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The Briefing

AIKEN Weekly Digest – 17th September

AIKEN Weekly Digest – 17th September Banner

by Aiken PR


Protocol on the back burner for now…

The protocol and its associated political issues have taken a back seat at least for this week, as rising hospitalisations continue to impede the health services ability to function. Daily cases have been stubbornly oscillating at the 1,500 mark for almost two months now and whilst the vaccination programme is helping to mitigate against an existential crisis, the sheer volume of cases have resulted in severe pressure being put on the health service. Health Minister Robin Swann this week acknowledged this and stated it is “under pressure as never before” and formally requested that Army medics return to Northern Ireland to support healthcare staff that have been working tirelessly for more than 18 months. What’s different this time, is that hospitalisations are rising but with society fully reopen the challenges are being exacerbated by the typical pressures that are put on the health service in the run up to Winter. And what’s more, leading medics who normally leave politics to the politicians have vociferously spoken out that this current crisis is untenable. The pressures on the health service coupled with business and employment supports coming to an end and changes to the universal credit system means that political electioneering will have to pivot its focus somewhat, if it wants folk to listen.

In the South, the aftershocks of the Zappone affair continue to ripple through the Government, despite Simon Coveney surviving a motion of no confidence this week. Whilst Coveney survived, Fianna Fail’s position as the largest party in the Dail did not. FF TD Marc McSherry resigned in protest of the party’s decision to back Coveney and he then voted in favour of the no confidence motion. The loss of that single seat for FF now has ramifications in the Dail with Sinn Fein now becoming the largest party, further weakening the Government’s position. Interesting times ahead.


Update on Vaccinations

• Booster Covid–19 jabs will start to be administered within 10–12 days in Northern Ireland, with an estimated 900,000 people expected to receive another dose.

• NI’s Covid vaccination programme will extend to school children aged 12–15 from October, though Deputy chief medical officer Dr Naresh Chada warned that next month’s rollout won’t be a ‘magic bullet’ against rising transmission rates in schools.

• The ‘Jabbathon’ vaccination effort aimed at students continues from 20th September, with walk–in clinics operating across 30 campuses and FE colleges across the country.

Update on Education

• Students at Queen’s have been left scrambling for accommodation after the university announced this week that, due to ‘unprecedented demand’, students living within 40 miles of campus would not be offered a room.

• The chairman of Stormont’s education committee, Chris Lyttle, has called for a review of ventilation in schools amid high community Covid–19 infection rates.

Update on Economy

• The Northern Ireland services sector recovered strongly in the second quarter of 2021 as pandemic restrictions eased. Output was up 5.5% compared to the first quarter and increased 29.2% compared to the same period in 2020.

• The Department for Economy has confirmed NI’s £145m High Street Scheme opens for applicants on 27 September. The pre–paid cards, which can be used in any business that accepts credit or debit cards, cannot be used after 30 November.

• Boris Johnson’s proposed 23–mile link from Ulster to Scotland, labelled the “world’s most stupid tunnel” by former aide Dominic Cummings, has been scrapped as the UK Treasury conducts a spending review before its next Budget on 27 October.

Update on Health

• NI’s annual flu vaccination programme is to be expanded to help ease pressure on the health service. Beginning 1st October, secondary school children from years 8 to 12 will be offered the jab, as well as those aged between 50 and 64.

• Health Minister Robin Swann has requested that the Ministry of Defence send up to 100 armed services medics to Northern Ireland, stating that the NI health service is “under pressure as never before.” The personnel would be deployed between Belfast City and Ulster Hospital during October, with a decision to be made next week.

Update on Brexit

• During a visit to No. 10, Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi has said a breakdown in the talks over the Northern Ireland Protocol would be “problematic” for a post–Brexit UK–US trade deal.

• Edwin Poots has confirmed post–Brexit checks on pets travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland are to be suspended indefinitely.

• The British Generic Manufacturers Association, a pharmaceutical trade association, has warned that EU proposals for guaranteeing the supply of medicines to NI are “unworkable.”

Update on Legacy

• The PSNI confirmed on Thursday that two men, aged 21 and 33, have been charged with murder of journalist Lyra McKee, who was shot dead in April 2019.

Update on Travel

• The UK government is due to overhaul the rules for international travel on Friday, with the expectation that the green and amber lists will be combined, and the number of locations on the red list to be reduced.


Update on Restrictions

• Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has said that, based on current health data, he does not believe significant restrictions will be reimposed in the State.

• Public health experts have set out criteria that the government should meet – including a target of vaccinating 90% of the population – before lifting any remaining restrictions on October 22.

Update on Vaccines

• As part of the Covax programme, the Irish government is to donate at least one million vaccines to low–income countries. It comes as the European Union said it will donate another 200 million Covid–19 vaccines to developing countries.

Update on Economy

• A survey carried out by Mason Hayes and Curran found that two thirds of businesses expect some employees will simply refuse to return to work when restrictions are lifted in the State. From 20 September, employees will be able to attend their workplaces on a phase and staggered basis.

• Ireland’s ageing population could push the public finances onto an unsustainable path, according to a study published by the Department of Finance. The report estimates that by 2050, age–related expenditure will be €17 billion higher than it currently is.

Update on Government

• Government minister Simon Harris has denied leaking information from cabinet and said he is “very seriously” considering making a complaint against the Sinn Fein TD who made the allegation.

• Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has insisted the Irish Government consulted President Michael D. Higgins on an invitation to attend a Northern Ireland centenary event, but the decision to decline it was his own. DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has asked Mr. Higgins to reconsider.

Update on Health

• The number of Covid–19 cases in the State have fallen for the fourth consecutive week, according to latest figures from Nphet.

• Prof. Geraldine McCarthy, chair of the South/South West Hospital Group has announced her resignation from the role, citing a lack of reforms within the health service. Ms. McCarthy is the third senior health official to step down from positions in the past week.

Update on Education

• A report by the Organisation for Economic Co–operation and Development (OECD) has ranked the Republic last for education investment out of almost 40 countries. It found just 3.3 per cent of GDP was spent on primary to tertiary educational institutions in 2018 – 1.6 percentage points lower than the OECD average.

• HSE data has revealed a 48% increase in the number of Covid–19 cases detected among children aged between four and 12 over the past seven days.

Update on Travel

• Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has called on the government for an aviation recovery plan. His comments come as the airline’s board approved a revised growth plan that will see it carry 225 million passengers by 2026, a near 50% growth on pre–pandemic levels.

Update on Brexit

• During an appearance before Stormont’s Finance committee, Irish hauliers described the Northern Ireland Protocol as a “lose–lose scenario” for trade.

Update on Housing

• Homeowners across Sligo, Clare, Limerick and Tipperary are seeking compensation after being impacted by defective building blocks. The Department of Housing is currently offering 90% provision to repair homes affected by excessive mica and pyrite deposits, though is under pressure to commit to 100% redress.

• Property prices in the State jumped by 8.6% in the last year, according to new figures from the Central Statistics Office. The median price of a dwelling purchased in the 12 months to July 2021 was 267,000 Euro.