More than 400 business leaders have sent an open letter to the First and Deputy First Ministers urging them to publish a timetable for reopening the economy, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Hospitality bosses such as Belfast hotelier Bill Wolsey, restaurateur Michael Deane and Garvan O'Doherty from Londonderry are among the hundreds who say they want to convey a sense of their fears for thousands of jobs and the future of our economy.
And a trade body for hotels has made its separate call for clarity, saying that 3,702 weddings booked for NI venues up to the end of July are now hanging in the balance.
The business owners, most of whom have not been trading fully since the last lockdown to manage the spread of Covid-19 began on December 26, say Northern Ireland is on the brink of its worst economic crisis.
From the retail sector are Pete Boyle, the owner of jewellery retailer Argento, as well as the managers of CastleCourt Shopping Centre in Belfast, and Buttercrane Shopping Centre in Newry, as well as Neville Moore of Moores of Coleraine.
Their letter, which has been seen by the Belfast Telegraph, says that while they don't have medical expertise, "our collective experience means that we can speak with some authority on our deeply held concerns about the potential profound and long-lasting impact that ongoing restrictions on our economy are having, not just on the economy and our businesses but the wellbeing and livelihoods of our staff".
In total, there are over two dozen hoteliers on the list, large numbers of bar owners, and manufacturers such as Deli-Lites in Warrenpoint.
Tourism businesses are also adding to the clamour, including Judith Owens, the chief executive of Titanic Belfast and Paul Cunningham, the managing director of Travel Ireland Coach Tours.
The bosses have said that the continued lockdowns are breeding a deep economic crisis.
While the Executive has published a pathway out of restrictions, no dates have been given and ministers are insisting they will be led by data, not dates, when it comes to reopening the economy.
A review of the pathway is to be carried out on April 15.
Many of the signatories have been in business for decades, and have seen their trade hit by the Troubles and by incidents such as the flag protests of 2014.
But they said that the present situation is the worst yet.
"We have endured many crises and challenges in this part of the world but it is no exaggeration that none of us, in all the years we have collectively been in business, have experienced as alarming and possibly devastating an economic situation as the one we currently face.
"No one would want to compare one crisis with another but we are all well aware of the damage to health and wellbeing that unemployment brings to individuals, families and our entire society."
The Executive's pathway outlines the steps to be taken towards reopening. At the phase three gradual easing point of the opening plan for travel and tourism, hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs will be allowed to reopen with mitigations.
At the same point of reopening for retail and services, non-essential retail and contact services can resume with mitigations. The sector will soon reach the previous stage of "cautious first steps".
And in the hospitality plan, drink-only pubs in Northern Ireland can open at the point of further easing, at stage four of five.
Meanwhile, hoteliers have said they will need an average of 17 days to plan for reopening re-open, and will need to take on over 2,500 staff before they can welcome guests.
According to the NI Hotels Federation, there are 143 hotels with 9,580 bedrooms certified by Tourism Northern Ireland.
Chief executive Janice Gault said that hotels have now been closed for 96 continuous days.
She said: "This is the longest period of lockdown since the onset of the pandemic. Trading over the last year has been challenging with only 120 days of trading, 38 of these with a curfew in place."
She said that if the Executive's approach to reopening did not allow them time to recruit, they would be unable to take full advantage of the potential of the staycation market.
"Hotels can offer a real opportunity to maximise the potential of staycations, create new employment and give much needed hope. The industry would like to see the sector included in the next review on April 15, so that they can plan effectively and help restore the economy."
Dear First Minister and deputy First Minister
We are a collection of 395 business leaders and owners from across our region who collectively employ thousands of people in a range of sectors of our local economy. Our hope in writing to you is to give you a sense of the fears we share for thousands of jobs and the future of our economy.
Many of us have seen our businesses closed completely or severely restricted in their operations for the majority of the past year. We are acutely aware that those closures and restrictions have been introduced as the Executive has grappled with the unprecedented challenge presented by the coronavirus pandemic. Equally, we appreciate that the task that you and your Ministerial colleagues have in guiding our society through this crisis is immense.
None of us are health experts. We are employers and entrepreneurs. We would not presume to offer the Executive medical advice, but our collective experience means that we can speak with some authority on our deeply held concerns about the potential profound and long-lasting impact that ongoing restrictions on our economy are having not just on the economy and our businesses but the wellbeing and livelihoods of our staff.
You will not need to be reminded that businesses right across Northern Ireland are seriously struggling. The support that the Executive have provided has certainly helped, but it cannot possibly insulate all businesses from all of the effects of this crisis. Many have mounting debts, having already consumed what reserves they have. They are paying money out every month to try to keep their businesses afloat and their staff in jobs even though they have no income whatsoever. And we are increasingly anxious that without a timely reopening of our economy, a huge amount of the more than 100,000 people on furlough in Northern Ireland will be made redundant. No one would want to compare one crisis with another but we are all well aware of the damage to health and wellbeing that unemployment brings to individuals, families and our entire society.
We are all heartened to see that our efforts are paying off and the virus is in retreat. We are hugely impressed at the world leading roll out of the vaccine that so many have already benefited from. We are evidently moving in the right direction that we hope will soon permit the safe reopening of our economy.
We have endured many crises and challenges in this part of the world but it is no exaggeration that none of us, in all the years we have collectively been in business, have experienced as alarming and possibly devastating an economic situation as the one we currently face. We know that you will be as keen to begin moving towards recovery as we are but real economic recovery cannot commence until all of our economy is reopen.
Our plea to you both as leaders of our region is to work with us to make that happen as soon as safely possible. Businesses need both hope and some certainty. Show us that our combined efforts are being rewarded with a proper, timetabled plan for reopening. We want to avoid the devastating mental health impact that flows from high levels of unemployment and avert a looming jobs crisis that will hit households in every constituency in NI. Let us begin on the road to recovery, secure jobs and start to rebuild our economy and stave off a jobs and economic catastrophe that will reverberate for many years to come.
We would greatly welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues and our concerns with you both in more depth.