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Economy Minister Diane Dodds admits Northern Ireland faces a 'long, hard road to recovery'

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Economy Minister Diane Dodds

Economy Minister Diane Dodds

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Economy Minister Diane Dodds

Economy Minister Diane Dodds has said Northern Ireland faces a "long, hard road to recovery" as she published further details of a plan to help the economy reopen following lockdown.

She said more shops will be allowed to open from June 8 - but only those with larger store areas, or "lower frequency" retail activities such as shops selling electrical goods, mobile phones and furniture.

Such shops must have direct street access or direct access within a retail park if they are to open - which rules out the reopening of shopping centres.

Car dealerships and large machinery retailers have also been given the green light to reopen on June 8. Garden centres have been open since May 18.

At the Executive's daily Covid-19 press conference on Friday, the minister said "this has been a very, very difficult period and it will be a long, hard road to recovery".

"Each month we shut down is akin to a large recession," she said, adding that output was at up to 30% of normal levels.

I talked to many businesses and they all tell me that to rush too far ahead and then to have to step back would be absolutely devastating for them Diane Dodds

She defended the Executive's decision not to give indicative dates for the five stages of reopening the economy published earlier this month.

"At the start of our considerations about how we come out of lockdown, the Executive took the very wise, reasonable and correct decision to be led by the scientific and medical advice when it comes to how we ease ourselves out of lockdown," she said.

"I talked to many businesses and they all tell me that to rush too far ahead and then to have to step back would be absolutely devastating for them.

"Businesses want to open safely and in a structured way and I haven't found businesses who have told me otherwise in the many, many contacts I have had with them."

Asked about the likely pattern or pace of economic recovery, the minister said: "I hope it's the quickest one we can get."

She said she also had concerns about air connectivity from Northern Ireland and that she had talked to Aer Lingus, which had revealed its links from the Republic to North America were operating at 5% of usual capacity.

But she said she had also talked to US tour operators who informed her that the majority of US travellers who had planned to visit Northern Ireland this year had rebooked for next year.

The Department for the Economy announced the further reopening of retail in a paper - Charting a course for the economy: our first steps - which builds on the Executive's five-stage reopening.

The paper also includes measures to build confidence in the construction and manufacturing sector, and encourages home working for financial, professional services and IT sectors.

"Those who can work at home should continue to do so," the paper says.

But there was criticism that the June 8 reopening did not embrace more types of retail. Glyn Roberts, chief executive of Retail NI, said: "We believe small, independent fashion retailers should be included in this phase. Many of our fashion retail members have already advanced risk assessment plans in place that will ensure social distancing and provide a safe environment for shoppers and their staff.

"This plan also needs to include a complementary strategy for reopening our towns and city centres."

Simon Hamilton, chief executive of Belfast Chamber, said his organisation "reiterates its belief that non-essential retail should be permitted to reopen where they can do so in a way that is safe for staff and customers, regardless of the store size, what they sell or where they are located".

Belfast Telegraph