Economy Minister visits Antrim as part of whistlestop tour as hotels, pubs, cafes and restaurants re-open after lockdown

Minister Diane Dodds (centre) is pictured with Paul Girvan MP and Pamela Cameron MLA during a visit to The Boat House and Restaurant in Antrim . Picture Steven McAuley/McAuley Multimedia

Northern Ireland’s tourism and hospitality sector will prove in the coming weeks why the region is renowned as a quality destination, Economy Minister Diane Dodds insisted today.

As hotels, pubs, cafes and restaurants opened their doors for the first time since lockdown, the Minister stated her belief that the sector would generate a lot of local trade in the absence of tourist numbers.

During a whistlestop tour of tourism and hospitality businesses that saw her visit the Seagoe Hotel and Head O the Road pub in Portadown, the Boathouse Restaurant and Gateway Visitor Centre in Antrim and also Hillsborough Castle, Minister Dodds declared: “Businesses in this sector are a cornerstone of the Northern Ireland economy, employing around 65,000 people and generating in the region of £1billion in revenue each year.

“But these businesses also represent something more. They are the places people go to socialise, relax and enjoy themselves. We can so easily take this for granted but after it has not been available for three months, I believe people will be very pleased to once again have the opportunity to visit cafés, hotels, pubs, restaurants and visitor attractions.”

The Minister stressed the need for tourism and hospitality business owners and their customers to ensure they take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and others from the risk of spreading Covid-19.

Mrs Dodds insisted: “The recent relaxation of social distancing rules by the Executive will have a direct positive impact on tourism and hospitality businesses and also on the people using them, but we must not be complacent.

“So, alongside social distancing, please remember to continue practising good hand and respiratory hygiene while using our hotels, cafés, pubs, restaurants and tourist attractions so that everyone can enjoy them safely.”

Meanwhile, Health Minister Robin Swann reiterated the need for members of the public to remain cautious about the lingering threat from Covid-19 and to follow the current health advice on how to prevent its spread.

As he urged everyone in Northern Ireland to take part in a nationwide applause for the NHS on its 72nd birthday at 5pm this Sunday, the Minister said: “Supporting the health service is about much more than applause. We have to keep doing everything we can to stop the spread of the virus. It is essential that the health service is protected from a second wave of infections. Please keep washing your hands and practising social distancing. Please keep doing the right thing.”

Minister Swann and Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride also paid tribute to the Irish Republic’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan after he announced he was stepping back from his role to spend time with his wife who is in a palliative care and his children.

In a joint statement, they said: “Our thoughts are very much with Dr Tony Holohan, his wife Emer, their children and family circle at this time. We have worked very closely with Tony and his colleagues in the Republic of Ireland from the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic. We very much appreciate all their support, co-operation and friendship. This is devastating news. The family can be assured of the support and compassion of everyone across this island.”

Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots renewed his call for households and businesses to recycle more, while recognising the many challenges the pandemic had presented the waste sector.

During a tour of the family run business Re-Gen Waste Ltd in Newry, Co Down, Minister Poots observed: “The Covid-19 crisis has shown us the essential nature of the waste sector and I commend Re-Gen for keeping our waste moving during the crisis. Without waste businesses like this continuing to function in the face of the challenges Covid created, there would have been a severe detrimental impact on our recycling rates. Continuing to recycle our waste is very important during this pandemic, to make sure that material flows are safeguarded. Safeguarding this flow also helps us to continue to deliver a low carbon, circular economy agenda, despite our current challenges.”

The Minister said Northern Ireland was already in a good position in terms of waste and recycling, with the household waste recycling rate for 2018/19 sitting at 50%, meeting the Northern Ireland Waste Management Strategy target nearly two years ahead of schedule.

Stressing it was important to keep making progress, he encouraged businesses that had recently re-opened, including the hospitality sector, to recycle more.

Mr Poots said: “With approximately 56,000 businesses and organisations in Northern Ireland there is the potential to make a significant contribution to the overall municipal recycling rate. It is estimated these businesses and organisations currently generate 773,480 tonnes per annum, with the potential for them to increase recycling to more than 80% by 2035 or 673,015 tonnes per annum.

“My emphasis for recycling initiatives is to realise the value of recycling to the local economy. Improving the quality of recycling and reducing contamination will deliver both environmental and economic benefits. I will continue to work with all stakeholders to maximise the value of waste for the local economy.”

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