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Editor's Viewpoint

Our politicians have now shown they can step up to the mark

Editor's Viewpoint


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A PSNI officer on patrol in a deserted Belfast city centre (PSNI/PA)

A PSNI officer on patrol in a deserted Belfast city centre (PSNI/PA)

PA

A PSNI officer on patrol in a deserted Belfast city centre (PSNI/PA)

The Executive could not win when it came to revealing the roadmap on the way out of lockdown. It was a case of damned if they did specify dates when each of the five steps would be implemented and damned if they didn't. In the end the politicians decided that it was better to work off a blank calendar to see how the pandemic evolves over the next couple of weeks.

In essence the roadmap depends on the public continuing to show the responsibility it has demonstrated in the main during the past seven weeks of lockdown.

How we exit lockdown requires a sustained fall in the rate of infection and in deaths. That will allow the scientists and the politicians to decide what steps can be taken with a fair degree of safety and what is still too risky.

It offers the hope of a relaxation of the rules on staying at home but still requiring the common sense to socially distance and not to place oneself in danger by reckless behaviour.

Many people, especially those in business or who desperately need to get back to work, would have preferred if the roadmap had dates appended to each step. That is understandable as commerce and business cannot be restarted by turning on a switch. Staff have to be brought back, suppliers contacted and new deals negotiated, all of which takes time.

But the politicians can argue with some validity that setting a date for a specific relaxation of the rules and then having to draw back and reimpose lockdown because of an unexpected spike in the pandemic would be worse than the cautious approach being taken.

However, there does need to be some details fleshed out if lockdown is to be eased. On the question of the use of public transport, how can the public be reassured that it is safe to use? What limits will be placed on the number of passengers carried? Will everyone have to wear face masks and how will those be obtained?

Furthermore, who will police how workplaces are observing issues like social distancing, protection for staff and interaction with customers or clients?

It is evident that ministers will have to give more information as each daily briefing passes and that each decision taken is fully explained and any required measures to protect health are spelt out.

It would be remiss not to congratulate the Executive in agreeing on the broad brush approach to easing lockdown. The parties have recognised that their primary duty at this time is to work on behalf of all the people of Northern Ireland. This pandemic is above political ideology and point scoring.

Previous public disagreements over sourcing of PPE, the potential use of the Army to distribute PPE and which scientific advice to follow were given short shrift by the majority of people here, irrespective of their political allegiances. They wanted action taken to keep them safe as far as possible and were willing to play their part. Politics would keep until another day.

There are tensions within the Executive - how could a five party administration avoid that - but the politicians demonstrated yesterday that they could step up to the mark and do their best for the people who elected them.

They have examined the various options open to them and decided which ones they thought would work best in the longer term. In effect they were doing what is best for Northern Ireland irrespective of where the best advice was coming from and that is how it should be.

Belfast Telegraph