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Discussions on relaxation of lockdown should be held within Executive – Mallon

The infrastructure minister made the comment after agriculture minister Edwin Poots suggested churches and garden centres could reopen.

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Shuttered stores on Donegall Place in Belfast (Justin Kernoghan/PA)

Shuttered stores on Donegall Place in Belfast (Justin Kernoghan/PA)

Shuttered stores on Donegall Place in Belfast (Justin Kernoghan/PA)

Discussion by ministers of any potential relaxation of lockdown rules should be held at Executive meetings, Nichola Mallon has said.

Northern Ireland’s infrastructure minister was speaking after agriculture minister Edwin Poots suggested churches and garden centres could reopen with social distancing measures.

“My view on things like this is that it is so complicated and so sensitive, and yet people want to know that their ministers are hearing their concerns and are considering them,” she told the BBC.

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Nichola Mallon (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

Nichola Mallon (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

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Nichola Mallon (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

“I don’t think it is useful to have debates on these matters out in public among ministers.

“My preference is to discuss all of these things at Executive, be led by the evidence and medical advice, and come to an agreed position and communicate that very clearly through to the public.

“The public have been great, the reason why we are in this position is because the public has really stuck to the advice to protect each other, and we need to keep in that place.

“That requires very clear communication, explanation and communication, and I think when there is any confusion, that can cause misunderstanding, and we don’t need that at this moment in time.”

Ms Mallon said her department is considering extending footpaths to facilitate longer term social distancing.

“We have to realise that social distancing is going to be with us for some time, that’s going to require us to do things differently,” she said.

“So on the back of that, looking around the world at cities and what other nations are doing, I’ve asked my officials to work up a number of pilot projects. One is around the extension of our footpaths because it’s not just an environmental improvement, it’s also an issue of public health.

“I have also asked them to work up pilots around pop-up cycle lanes, pedestrianised streets and to look to deliver all of this in partnership with councils and with the community.”

Ms Mallon said she is dealing with a “very difficult financial situation”, but there are things that can be done which “don’t cost huge sums of money”.

“So that’s what I’ve asked officials to look at,” she added.

“I think if we come through this ordeal and just go back to the way things were, we will have learnt nothing.”

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