Northern Ireland Executive ministers and their officials have over the past 24 hours been involved in a number of initiatives and critical decisions relating to the Coronavirus emergency.
A roadmap promoting a Green Growth recovery from lockdown that develops Northern Ireland’s natural assets was today launched by the Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots.
During a visit to the Blakiston Houston dairy farm in Belfast, which has swapped fossil fuels for renewable energy sources, the Minister claimed the COVID-19 emergency had made people and businesses think and act differently.
In his view, there was now a real opportunity to put sustainability at the heart of the public and private sectors as Northern Ireland emerged from lockdown and focused on achieving the UK Government’s target of Net Zero Carbon by 2050.
Minister Poots argued: “Right now, we are presented with an exceptional opportunity – to make real and long-lasting linkages between the private sector, the public sector and the people, to help us achieve a total generational shift in how we approach our economy and our environment.
“We must not just defend our environment, we must develop it to maximise the benefits it presents. If we do this well, we create jobs, reduce carbon, enhance profitability, lower waste, increase efficiency and protect our environment and climate for future generations. What’s more, many of the solutions needed are simple, available and require only modest innovation, investment and attention.”
The roadmap sets out plans for a co-designed Green Growth Strategy, a framework of policies fostering the necessary conditions for sustainable business, innovation, investment and competition and also sets out plans for an inter-ministerial group that will weave Green Growth principles through all Government policies.
The Minister said he will consult the entire waste, agriculture, energy, environment, public and private sectors about how Green Growth could be achieved.
He noted: “Many businesses are already thinking green – they are already doing the right thing and reaping the benefits. What they need from us now is support, a clear focus and an achievable roadmap to help them do more. That is what the plan I’ve presented today does.”
At the Executive press briefing on COVID-19, Health Minister Robin Swann today reiterated the importance of everyone remaining on high alert for the potential of Coronavirus to still spread.
Extending his condolences to the family of the latest person to die of COVID-19, Minister Swann said while the incidence of the disease was falling, it would be a mistake to assume the threat had receded.
He cautioned: “Coronavirus has taken a terrible toll on this community, just as it has on countries around the world. We must never forget about that destructive power.
“As we move gradually out of lockdown, we must keep our defences up. Social distancing and hand washing are still the central message for me. That’s how we keep COVID-19 on the downward trajectory. If we relax our guard now, the consequences will be extremely serious.”
Economy Minister Diane Dodds called on students impacted financially by COVID-19 or suffering other economic hardship today to explore whether they could avail of funds to help get them out of difficulty.
An additional £1.4million is being made available to the higher education institutions’ annual support funds for alleviating student hardship through the June monitoring round.
Minister Dodds explained: “In May of this year, the Executive approved my bid for an additional £1.4million to support students who have been suffering financially due to the impacts of the virus.
“I am now pleased to be able to announce a further £1.4million to address financial hardship from my Department and as a result of this we are now able to increase the total of the student hardship fund to £5.6million.
“I would encourage any students who may be experiencing financial hardship as a result of COVID-19, or for any other reason, to contact their Higher Education Institution to determine if they are eligible to receive support.”
Finance Minister Conor Murphy announced the extension of measures to ensure Government departments continue paying suppliers impacted by the COVID-19 health emergency.
Relief measures announced in March for suppliers who provide goods and services and construction contractors, whose work has been reduced or paused temporarily will continue during the lockdown recovery.
Minister Murphy explained: “Nearly 100 suppliers to Government departments across a wide range of sectors including construction, catering, facilities management and maintenance have availed of the relief I announced in March.
“These support measures have provided a vital lifeline to these businesses, enabling cash to continue flowing through the supply chain and helping to pay salaries and protect jobs.
“Importantly it also means suppliers unable to meet their contractual obligations will be able to resume service delivery as we begin to emerge from lockdown.
“It is vital that we continue to protect suppliers during these challenging times, which is why the Executive has agreed to extend these measures until October.”