Decision on pubs shutting early in Northern Ireland delayed

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By Michael McHugh, David Young and Rebecca Black, PA

Ministers have delayed a concrete decision on early closure of pubs and restaurants in Northern Ireland to finalise outstanding details, the First Minister has said.

Medical experts believe it would hamper the spread of coronavirus and 11pm has been considered by Stormont ministers.

Bars which do not serve food opened their doors again on Wednesday for the first time in six months.

Arlene Foster said: “There is a strong unity of purpose on the way forward.

“We will come to the Assembly at the beginning of the week on that issue.

“We will finalise more details over the next couple of days.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said it was about “dotting the Is and crossing the Ts”.

She added: “There is no failure to agree anything.

“We actually have an agreed way forward.”

She urged people to act sensibly over the weekend and the Executive would make a firm decision next week.

In the rest of the UK, pubs and restaurants must close at 10pm.

In the Republic of Ireland it is 11.30pm.

In Northern Ireland, off-licences and supermarkets can sell alcohol until 11pm most days.

The DUP leader said the virus’ reproductive rate was 1.5 but the level of infection in Ballymena where movement limitations were implemented had shown encouraging signs.

There have been 189 new cases of Covid-19 confirmed in the last 24-hour reporting period, the Department of Health said.

Mrs Foster was asked for her reaction to a photograph of her party colleague Sammy Wilson sitting on a train without a face covering on.

Those caught without wearing a mask on public transport in London can face fines, although some exemptions for medical reasons are in place.

The East Antrim MP told PA that he “should have had it on and I am offering no excuse”.

Mrs Foster said: “Everyone has to abide by the laws and take the consequences as well as not abiding by those laws.”

Ms O’Neill added: “We’re very very strongly encouraging people on an ongoing basis, please wear face masks even in places where it is not mandatory, wear them as much as you possibly can.”

The Executive also disclosed new support for the beleaguered arts sector.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy said: “I am pleased to announce £29 million for cultural recovery.”

Theatres, music and other creative venues shut their doors in March as the pandemic gathered speed and the ban on mass gatherings has hit them hard.

In July, Northern Ireland received £33 million from the UK Government for the arts but had not yet decided how to spend the money.

Over £29 million is also being provided for business interventions including support for the tourism industry and a Holiday at Home voucher scheme, as well as investment in skills and youth training.

A total of £40 million is being allocated to ensure local councils can continue to provide essential services and support those in need.

Recognising the importance of capital projects to stimulating economic recovery, £15 million is being allocated for the A6 Londonderry to Dungiven road, with £15 million being provided to NI Water to accelerate a number of projects.

Mr Murphy added: “The allocations made today will provide vital help to businesses as well as continuing to protect the vulnerable.”

She said ministers had had discussions about other measures.

“We will finalise more details over the next couple of days,” she added.

 

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