Coronavirus: Stormont divisions are not ‘orange and green’

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Opinion is divided among Stormont ministers on how to tackle the coronavirius crisis, but it is not an "orange and green issue", Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill has said.

Ms O'Neill said it was no secret there was a "diversity of views".

But she said this was a "difference in emphasis" and that ministers were united in their goal to save lives.

She was speaking with First Minister Arlene Foster at the Stormont daily briefing.

Mrs Foster said there was a "unity of purpose to flatten the curve of this infection".

There have been 22 coronavirus-related deaths so far in Northern Ireland and 533 confirmed cases.

In the Republic of Ireland, 54 people have died and there have been 2,910 confirmed cases.

Last week, different views emerged from Sinn Féin and the DUP about the closure of non-essential businesses, with Ms O'Neill calling for them all to close.

Later that evening on the BBC’s The View programme, Mrs Foster said some businesses should be able to remain open if able to maintain social distancing.

“There is a difference of emphasis for sure.” said Mrs Foster on Monday, adding there were “five parties around the executive table” so different views were to be expected.

“We all have a unity of purpose, and the unity of purpose is to flatten the curve of this infection so that less people have to be hospitalised,” she said.

First meeting for business forum

Ms O’Neill extended her sympathies “to those families who are bereaved at this time” and highlighted the difficulty for those who could not attend the funerals of their loved ones.

“Their pain is also compounded by the fact they’re not being able to grieve in the way in which they normally would,” she said.

“Unfortunately this is real life for us all now and the actions of each and every one of us matters.”

She said Stormont ministers will meet counterparts from the Irish government on Tuesday to "discuss how we can best cooperate and work together to tackle the disease".

Mrs Foster also said that a new business forum that had been convened to assess which businesses should close had its first meeting on Monday afternoon.

The forum, chaired by the Labour Relations Agency, was convened by Economy Minister Diane Dodds and features business and retail organisations, the PSNI and the Public Health Agency (PHA) among others.

Mrs Foster said the forum had a "very good" teleconference meeting and that the "outcome of those discussions will be presented to the executive for consideration".

In other developments on Monday:

  • The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) says around 15% of their staff are absent because of Covid-19
  • Mrs Dodds announced plans to amend legislation so that health workers unable to use holiday leave will be able to carry it over to the next two years
  • Health Minister Robin Swann says almost 9,000 people, including almost 1,500 clinical staff, have expressed interest in working in the health sector following a recruitment appeal launched at the weekend
  • Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey approved the release of £1m of 2019/20 grants to sports clubs and high performance programmes, as well as the early release of £1.4m of the 2020/21 grant awards
  • Environment Minister Edwin Poots issued new guidelines to households on waste and bins, with the minister asking people to put clothes, wipes and gloves in the general waste bin and to disinfect the handles of wheelie and recycling bins before collecting them

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