‘You should be utterly ashamed’ - Owner of NI restaurant forced to close because of Covid-19 rages against Executive and local council as hundreds descend upon town for Christmas lights show

The owner of a popular Northern Ireland restaurant currently closed due to Covid-19 regulation imposed by Stormont has raged against his local council after hundreds of people were permitted to queue for an outdoor event on Tuesday evening.

Stevie Higginson, owner of the Square Bistro in Lisburn, expressed his anger after he saw photographs on social media appearing to show hundreds of people waiting in a queue for Lisburn Light Festival.

The Northern Ireland Executive clearly states in the coronavirus section of its website that “the single most important action we can all take to fight coronavirus, to save lives, and to help our Health and Social Care system cope with current pressures is to stay at home”.

Despite the rise in infections, hospital admissions and Covid-19 related deaths, Lisburn and Castlereagh Borough Council decided in October to proceed with the light festival.

This picture was taken by restaurant owner, Stevie Higginson on Tuesday evening.

It should also be noted that Northern Ireland is currently adhering to an extension to the ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown that is due to end on December 11.

The current set of restrictions means restaurants like Square Bistro are not legally permitted to open.

When Mr. Higginson saw the length of the queue of people attending the light show in Lisburn he took to social media to vent his anger and frustration at both Lisburn and Castlereagh council and the Northern Ireland Executive in Stormont.

“Our restaurant in Lisburn square is not allowed to open after spending approximately £10k on creating a Covid safe environment plus being twice shut, down approximately another £5k-£7k but yet Lisburn council spend £500k on Christmas lights and this is what they have created,” said Mr. Higginson angrily.

Mr. Higginson claimed there was a lack of social distancing and face-coverings in the queue.

“They (Lisburn and Castlereagh council) cannot even organise a socially distanced queue but keep my extremely safe restaurant closed, you (Lisburn and Castlereagh council) (NI Executive) should be utterly ashamed.

“You have placed local businesses in an impossible situation with our staff struggling to make ends meet and their mental well-being being destroyed.

“This should be a wake up call that our politicians are unfit for purpose and totally detached from the real world. You should hold your heads in shame,” said Mr. Higginson.

A spokesperson for Lisburn and Castlereagh council stated: “On Tuesday 24 November, the Christmas lights in Lisburn were turned on with a successful virtual ceremony at Market Square. The animated light displays were activated shortly after as part of the Council’s ongoing efforts to support businesses and encourage people to shop local. This was in advance of the new regulations which came in to effect on 27 November.

“A range of health and safety measures were implemented to ensure that people could enjoy the lights safely, at a social distance and in their family or social bubbles. Council Officers are on the ground in the city to provide direction, assistance and to support the implementation of the various safety measures. Signage is in place promoting the relevant health advice. We have also been working closely with the PSNI who have been assisting and advising on these matters and who generally have a presence in the city at this time.”

The spokesperson continued: “The operation of the animated light displays has been kept under continuous review. We are aware of commentary on social media about a recent gathering and are looking into this matter further.

“We are currently monitoring attendance at the lights. In addition, we are reviewing the light schedule and are considering making some modifications if necessary. The safety of people in our city is of paramount importance.

“We would remind everyone who visits Lisburn to please be safe and follow the guidelines.”

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