Travel on agenda at Executive as it meets to confirm lockdown reopening date

Northern Ireland’s next step out of lockdown hangs in the balance as the Stormont Executive meets today to decide if the May 24 reopening can go ahead as planned.

Thursday, 13th May 2021, 6:55 am
Updated Thursday, 13th May 2021, 8:34 am

Pubs, restaurants, cafes, and visitor attractions will be able to welcome customers indoors from that date onwards – unless the Executive decides otherwise at today’s meeting.

But businesses are hoping that, as well as being allowed to open again for the first time in months, there will be other changes on the horizon around social distancing, the mixing of households and live music.

Janice Gault, Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF) chief executive, said travel and tourism should also be considered during today’s review.

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Crowds returned to Belfast city centre and towns across the Province in the last reopening phase on April 30

“The NIHF hopes that travel, tourism and hospitality will be considered in the review,” she said.

“The issue to travel within the Common Travel Area needs to be addressed so that we can promote beyond the domestic Northern Ireland market. Hotels are seeing a lot of pent-up demand from those wishing to visit to see family and friends.”

First Minister Arlene Foster, speaking during a visit to Clandeboye Golf Club in Bangor yesterday to offer her congratulations after it secured the PGA EuroPro Northern Ireland Masters Golf Tournament, confirmed travel would be on the agenda.

She said it would be “absolutely wrong” to prejudge what ministers will decide but that it is “safe to say we will be discussing international travel”.

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill were at Clandeboye Golf Course in Co Down yesterday for the launch of the PGA EuroPro Tour event which will be held at the club in August

The News Letter understands some in the Executive will be pushing for an earlier reopening date for indoor hospitality.

Stephen Reynolds, owner of the Front Page Bar in Ballymena, said an earlier opening date would be a “welcome compromise” for those businesses caught up in what Hospitality Ulster described as the “chaos” surrounding the opening of outdoor hospitality.

Some businesses that had hoped to open beer gardens and outdoor dining spaces ran foul of a strict interpretation of the rules on outdoor spaces.

“It doesn’t apply to us here at the Front Page, but there were some that thought they were ready to open up again only to be told they can’t,” Mr Reynolds said.

“May 17 [for reopening, in line with England] would be a welcome compromise.”

Mr Reynolds said that while he is looking forward to getting back to business, there are still some issues that need to be addressed.

“We have been here 31 years and we depend very much on entertainment,” he said. “The whole social distancing thing and certainly the live music is a big issue for us. We would also like to see them look at the rules around the mixing of households.”

Ms Gault of NIHF expressed a similar view, saying: “There are also four work streams being undertaken which look at mass gatherings, social distancing, international travel and vaccination.”