The hospitality industry in Northern Ireland has expressed frustration at the country's roadmap, which includes no indicative dates for the sector's reopening.
The Executive has committed to reviewing restrictions every four weeks and said that the return of outdoor activities and venues will come ahead of indoors, but first minister Arlene Foster (pictured) said that, "putting in dates now for possible relaxations weeks away could not be done with confidence or certainty".
The framework outlines nine ‘pathways' for sectors, each of which has five phases for easing restrictions. The first step on the hospitality ‘pathway' will see the 11pm curfew lifted on takeaway and the reopening of unlicensed premises for table service for groups of up to six from two households. Wet-led pubs and nightclubs will be the last to reopen in steps four and five, respectively. Hotels come under the travel and tourism pathway and are set to begin reopening, with mitigations, in step three.
Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, welcomed the roadmap but said it was disappointing that parts of hospitality will be reopening after non-essential retail with no mention of additional support measures.
"There is a genuine fear among many in our sector that businesses are going to fail and jobs will be lost at the eleventh hour," he said. Neill also expressed frustration at the ‘singling out' of wet-led pubs for extended closure.
He said: "The Executive has made the decision to keep hospitality closed for longer than any other sector, without any engagement with the industry, despite our repeated calls to connect with us and start the planning process.
"The Executive must now engage and allow the industry to prepare so that it is in the right shape and has any specification requirements in place so that the reopening phase can be as smooth as possible. We understand that there will need to be a gradual easing of restrictions and that this blueprint will be led by data. The progression to reopen and any restrictions should be wholly evidence based.
"The hospitality sector has been effectively closed for the last year. There now needs to be recognition of the role that it has played and give those who have scrapped through a fighting chance. We acknowledge that the R rate must stay low for a sustained period of time, and we can reassure the Executive that the industry has created safe and sanitised environments in which people can go out and enjoy themselves again; enjoy a meal; and enjoy time with their family and friends."
Restrictions in Scotland are due to begin easing from the last week of April, while in England outdoor hospitality will begin reopening from 12 April at the earliest, while indoor dining and hotels will have to wait until 17 May. Businesses in Wales are still awaiting a roadmap.
Photo: Flickr - DUP Photos