Pubs in Northern Ireland will remain closed for another two weeks
The move comes following numerous disagreements in Stormont
The circuit breakdown restrictions have been effective now for four weeks, but confusion lay regarding their expiration as being tonight or tomorrow, placing many businesses and workers in limbo. This morning, following legal guidance, the Executive clarified that the restrictions would expire at midnight on Friday, providing an extension blanket to reach a deal on further extensions which was widely supported across most parties.
The extended restrictions mean that the restrictions as of now will continue until next Friday, when close contact services will be able to open. This includes hair and beauty salons as well as driving lessons. However, restrictions for pubs and restaurants will be extended for a further week, meaning no return to the pubs until Friday 27th November.
However, the new restrictions have not arrived without controversy following intense divisions over how long the restrictions should be extended. Sinn Féin were calling for a full two week extension of restrictions, in reflection with the continued high cases and deaths which continue to spread across Northern Ireland.
Contrary to this, the DUP supported close contact services to reopen tomorrow as well as restaurants but with the sale of alcohol prohibited. In what led to a deadlock, proposals were made for a compromise by Justice Minister and Leader of the Alliance Party, Naomi Long.
The compromise was enough for both the DUP and UUP who voted for the proposed compromise as well as the Alliance Party. The SDLP abstained, whilst Sinn Féin voted against.
The DUP have came under intense scrutiny for voting against the earlier restriction extension proposals, citing the petition of concern mechanism. This veto can be used by any party or 30 MLAs to vote against an issue for fears of cross-community relations. The mechanism was a product of the Good Friday Agreement as a key feature of the power-sharing arrangement.
Businesses and service providers have been in intense limbo throughout the restrictions. DUP Economy Minister, Diane Dodds MLA has faced scrutiny following the slow pace of acceptance for businesses applying for a hardship loan.
Venting their frustrations, some city bars turned to social media, announcing that in response to the lack of clarity from the Executive. The Dirty Onion and The National were two of a number of establishment who announced their reopening tomorrow, earlier today.
However, in the past few minutes following the extension of restrictions, The Dirty Onion has said that they will be opening on Saturday instead, describing the political deadlock as “Chaos”.
The bars are owned by The Beannchor Group, who boast one of the largest hospitality portfolios in Ireland.
I welcome that there is now clarity for close-contact services and hospitality on the way forward.
This was a compromise in order to ensure the Regulations did not simply fall tomorrow evening – that would have been disastrous.
There is plenty of work now to do.
— Paula Bradshaw MLA (@PaulaJaneB) November 12, 2020
Speaking on the new restrictions, Alliance Party MLA for South Belfast Paula Bradshaw said, “I welcome that there is now clarity for close-contact services and hospitality on the way forward”.
She added that, “This [the extension of restrictions] was a compromise in order to ensure the Regulations did not simply fail tomorrow evening”.
The Department of Health is presently reporting 45,241 Covid-19 cases in Northern Ireland, with 825 perishing to the virus since March.