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Northern Ireland hospitality chief urges Executive to engage on reopening of industry


Colin Neill, Hospitality Ulster chief

Colin Neill, Hospitality Ulster chief

Colin Neill, Hospitality Ulster chief

The body which represents the hospitality industry in Northern Ireland has called for further engagement and indicative dates on reopening pubs and restaurants.

The comments come following Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirming on Monday that England was to proceed with reopening outdoor hospitality.

In England from April 12, non-essential shops, gyms, hairdressers and close contact services can reopen, as well as hospitality venues serving food and drink outdoors.

Northern Ireland's pathway out of restrictions document agreed by the Executive does not include any indicative dates for reopening the hospitality sector, with the next review on restrictions due to be discussed by ministers on April 15.

Criticising the Executive for a "lack of engagement" with the hospitality industry, Hospitality Ulster chief Colin Neill explained he was looking to the moves in the rest of the UK with "frustration".

"We have England opening on the April 12. We have Scotland and Wales on April 26 and indeed they have dates for May for allowing hospitality indoors," he told the BBC.

"Yet we don’t know what the criteria is here to reopen and we have had no engagement at all.

"Whilst we didn’t publish our Covid data this week so far, it looks like we are going to be as good as or better than England and Scotland. So there’s no reason why we can’t be reopening on the April 26 outdoors.

"Why are we so different? Engage with us and tell us that. Yes, there is the risk of a new variant but we can’t just sit there and go 'There is a risk'. The chance of zero Covid - is zero. We are going to have to live with an acceptable risk.

"If we are data driven and the data is the same, why? SAGE are advising all of the chief medical officers. Why do we arrive at a different position?"

Mr Neill also rejected claims that the situation in Northern Ireland was influenced by the lower level of vaccination in the Republic of Ireland, adding that the industry was "not getting any engagement to be told" whether this was the reason the industry here was behind the rest of the UK.

"We have seen regional differences in Scotland, Wales and England who are all one island. We could have the same policy on the whole island of Ireland."

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