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The Briefing

AIKEN Weekly Digest – 24th September

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by Aiken PR


Boris will have to wait for a US trade deal.

Boris Johnson met with President Biden this week to discuss UK–US relations, with the Prime Minister keen to push the President on the prospect of a trade deal. The meeting took place in the Oval Office and came on the back of the new US–UK–Australia military pledge that will see the allies share intelligence and military assets. And whilst that deal will bring the pair closer, significant bumps in the road remain for Boris Johnson in his quest for a trade deal. The Northern Ireland Protocol is one such bump and it was a key talking point during the meeting with Biden, who was keen to stress that there must be no hard border on the island of Ireland and reiterated the dangers that Brexit poses to the peace and prosperity in Ireland. On the UK–US trade deal, Biden kept his response short and sweet by stating “we’ll have to work that through” with the President seemingly uninterested in negotiating a new deal. The challenge now for Boris Johnson, who throughout the Brexit process promised an overarching US trade deal, will be how can he get negotiations back on the agenda at the White House once again. The former President Donald Trump was very open to doing business, but the new administration seems less enthusiastic to say the least.

In Europe, it emerged this week that the EU is likely to mount a legal challenge to any move from the UK to trigger article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, after it was mooted this week that the UK Government would be prepared to do so. It was also revealed that the EU may raise tariffs on UK goods in retaliation to such a move from UK, however, this measure would be a last resort from the EU. The EU have been developing a dual approach strategy which on the one hand brings forward new proposals that would ease the implementation of the Protocol, while on the other hand preparing a response to any Article 16 move. Despite this announcement from the EU, there has been reporting of improved relationship between the parties, and there is mounting optimism that an agreement can be reached.


Update on Restrictions

• The nine Covid–19 restrictions still legally enforceable in Northern Ireland won’t be lifted before 14 October, the Executive has agreed, with a ‘detailed review’ due to take place on 7 October.

• However Ministers have agreed to remove the requirement for pre–departure testing for fully vaccinated arrivals from non–red list countries, effective from 4 October.

• Colin Neill of Hospitality Ulster has said NI’s hospitality industry will consider proposals for vaccine passes similar to those in the Republic.

Update on Education

• Grammar schools in Northern Ireland are set to run a single common transfer test from November 2023, when AQE and PPTC will be combined.

• Northern Ireland’s school meals service is facing “significant challenges” due to some food and staff shortages, according to the Education Authority.

• Education Minister Michelle McIlveen has announced that, from the 2022/23 academic year, post–primary pupils aged 11–14 will have access to CPR training as part of the school curriculum.

Update on Economy

• Tech roles now account for one in seven job vacancies in Northern Ireland, according to research carried out by Adzuna, as the region’s digital sector gathers pace, according to a government report.

• Boris Johnson has shelved his plans for a bridge linking Northern Ireland and Scotland. Experts had warned the scheme, forecast to cost up to £20bn, was unviable.

• New figures released by Amazon reveal the online giant has invested more than £80million in Northern Ireland since 2010. The company now employs 40 full and part–time staff in NI.

Update on Health

• A major change to organ donation rules in Northern Ireland has passed its second reading at Stormont. The bill, approved by 69 votes to six, would mean people automatically become donors unless they specifically opt out.

Update on Brexit

• Almost 100,000 people in Northern Ireland applied to the EU settlement scheme that could allow them to remain in post–Brexit UK by the June deadline. Almost 95% of those applicants were granted settled or pre–settled status.

Update on Legacy

• Following a four–day hearing in Belfast, judgement has been reserved in a legal challenge brought by relatives of seven Bloody Sunday victims.

• The Council of Europe, a leading human rights organisation says the UK government’s Troubles amnesty plan is “a step backwards” which could obstruct reconciliation in Northern Ireland. The plan is opposed by all NI parties and victims’ groups.

Update on Travel

• From 4 October, travellers from non–red list countries will have eligibility to enter Northern Ireland determined by their vaccination status. The move, welcomed by travel bodies, is in line with changes made by the UK government.


Update on Vaccines

• HSE Chief Executive Paul Reid has confirmed Covid boosters will be offered to vulnerable people and those at greatest risk of the disease from September 27. It will take between five and six weeks to administer all third doses.

Update on Economy

• According to the latest Labour Force Survey from the CSO, the labour force stood at just over 2.5 million people (2,533,200) in the second quarter of this year – an increase of 12.1% (274,000) on the same period in 2020.

• Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said the Government has no plans to change its schedule for unwinding the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, despite pressure from employers unable to find staff. Over 600,000 people were in receipt of PUP at the peak of the pandemic, a figure that has now dropped to100,000.

• The Tánaiste this week also announced a new scheme to ensure workers taking redundancy are not left “out of pocket” for time spent on pandemic support schemes. It will restore workers’ rights to request redundancy and put measures in place to ensure they are not short–changed for time spent on the pandemic unemployment payment (PUP).

Update on Government

• The Tánaiste has told business leaders that he is confident that the Government is in a position to include a pension, welfare and personal income tax package in next month’s Budget.

• The Public Expenditure Minister has insisted that the Republic has yet to make a decision about whether to sign up to a new global deal on tax reform. Michael McGrath said that ROI would “ultimately make a judgment call when we have all of the facts and all of the information”.

• Katherine Zappone this week declined an invitation to appear before an Oireachtas committee to answer questions on her controversial appointment as UN envoy. Ms Zappone’s appointment as UN envoy on freedom of expression caused a storm of controversy for the Government and led to a confidence motion in Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney last week, which he survived.

Update on Health

• A planned Covid ‘bonus’ for frontline workers could cost up to €1 billion, the public expenditure minister has said. The Dublin government is planning a one–off bonus, either a cash lump sum or additional leave days, for frontline workers in recognition of their efforts during the pandemic.

Update on Education

• Around 10,000 primary school children currently at home due to being a close contact of a pupil with Covid–19 can return to the classroom on Monday without an all–clear test, Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer has confirmed.

• UCD and Trinity College have been named among world’s top 100 universities for employability. They both maintained their top 100 spots in the latest Graduate Employability Rankings, with Trinity climbing one place to 91st position, closing the gap on UCD in 87th.

Update on Brexit

• The European Union is likely to challenge on legal grounds any move by the UK to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol. It is understood the EU could resort to raising tariffs on UK products in retaliation, which officials say is provided for under the EU–UK free trade agreement.

Update on Housing

• The Government has said “everything is on the table” when helping homeowners whose properties have been destroyed by mica. Groups representing those affected by the crisis, which has impacted homeowners across Donegal, Mayo and several other counties, have called for a 100% compensation scheme.

• Labour’s Ivana Bacik has said there is a need for a cultural shift to “skew away” from viewing rental properties as investments and income for landlords, as she presented the Tenants’ Rights Bill to the Dáil.