| 17.4°C Belfast

Coronavirus: What we want from the Executive’s plan... eight sectors of NI life tell us their hopes

'Clarity is what's needed, that way we can plan our reopening'

Close

Alan Mercer

Alan Mercer

Neal Toner

Neal Toner

Martine Mulhern

Martine Mulhern

Cathal Austin

Cathal Austin

Fr Martin Magill

Fr Martin Magill

Arthur Cufaj

Arthur Cufaj

Michael McAdam

Michael McAdam

Keith Boyd

Keith Boyd

Alan Mercer

Alan Mercer of Hillmount Garden Centre said they are watching day by day for any update.

He said many other garden outlets were facing similar issues.

"Our peak season basically runs from St Patrick's Day to June 20. That's when we would make our money for the year," he said.

"We have three centres: Belfast, Ards and Bangor. We've been running an online website where customers can place orders and we're currently doing 30 to 40% of our normal turnover online. Since the lockdown, Ards and Bangor have made zero: there have been no telephone orders, cafe sales etc.

"Everybody's waiting week-by-week, day-by-day that something's going to change. And I watched Boris's announcement hoping it would give us guidance, but nothing has happened yet.

"The Republic has had clarity, dates have been given, and yes, they have been made with the stipulation that they might change, but that's what we need too here from Stormont - clarity.

"That way we can plan when garden centres can reopen. The only help we've had so far is the furlough payments. In England they have 12 months of rates relief and a date when they can open again, whereas here we have no date and six months rates relief."

Gillian Halliday

'Closure will have cost us around £100,000 by the end of July'

Neal Toner

Barber Neal Toner (32) of JFH Social in Belfast and Newcastle, a salon owner and UK-wide teacher, said health is more important than wealth, regardless of the economic cost of closure.

"We took an early stance on coronavirus and closed on March 17," Mr Toner said.

"Closure will have cost us around £100,000 by the end of July. My staff are like family to me.

"The company will take a hit and we'll make a plan to build the business back up if needs be once this is all over.

"All 12 members of our team are self-employed. Up until now, they've been spending their savings just to get by, so it's been tough. Furlough was handed out very easily to employed workers. So it's time financial aid was given to the self employed. We now need the 80% of the income we were promised for survival.

"The Executive must do what's right for the industry and our clients.

"If that means staying off until the end of August, we must do that.

"From a health point of view, I don't want to rush back to make a few pounds.

"Ministers need to make a smart decision based on the death statistics."

Claire McNeilly

'With too many variables, I don't think schools should open yet'

Close

Martine Mulhern

Martine Mulhern

Martine Mulhern

Detailed planning must precede the reopening of schools, particularly those with large student numbers, the principal of a Londonderry college has said.

Martine Mulhern, principal of St Cecilia's College in Derry, said the weeks since schools closed have taken a toll on students.

However, she does not think the time is yet right to reopen.

She said: "What these past weeks have shown us is that there is no substitute for being in the classroom where the students can ask as many questions as they want, and teachers can pick up on the little nuances that show them that a child understands. Schools are about more than learning, they are places where students can meet and be with their friends - being away from their classmates and friends has taken its toll undoubtedly.

"There are 800 girls in our school, 75% of which come to school by bus, so if the social distance of two metres were applied only one tenth could attend school. Class sizes would have to be half the normal size and only 50 girls could be in the canteen at a time. There are too many variables that haven't been answered, so realistically, I don't think it is time to open schools yet."

Donna Deeney

'We need a tailored response and extension to rates holiday'

Close

Cathal Austin

Cathal Austin

Cathal Austin

Cathal Austin, manager at The Quays Shopping Centre in Newry, which houses around 60 retailers as well as some office accommodation, said it's impossible to put a figure on the financial cost of Covid-19.

"We have four retailers currently open in the centre - Sainsbury's, Marks and Spencer, Cunninghams Butchers and Medical Hall pharmacy," he said.

"I don't think the true cost of this will be known for months.

"The longer shops are in lockdown and not trading the harder it might be for some of them to get back up and running again. Nobody wants to do anything unsafe but we need to tailor a response to make sure jobs aren't lost on the back of it either."

Mr Austin called on the Executive to consider an extension of the rates holiday for the retail sector.

"Stormont needs to extend the rates holiday because once shops switch on their lights they've turned their costs on again," he said. "Even if we opened all the shops tomorrow with no social distancing I'm not convinced that customers will flood back because people are still scared."

Claire McNeilly

'Details on how to reopen and specific dates would be useful'

Close

Fr Martin Magill

Fr Martin Magill

Fr Martin Magill

Churches will face many challenges when it comes to keeping both clergy and parishioners safe once they reopen, a Belfast priest has said.

Faith leaders have said it is too early for collective worship to resume but church buildings should re-open for private prayer.

Fr Martin Magill of St John the Evangelist on the Falls Road says a lot of thinking needs to be done before churches begin opening up, in terms of cleanliness and monitoring who is going in and out. He would also like to see similarities in both Northern Ireland and the Republic.

"Some sort of five point plan would be good and specific dates would also be useful. We also need to have a sense of detail around how we actually re-open churches in terms of the required standards and nothing vague," he said.

"As we have heard many times this virus doesn't stop at the border so it would make sense to have as much similarity as possible to what is happening in the Republic."

On the human cost of churches being closed for several weeks, Fr Magill said: "Families who have lost loved ones haven't been able to go through the normal rituals of a funeral so I would be concerned about the impact (of the lockdown) on them."

Lauren Harte

'If I don't get support soon my 25 staff will be left unemployed'

Arthur Cufaj

Arthur Cufaj is the owner of the Castelle Italia restaurant in Carrickfergus.

"Last weekend we started doing takeaways and deliveries, but we'll probably have to shut again as we're not made for that," he said.

"We don't just make food, we provide customer service. I started the deliveries to try and bring in some income because we haven't received any furlough money and we have 25 staff which I'm paying from my pocket so far."

The restaurant has also been providing 2,500 free meals a week for the community in recent weeks, but can no longer afford to continue.

"If we don't get furlough money this week I will have to make everybody unemployed. I can't say exactly how much we've lost in the last seven weeks but it's been massive."

Asked what help he needed from Stormont, he said: "I don't know where to start. In hospitality we pay 20% VAT. The price of everything like wages is going up all the time.

"It's very hard to make money in normal times never mind during Covid. I don't think the Executive will sort anything out any time soon.

"It's happening everywhere, so they need a proper plan."

Allan Preston

'I made it a priority to pay everybody so they can pay their bills'

Close

Michael McAdam

Michael McAdam

Michael McAdam


THE owner of the Movie House cinema chain has called on Stormont to extend the rates holiday for the full year in line with the rest of the UK.

Michael McAdam revealed that if the rates relief was extended then that would result in an extra £300,000 to be used to help keep the business going.

Describing the lockdown as "devastating", Mr McAdam said he has been fortunate that he has been able to pay his staff.

"Being a small business owner I have made it a priority to ensure that we've paid everybody so they can pay their bills," he stated.

"When you don't trade for that amount of time it is just frightening. What's even more frightening is thinking how you're going to get out of it."

Mr McAdam, who is also involved in bowling and miniature golf, added that he, along with his competitors in cinema, have been looking at how to safely reopen and have made this clear to Stormont.

"We have been trying to give the Stormont Executive a complete understanding of just how serious we're looking at this," he continued.

"We need to get back into business and the world needs to go back to normal."

Ralph Hewitt

'Financial issues and players' mental wellbeing a real worry'

Keith Boyd

Sports clubs remain out of action, and for those in charge there are several concerns.

The top two for Dungannon Swifts FC chairman Keith Boyd are the financial implications of the break in play, and also the impact on players' mental wellbeing.

"The club's closed but I still have an electric bill, a water bill, insurance and all the rest to pay while there's absolutely nothing coming in the door," he said.

"We'll be OK until next season because I've been in business long enough to know you have to keep some for a rainy day. If the league doesn't start as scheduled in August, we would only be OK if we didn't have to pay anybody, but I don't know what way players' contracts are going to work.

"We would need the furlough scheme to continue or some sort of assistance. That would keep us going until whenever the football begins again.

"I also want training to begin in some way by the end of June. If they say even groups of five or 10 people, we can do that by splitting the players up. It's for their mental state more than anything - that's their biggest struggle."

Gareth Hanna

Belfast Telegraph