"The false debate between public health and the economy is a distraction - they are intrinsically linked."

12 Oct 2020

Owen Reidy, addressing Congress Disability Seminar Feb 2019


Speaking ahead of the expected NI Executive announcement on the Covid-19 pandemic, ICTU Assistant General Secretary Owen Reidy said:

“The Northern Ireland Executive have some big decisions to make in the face of increasing levels of C19 transmission. The decisions are challenging for any government as they have a number of serious factors to consider. But they are even more so for a NI Executive made up of a 5 party mandatory coalition with limited fiscal powers. The pandemic remains a serious challenge to our society, our health service and our economy. The false debate between public health and the economy is a distraction. We cannot have one without the other as they are intrinsically linked.

“There has been much debate in recent times about the idea of a circuit breaker, a short and focused but intensive lockdown to seek to break the chain of transmission. Should the Executive opt for this approach, it must be combined with hope and a clear plan after such a circuit breaker, as people need hope now more than ever.

“Any decision taken to further hibernate the economy must be coupled with the full original furlough scheme as announced by the Chancellor in late spring 2020. We have called for this repeatedly and regularly. This scheme guaranteed the wages of workers of up to 80% of their pay up to a maximum of £2,100 per month. If it is determined that the conditions require such a lockdown for a short period of time, then the mitigations to protect employment and the economy must also apply in full.

“The Chancellor’s most recently announced schemes are not sufficient to protect jobs and livelihoods for hard pressed working people and their families. Many jobs will not qualify and will fall through the cracks and others will not be sustained without appropriate funding. The testing, tracing and isolation arrangements also need to be examined and bolstered. While we have a system of statutory sick pay, £95 per week is clearly inadequate and some people cannot afford to properly isolate.

“We must also see better and more focused collaboration and coordination of activity in both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland for any serious initiatives to work in the interests of all our people.

“This virus is no respecter of the boundaries of states or the remits of government departments. Only an integrated and holistic approach can combine to preserve both lives and livelihoods.”