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The Briefing

AIKEN Weekly Digest – 3rd September

AIKEN Weekly Digest – 3rd September Banner

by Aiken PR


It’s one extension after another.

The UK Government this week announced that they will seek to further delay the checks on goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. The checks were due to have been implemented by the end of this year, but the Government says that will no longer happen. A spokesperson for the Government said the move was in response to its intention to negotiate major changes to the protocol. The grace period is therefore set to continue which will come as a relief for many businesses in Northern Ireland, however, the extension has not been formally requested as of yet and may rattle a few feathers within the EU who are yet to respond. Boris famously told businesses in Northern Ireland that if anyone asked them to fill in a form for moving goods to GB, they should throw it in a bin, and extension after extension to the grace period means that promise is still being fulfilled. That said, the air is still full with uncertainty, and it is hard to imagine the EU will tolerate any further extensions unless the UK tables serious and realistic proposals to solve the matter.

In Dublin, a €15,000 per year straightforward appointment has turned into an ordeal for the Government with further revelations this week on Katherine Zappone’s appointment as a UN special envoy. The appointment reared its head again after Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney gave evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee this week where he acknowledged that he had deleted various text conversations between himself, Ms Zappone, and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar before the appointment due what he initially blamed on data storage. Mr Coveney was forced to issue a statement to the Foreign Affairs Committee after concerns were raised about inconsistencies in statements he made where he cited a personal phone hack in 2020 as reason for deleting the messages. Varadkar was also caught up in the controversy after it was revealed that journalists who sought text messages relating to the controversy under FoI were told they did not exist. The text messages pose a significant challenge to the Government as to whether messages between Ministers and a potential special adviser should be considered as lobbying and also should they be considered a matter of public record. The inevitable questions have been raised as to whether the Ministers should resign or not, especially given that former Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen had to resign in a similar situation last year. The Taoiseach did however launch an extraordinary defence of both Ministers this week and described the situation as being blown out of proportion during the launch of the Government’s plan to tackle the housing crisis. In a week where the Government launched its comprehensive reopening plan and its new housing plan, this controversy has seemed to overshadow what are undoubtedly two of the Government’s most significant publications to date. Moreover, with Simon Coveney scheduled to give evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee next week, this may not be the last we hear of it.


Update on Restrictions

• An Executive meeting scheduled for 1 September was cancelled after Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill tested positive for Covid–19. The administration is expected to meet 9 September to review remaining restrictions around table service in hospitality and the continued closure of NI nightclubs.

Update on Vaccinations

• The UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has recommended that any person aged over 12 with severely weakened immune systems should receive a third Covid–19 vaccine.

Update on Education

• Almost 350,000 children and young people returned to school and pre–school on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Department of Education has advised schools can retain the use, or partial use, of bubbles.

• More than 40 children in Northern Ireland are still waiting for a post–primary school place to be confirmed for the new 2021–22 school year, according to the Education Authority. Grammar schools did not use academic selection for the first time in decades.

• Four schools in Northern Ireland – Brefne Nursery School, Carrickfergus Central Primary School, Harding Memorial Primary School, and Seaview Primary School – have changed their status to integrated upon opening for the new term. Seaview is the first Catholic school to formally do so.

Update on Economy

• Belfast suffered one of the worst declines in footfall (19.1%) across the UK for the month of August, according to the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium. The report compares 2021 performance with the pre–pandemic levels of 2019.

• The devolved governments have called on UK government to reconsider plans to end extra £20–a–week Universal Credit payment in October. The uplift was initially a temporary response to the pandemic.

Update on Health

• In the week up to 27 August, Nisra recorded 53 Covid–19 related deaths in Northern Ireland, the highest weekly toll since February.

• The Belfast Trust has revealed more than 80% of Covid patients treated in ICUs in Belfast hospitals survive the virus, which is ‘among the best survival rates’ in the world.

• The inquiry into the clinical practice of a Southern Trust urology consultant will start officially on 6 September. More than 1,000 patient records were recalled as a result of concerns about the work of Aidan O’Brien.

Update on Legacy

• After a year’s delay, the Troubles Permanent Disablement Payment Scheme has opened for applications. Recipients who were badly injured during the conflict will receive annual payments of between £2,000 and £10,000.

Update on Brexit

• Health Minister Robin Swann has warned of a risk to patients if pharmaceutical firms go ahead with plans to withdraw medicines due to the Northern Ireland Protocol. A total of 910 medicines are due to be withdrawn, though the department has said there is no immediate supply risk.

• Post–Brexit rules around which goods qualify for ‘unfettered access’ from NI to GB have been delayed. The legislation was due to be implemented by the end of 2021.

Update on Environment

• Met Office confirms summer 2021 was Northern Ireland’s third–warmest since records began, with an average temperature of 15.06°C. The country also experienced a record–breaking high of 31.3°C in July.

Update on Travel

• A further seven destinations were added to Northern Ireland’s travel green list on Monday. From 30 August, anyone travelling from NI to Azores, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Liechtenstein, Lithuania and Switzerland does not need to quarantine.


Update on Restrictions

• The Taoiseach has unveiled the latest roadmap to lift the vast majority of Ireland’s remaining Covid–19 restrictions. This aligns with the landmark of 90 per cent of the adult population being fully vaccinated, which will occur in or around 6 September.

o From Monday, indoor venues can operate at 60% capacity for events for those who are vaccinated, while outdoor events can operate at 75% capacity for those who are vaccinated.

o Outdoor sports events can go ahead with 50% capacity.

o Live music will resume in hospitality venues and weddings.

o On 20 September, the phased return to office, with live entertainment and theatres also expect to return.

• The Cabinet also agreed to end all remaining restrictions by 22 October, subject to review.

Update on Vaccines

• The European Union has reached its goal of getting 70% of adults fully vaccinated against coronavirus by the end of the summer, the president of the 27–nation bloc’s executive arm confirmed.

• The EU and AstraZeneca have reached a settlement over the troubled delivery of Covid–19 vaccines, guaranteeing the delivery of a further 200m AZ doses to EU countries.

Update on Economy

• Irish GDP increased by 6.3% in Q2 over the previous quarter, CSO figures have revealed, with the construction industry, in particular, experiencing a surge in output of 22.9%.

• Ireland will begin its first in–person trade mission since the onset of Covid next week, with the Tánaiste visiting London, Paris and Berlin in a bid to accelerate ROI’s export–led recovery

• The Data Protection Commission has fined WhatsApp Ireland €225m for infringements of data protection rules, the largest fine ever imposed by the DPC. WhatsApp has signalled its intention to appeal the fine.

Update on Education

• Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan has reassured parents that schools are “not a major source of transmission” as term resumes.

• More than 60,000 students will receive their Learning Cert results today, with grades up by an average of 2.4 percentage points over 2020.

Update on Population

• Ireland’s population has surpassed five million for the first time since 1851, according to figures published by the Central Statistics Office. The State also has the highest birth rate, and lowest death rate, among EU27 countries.

Update on Brexit

• Extending grace periods for some Irish Sea border checks would be “reasonable,” but not a full solution, Leo Varadkar has said. The Tánaiste spoke following a two–day visit to Northern Ireland where he met the five main Stormont party leaders.

Update on Housing

• Housing For All, an “unprecedented” housing strategy underpinned by €4 billion in State funding, has been launched by the government. It promises to deliver 300,000 new homes by 2030 and ‘eradicate homelessness’ in the State.

• The Land Development Agency has said it will accelerate housing building projects to deliver up to 26,000 new social and affordable homes.