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Suzanne Breen

U-turns and confusion over issues hardly inspires confidence from the public

Suzanne Breen



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First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill during a coronavirus media briefing at Stormont

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill during a coronavirus media briefing at Stormont

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill during a coronavirus media briefing at Stormont

The split in the British cabinet over lifting lockdown is an open secret.

Tensions between 'pro-economy hawks' and 'cautious lockdown doves' have been widely reported.

But, whatever the depth of divisions that exist in London, the ministers are all Tories sharing a broadly similar ideological outlook.

In Northern Ireland, mandatory coalition means the ministers around the Executive table come from five different political parties.

No wonder there wasn't enough agreement to publish a proposed roadmap out of lockdown on Thursday.

While there is consensus in many areas, considerable gaps remain in others. Stormont sources are hopeful that these can be bridged over the weekend with a final paper put to the Executive on Monday.

If ratified, it could then be published with statements from the First Minister and Deputy First Minister on Tuesday when the Assembly sits.

Boris Johnson will unveil his lockdown exit strategy in a TV address on Sunday night.

The DUP insists that it is not slavishly following Downing Street's lead on coronavirus, but the opposite impression remains firmly rooted in nationalist minds.

While the British government's economic response to coronavirus has so far been first-class, the same cannot be said of its record in almost every other area.

While we have been spared a high death toll on this side of the Irish Sea, it seems purely down to geographical good fortune rather than any measures the Executive has put in place.

On closing schools, PPE, care homes, and testing, Stormont has had two speeds - slow and slower.

There is a very strong argument that lives could have been saved - particularly in care homes - had a different course of action been taken.

Confusion has reigned supreme on some issues. On Thursday, the Executive urged the public to consider wearing face masks for short periods in enclosed spaces when the previous week Mrs Foster had described the medical case for masks as "pretty weak".

Just last month, Northern Ireland's Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride, said that any benefit from wearing face masks would be "marginal at the very least".

Such policy U-turns at Stormont, without adequate explanation, does not inspire public confidence.

On extending lockdown for another three weeks, the DUP and Sinn Fein were thankfully united.

What those advocating a significant easing of the restrictions fail to acknowledge is that until there is a vaccine or an effective coronavirus drug treatment, people will not return to anything remotely like their normal patterns of behaviour.

Even with restricted numbers, spaced seating and other measures in place, it's very difficult to see restaurants and bars not struggling to attract customers.

The health versus wealth argument is a wholly false one.

A second wave of Covid-19 would see lockdown swiftly return. There is no easy escape route from this awful virus no matter how much we may wish for one.

Belfast Telegraph