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Is coronavirus roadmap taking us in the right direction? Eight sectors of NI life express their views

'Some may open regardless as they cannot afford to stay shut'

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Alan Mercer

Alan Mercer

Barber Neal Toner

Barber Neal Toner

Martine Mulhern

Martine Mulhern

Cathal Austin

Cathal Austin

Fr Martin Magill

Fr Martin Magill

James Huey

James Huey

Michael McAdam

Michael McAdam

Keith Boyd

Keith Boyd

Alan Mercer

Alan Mercer of Hillmount Garden Centre said the lack of a specific timeline in the road map means garden centres could be left in "dire straits". He said businesses could take matters into their own hands and reopen earlier than the plan dictates.

A day after calling for "clarity" from Stormont, he said he was "delighted" garden centres are mentioned in stage one, but the lack of a timeline was "frustrating".

"We were just so hopeful for a date. We kind of knew that there would be no dates, but it's getting so close to the end of our peak trading period that we were surprised that they couldn't give us some indication," he said.

"We've spoken to other garden centres and it's getting to the point where they're keen to reopen and say: 'We're reopening, what are you going to do about it?' We're keen to do this by the book and do it right for our staff and safety.

"We've got the lowest infection rate in the UK, and being an island you'd imagine we'd be the first to reopen, but for some reason we're going to be lagging behind.

"I have to warn that I can imagine some garden centres are going to get into dire straits and are just going to reopen regardless, because they can't afford to stay shut any longer."

Gillian Halliday

'It's a shambles... we have waited for so long with no income'

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Barber Neal Toner

Barber Neal Toner

Barber Neal Toner

Barber Neal Toner of JFH Social in Belfast and Newcastle, a salon owner and UK-wide teacher, said the Executive plan provided little clarity for him or his 12 staff.

"We can open in phase four but ministers haven't suggested when that is," said Mr Toner.

"It's unprofessional. How can our industry be expected to work with that? It's a shambles.

"It's so frustrating. We're getting a sense that our salons won't be allowed to open until August, which is further along than I thought.

"If that's how long it takes, I'm not disappointed. What I am disappointed about is that I believe Northern Ireland could have taken control of the virus faster.

"I've got 12 staff unsure of what's happening. They don't know if they're going to get 80% of the salary that they're entitled to. We've waited for so long with no income."

Mr Toner said he feels "like there's a lack of direction for the people".

"A date for step one should've been put in place," he said. "There's a psychology with that. If you give people a date to work towards they know where they are. A lot of people are just trying to keep their heads above water."

Claire McNeilly

'All it has told me is who's coming back, but not when or how'

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Martine Mulhern

Martine Mulhern

Martine Mulhern


The decision not to change the way education is delivered in Northern Ireland while other sectors take their first step towards a return to normal life has been welcomed by the principal of a Londonderry college.

Martine Mulhern, head of St Cecilia's College in Derry, said there were too many variables on how reopening schools would work and, until these were resolved, she would be uncomfortable with lifting restrictions.

She is relieved things will remain static for now, but was disappointed that even a vague timeline was not provided.

Ms Mulhern said: "The steps are sensible, they are talking about phasing the children back and it makes sense that they would start with the key workers' children, but what is missing completely is any sort of a timeline of when we start to prepare for this.

"What is also missing from the announcement is the 'how'.

"For each of the steps there is going to have to be a collective how are we going to manage each step, which will be the same for all schools.

"All this announcement has told me is who is coming back, but not when or how, so I am disappointed," she added.

Donna Deeney

'I can't order equipment or stuff I need without a definite plan'

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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 the plan is "sensible" but "disappointing from a business perspective".

"I've spoken to tenants with stores on both sides of the border who've said that with the southern plan, they can actually work towards reopening because they have an indicative timeline, whereas here we don't," he said.

Mr Austin said that it's also confusing for people because there's no actual date for step one, which means "people could think it has started already".

"There's no point in having a plan unless you've got dates on the plan, so that's disappointing," he said.

"Nobody would be critical if they inserted provisional dates and then decided to move them because we weren't quite there yet. If phase one was starting in three weeks' time, but that had to change because of the R number, no one would mind. I need to know when my businesses are reopening because I need to plan workforce and expenditure, but without a definite, clear plan, I can't order equipment or stuff that I need."

Claire McNeilly

'Private prayer will please parishioners... now it's about safety'

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Cathal Austin

Cathal Austin

Cathal Austin

Churches will have to implement both government and diocesan guidelines over the coming weeks ahead of reopening, a Belfast priest has said.

Step one of Stormont's plan permits drive-through church services and churches opening for private prayer, which faith leaders had anticipated ahead of collective worship resuming.

While there has been inevitable eagerness to return to old patterns of worship, clergy including Fr Martin Magill of St John the Evangelist on the Falls Road anticipates a very gradual return to normality. "As a parish, I have absolutely no idea how we would go about a drive-through church service as it's completely new territory. I can't see some parishes being able to facilitate that option," he said.

"I have no doubt that many of our parishioners will be pleased to able to have private prayer. Now we have to figure out how we do that safely and it will require much planning.

"Our own church building is massive and our problem will be trying to manage keeping a place of that size both clean and safe. We will have to get our head around the logistics of all of this, in particular getting the necessary volunteers in place, so that we are fully ready when the time to reopen comes around," he added.

Lauren Harte

'Executive phased plan with no dates is double-edged sword'

James Huey


James Huey runs the Walled City Brewery restaurant in Londonderry and called the Executive plan "a double-edged sword".

He welcomed the clarity of each phase, but said with no dates he can't plan to reopen.

"Arlene Foster said stage five could be December which is effectively the loss of a year," he said.

"We've tried to hibernate the restaurant side of the business but we still have costs like insurance."

Employing 14 staff, he said the extension of the furlough scheme was "extremely welcome". He said offering a food delivery service isn't viable, but hopes to offer food collection to customers.

"The new reality is that restaurants are going to have to become takeaways to have any type of revenue."

Licensing laws for breweries in Northern Ireland also means he can't offer a drinks delivery service.

"It's so frustrating. It would be the easiest way for us to survive."

The "hibernation" of his business is costing around £1,000 a week, but he has been able to benefit from a rent holiday, business grant and overdraft extension from his bank. "The problem is though we are just racking up more debt that we'll have to pay back."

Allan Preston

'It's very difficult ... you just can't say leisure includes all leisure'

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Michael McAdam

Michael McAdam

Michael McAdam

The owner of the Movie House cinema chain hopes he can reopen his business as soon as possible but does sympathise with politicians making the decisions.

Michael McAdam believes leisure activities cannot all be put under one banner as social distancing measures can be more strongly enforced in cinemas, compared to restaurants or pubs.

"As human beings, we have to say that we don't envy those in the Assembly who are having to make these decisions," commented Mr McAdam, who is also involved in ten-pin bowling and miniature golf.

"The decisions they are taking are in all of our interests and the thing is all of us take our own personal safety very, very seriously.

"I don't think there can be one broad stroke.

"You just can't say 'leisure' includes all leisure.

"It's very, very difficult and I recognise that the decisions being made are for the better good.

"With the fact that there is no time limit on this, all we can do is hope upon hope that the numbers of deaths go down and the levels of the infection go down.

"I would like us to get to the phase that I would like to see open, which would be leisure, as soon as possible."

Ralph Hewitt

'It's so important to get the boys out for their mental state'

Keith Boyd

Keith Boyd's two greatest concerns appear to have been met by the government announcements.

The Dungannon Swifts FC chairman had been keen to protect the mental wellbeing of his players with a phased return to training. He also said that financial assistance would be key to protecting clubs should the start of next season be delayed.

"We can go back to training with up to 10 people per session in Step Two of the Stormont Executive's plan so, as I said before, I'm hoping that will be around the end of June," he said. "We can put everything in place, sanitisers and spraying the changing rooms or whatever needs to be done and get on with it.

"It's just so important to get the boys back out for their mental state. All our guys seem okay so far but they need to be back out training with people soon. I don't think there will be football now until maybe October but nobody really knows on the timescale of it.

"The other issue I wanted resolved was financial assistance to be extended for us, that's now been done with the furlough scheme brought in until October."

Gareth Hanna

Belfast Telegraph