Belfast Telegraph

Ophelia closure of offices and shops could cost Northern Ireland economy £30m

By Linda Stewart

Storm Ophelia could cost the Northern Ireland economy as much as £30m, according to leading economist Dr Esmond Birnie.

Dr Birnie, a senior economist with Ulster University's Economic Policy Centre, said the daily output in Northern Ireland's economy was equivalent to around £100m.

"Let us assume that one-third of the workforce find their workplace shut down or are unable to get into work. That would imply, although that figure may be an exaggeration, a loss of output of about £30m," he said.

Dr Birnie said the figure could be too high for a number of reasons, including computers and the internet allowing people to work from home, and shopping or cinema trips being moved to later in the week.

"The cost of clearing up and repairing, such as fixing a roof, will actually add to economic activity and hence to the value of economic output," he said.

"In terms of Monday's storm in Northern Ireland, the greater concern is the risk to life."

Yesterday, numerous workplaces across Northern Ireland did close their doors and send employees home, including Almac and Randox.

Coca-Cola also closed down its Knockmore Hill plant in Lisburn from 11.30am, allowing all employees to go home.

Since opening its doors in 2010, the plant has only closed down once before, following a flooding incident.

A spokesperson said: "We made this decision to ensure that our staff do not need to make unnecessary journeys and so that they can return home safely.

"While this may cause some temporary disruption to our business, we believe that it is the right thing to do to ensure the safety of our people. We will work to make sure that any impact on our customers is minimised.

"We will monitor weather reports and advice from the authorities closely over the next 24 hours and the plant will reopen as soon as it is considered safe for employees to travel."

All AIB, Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank branches were closed across the island of Ireland and Invest NI closed its Belfast headquarters and other offices at noon due to adverse weather conditions.

A number of freight companies also announced that they would be cancelling services, including Beatties Freight, which said flights and ferry services had been suspended.

A number of major retailers such as Dunnes, Lidl, Musgrave and Argos also closed their doors. Shortly after 5pm, Tesco announced that it would be closing its stores.

Abbey Centre closed at 1pm but said it would be re-opening today.

A number of other shopping centres announced closures of individual stores on their premises, including Connswater, Forestside and Victoria Square in Belfast; Rushmere and Foyleside in Londonderry; and Ards and Erneside shopping centres.

Retail NI has questioned why the Education Authority's decision to close schools was taken so late on Sunday evening, amid suggestions Northern Ireland's response to Storm Ophelia was lacking.

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said: "There is no doubt this storm has cost the Northern Ireland economy severely, with thousands of businesses closing and extensive damage to property.

"However, legitimate questions need to be asked as to why the decision to close schools was taken so late on Sunday night."

Belfast Telegraph

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