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SDLP's Eastwood urges Executive to 'reconsider' timeline for exiting Covid-19 lockdown

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SDLP leader Colum Eastwood

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has urged the Northern Ireland Executive to "reconsider" its decision not to include a timescale as part of it's coronavirus lockdown exit plan.

The Executive published its five step plan on Tuesday, but unlike plans from England and the Republic of Ireland it does not include potential dates for lifting restrictions.

In the plan the Executive said its decision making "will be led by science and not the calendar".

Foyle MP Mr Eastwood said he was "disappointed" by the decision not to include dates, but said he "understood" the Executive's concerns.

He called for "maximum transparency" around decision making to allow people, businesses and communities to fully prepare for the changing situation.

"The first ministers must provide certainty to people who are worried about what’s happening and they have to provide hope that the pressures we’re living under are not going to be there forever," Mr Eastwood said.

"I believe that a timeline would have provided greater certainty and I know that people would have been sympathetic to any deviation from that timeline if circumstances change. This is a missed opportunity."

TUV leader Jim Allister said that the devolved regions of the UK were happy to follow a joint plan when receiving Treasury funding, but now it looked like the lockdown could be eased there was a "preference for difference".

Mr Allister said the issues should not be around slogans or devolution but that it could become a question of "who's got an economy left?".

The North Antrim said he wanted to see an urgency to get the economy up and running again.

"The stagnation of the status quo is going to do untold damage," Mr Allister said in the Assembly on Tuesday.

"It's very good to have a sat nav that gives you the direction of travel, but if the sat nav keeps saying 'don't start the engine', then it's not really advancing us is it?"

Jim Allister

UUP leader Steve Aiken described the plan as a "start" and said it "sets a direction of travel".

He welcomed that the five-party Assembly showed a "degree of cohesion" in coming up with the plan.

"Any decisions must be health-led and when those decisions are made, we will need to see as much detail published as possible so that the public and business community understand what will be happening at each stage of transition to what will be the ‘new normal’," Mr Aiken said.

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UUP leader Steve Aiken

UUP leader Steve Aiken

PA

UUP leader Steve Aiken

Alliance Party MLA Kellie Armstrong said the plan provided hope for people wishing to see their families and friends.

“The key will be in what comes next and implementation of this plan, as outlined, will be critical when it comes to turning the hope created today into reality for what our new normal future will look like," the Strangford MLA said.

“I welcome the fact that there is a comprehensive plan in place for testing and tracing as we move into the next stages and that the Executive has opted not to put dates against each stage, allowing themselves, instead, to be guided by science, the correct course of action.

Green Party MLA Rachel Woods said that she accepted the Executive's decision to be guided by scientific advice "rather than fixed points in time".

She said that any business wishing to reopen must abide by the guidance at all times and ensure staff safety.

Sinn Fein health committee member Colm Gildernew said that the plan "is clear, measured and sensible and at all times prioritises the health of the public".

“Crucially, there is flexibility in this roadmap and it provides for an ongoing review so we will not be restricted to calendar dates but rather will be able to respond and adapt to the changing situation day by day as this pandemic does not recognise timelines any more than it recognises borders. This means the restrictions will not be in place longer than they have to," he said.

Belfast Telegraph