to this conundrum, in that either Poots or Givan would run for parliament. Something which Poots has not ruled out himself, but he has also indicated his intention to run for his current seat and retain his position as DAERA Minister. The question now is whether Jeffrey will allow the other two candidates to run alongside him or will he exert some authority and re–position Poots or Givan to another constituency.
In Dublin, French President Emmanuel Macron made his first visit to Ireland this week to meet with Micheál Martin and over lunch the pair discussed a broad range of issues, including Afghanistan, climate change and the EU’s response to the pandemic, in what the Taoiseach described as a “very warm and useful” meeting. However, one uncomfortable topic did raise its head once again: the issue of corporation tax, with the French Leader being one of the main brokers in the OECD deal. Macron insisted his government is not seeking to strongarm the Irish into joining other EU members in accepting OECD plans for a new global rate of tax on corporate profits of 15 percent, but then went on to try and persuade Martin into doing so. Martin, who spoke far less during the press conference, stated “There are significant challenges for us in respect of this process, but we are in no doubt that we will be engaging constructively in the process, and there’s some journey yet to go in that.” OECD talks are scheduled to resume in October and Irish officials believe that other nations share their concerns but are keeping their heads below the parapet. The Irish Government’s public consultation on the matter, which is set to be published in the Autumn, is seemingly going to be crucial in deciding the Government’s final position on the matter.
Update on Vaccinations
• Health Minister Robin Swann has said NI’s vaccination programme has been “re–energised” following Big Jab Weekend. At least 12,000 first doses were delivered between August 21–22, according to officials.
• “Greater social deprivation” could be behind the lower levels of vaccine uptake in Northern Ireland, according to chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young. NI currently has the lowest vaccination rate in the UK, and at 630 cases per 100,000, the highest infection rate.
Update on Education
• According to new guidance from the Public Health Agency, pupils will not have to self–isolate after coming into contact with a coronavirus case if they have recently tested positive for the virus themselves. Teachers and staff who are close contacts of a coronavirus case may continue working in school, so long as they are fully vaccinated.
• Almost half of Northern Ireland’s P7 pupils and 70% of 16–year–olds here felt their education was negatively affected during the Covid pandemic, a report from the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People has found.
Update on Economy
• The Utility Regulator has warned Northern Ireland households and businesses face substantially higher gas bills this winter due to “unprecedented” wholesale prices worldwide. It warned consumer gas prices would rise in September, with an average increase of £100 per year.
• NI’s high street voucher scheme will begin accepting applications after September 12. To be eligible, people must be 18 before applications close on 11 October, with the pre–paid card to be spent by 30 November to ‘avoid displacing spending’ during the Christmas period.
Update on Health
• New hospital waiting times published this week reveal nearly 15,000 people here are waiting for crucial heart scans. By Q2 2021, 58% of those on waiting lists in Northern Ireland have been waiting for more than a year, compared to just 6.5% in England.
• A report from the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People found 52% of 16–year–olds felt their mental and emotional health had been negatively impacted by the pandemic.
Update on Legacy
• Stormont is to pay more than £100,000 to a group of 38 historical institutional abuse victims after their personal details were leaked in a monthly newsletter. The incident, which occurred in May 2020, was described as a massive breach of confidence.
Update on Brexit
• Ulster Farmers Union has written to the Secretary of State amid fears that a shortage of migrant workers will impact the annual Christmas demand. A number of food processing plants in NI are operating on about 75% of their normal staffing levels due to a combination of Brexit and the pandemic.
• DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has said the NI Protocol “cannot be sustained.” Mr Donaldson is due to meet the Taoiseach in Dublin on Friday to discuss post–Brexit arrangements.
Update on Transport
• Ryanair is ending its operations in Belfast after 14 years. Citing the UK’s government “refusal to suspend or reduce” air passenger duty, the airline will cease flights from Belfast City in September, and Belfast International in October.
• Stormont parties are divided over the proposed Glider bus route in North Belfast. The main unionist parties favour the Shore Road, while the SDLP, Alliance and Greens favour the Antrim Road. With an estimated cost of more than £100m, the new service will not be in place until 2027.
Update on Restrictions
• The NPHET has recommended that there be no widespread further easing until 90% of those aged 16 and older are fully vaccinated. Such an approach would keep many of the remaining restrictions in place until at least October.
• Ministers will meet on Friday to discuss the roadmap for easing Covid restrictions ahead of its expected announcement on 31 August.
Update on Health
• Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan has again urged the public to get vaccinated as Ireland’s ICU numbers hit their highest level since April 3. As of Thursday, 331 Covid–positive patients were hospital, with 61 in intensive care.
• A study has found the risk of being admitted to hospital, or dying, due to blood clots for someone with coronavirus is almost nine times higher than in someone who has had one dose of the AstraZeneca jab.
Update on Vaccines
• The HSE has said walk–in vaccination centres will cater for children 12 –15 for the first time this weekend. Consent will be required from a parent or a legal guardian.
• Education Minister Norma Foley has rejected calls from unions to allow unvaccinated pregnant teachers to work from home. Currently those in early stages of pregnancy, and certain cohorts with underlying health conditions, are not eligible for a Covid jab.
Update on Government
• Links between Ireland and France “have never been stronger”, according to Micheál Martin. The Taoiseach welcomed Emmanuel Macron on a one–day visit to Dublin, his first to Ireland, to discuss the NI Protocol, corporation tax and Irish–French relations.
• A total of 36 Irish citizens and residents have been evacuated from Afghanistan, as Ireland announced it was ending its emergency mission in Kabul.
Update on Employment
• The number of people due to receive the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) this week has fallen by approx. 4,000 over last week’s figures. It is the first time the number of PUP recipients has dropped below 150,000 since it was introduced in March 2020.
• A new survey by Retail Excellence has revealed 80% of retailers are in rent arrears with at least one landlord.
Update on Environment
• 2020 was Europe’s warmest on record. The average temperature in Europe last year was 1.9C above the long–term average for 1981–2010, according to a report published by the American Meteorological Society.
Update on Travel
• Ryanair is moving “10 to 20%” of its Irish capacity to other European countries, after chief Michael O’Leary accused the Republic’s government of doing “nothing for the sector.” It comes as the airline ceased operations in Belfast.
• Despite renewed calls for the festival to proceed, Laois County Council has upheld its decision to refuse a license for Electric Picnic to take place this year.
Update on Housing
• Over 53,500 mortgages were approved in Ireland for the 12 months to July 2021, according to Banking and Payments Federation Ireland, the highest level of annual approval since the data series began 10 years ago.