Simon Hamilton: ‘Anguish and upset’ for businesses as NI reopening dates ‘fall far short’

There is “anguish and upset” that “rumoured reopening dates” as Northern Ireland moves out of lockdown fall “far short” of what businesses had been hoping for, the Belfast Chamber of Commerce has said.

Thursday, 15th April 2021, 10:25 am
Updated Thursday, 15th April 2021, 10:52 am

Chamber chief executive Simon Hamilton, a former Stormont minister who held the finance, economy and health portfolios during his time in frontline politics, was speaking ahead of an announcement expected this afternoon of opening dates for a range of sectors.

A possible opening date of April 26 for various sectors was understood to have been under consideration but new possible dates have now been reported.

While an official announcement from the Executive is not expected until at least 3pm today, the BBC has reported that the dates currently under consideration include April 23 for hairdressers, beauty salons, and outdoor attractions; April 30 for all retailers still unable to trade and for self-contained tourist accommodation; May 10 for outdoor hospitality and for gyms.

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Pacemaker Press Belfast 11-05-2015: Belfast Chamber of Commerce chief executive Simon Hamilton. Picture by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Indoor hospitality, including both dining and alcohol consumption, would have to wait until at least June 1 under the plan the BBC has reported will be under consideration today.

Mr Hamilton, in a statement, said: “After pleading with the Executive for weeks to set reopening dates, there is anguish and upset that rumoured reopening dates which have appeared in the media this morning fall far short of what was hoped for and in fact defy the Executive’s own pledge to be data driven.

“Our health data has been improving dramatically in recent weeks to the point where we are comparable with GB or even better in some instances. In England this week, we’ve seen outdoor hospitality reopen yet the same businesses here will have to wait a month. Why is it proposed to give indoor hospitality nothing better than a flaky indication of no earlier than 1 June when indoor hospitality in England will reopen weeks before that.”

He continued: “Why, as is suggested, will a wedding reception be able to be held with 30 people in mid-May yet any of the attendees will not be able to have a meal in a restaurant until some time in June? Why can we not have a coffee outside a coffee shop until mid-May yet we can get our hair cut or have a driving lesson weeks previously? Not only are these suggested dates not data driven, they also appear to defy logic.”

He added: “Ministers told us that they would be data driven. These rumoured reopening dates make a mockery of that. We hope and trust that the Executive will give these issues careful consideration when it meets today and, as Ministers have pledged, they will be data driven and allow businesses, many of whom are in utter despair, better hope than this. If these dates are confirmed, then some hospitality businesses have told us directly that they simply will not survive until some unknown date in June when they can reopen.”