Northern Ireland Economy Minister Diane Dodds has said there would be “catastrophic consequences” to a prolonged shutdown of the economy.
Addressing the Stormont Assembly’s ad hoc committee on the Covid-19 response, Mrs Dodds said the Executive’s priority in dealing with the Covid-19 emergency was the preservation of life.
But she added: “It is important that we also start to get the economy moving and gradually see people safely return to work.
“We don’t know for certain how long this will continue but we simply cannot shut down the economy for a significant period of time without catastrophic consequences.”
But she said efforts to get the economy going again should not be viewed as a trade-off against health “as the two are inextricably linked”.
She reflected on the short period of time since she had taken up the role of Economy Minister. “Four short months ago I took office with priorities like introducing parental bereavement leave, growing the tourism sector, stimulating investment and job creation and directing more fundings into skills.
“But in what seemed like a heartbeat, the brutal impact of coronavirus on our health and the economy had changed our priorities.”
Since the lockdown, the Executive had issued 19,000 emergency grants of £10,000, totalling £190m.
And the more recently introduced £25K grant scheme had attracted 3,000 applications, with over 800 payments made.
Large numbers of firms had also availed of the UK’s furlough scheme.
“Be in no doubt that we are truly in uncharted waters and the normal rules do not apply... By effectively putting the economy into deep freeze, we have ushered many businesses away from failure.”