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North’s hospitals and schools risk running out of food, DUP Minister claims

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Northern Ireland’s Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has claimed the region’s hospitals and schools risk running out of food when post-Brexit Irish Sea trade arrangements are fully implemented.

A grace period that limits the level of red tape required to move retail food products from Great Britain to Northern Ireland runs out at the end of March.

Once that exemption expires supermarkets will have to comply with more rigorous animal health certification processes under the terms of Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

“It was made very clear to us by the suppliers to both hospitals and schools that if the current arrangement for supermarkets isn’t extended in a few months’ time that they will not be able to supply our hospitals and schools with food,” Mr Poots, a DUP minister, told BBC Radio Ulster.

“That is a major crisis and I have raised this with Michael Gove.

“Seriously, are we going to have a situation where our hospitals and schools are not able to feed the children at school, they’re not able to feed their patients?

“That is an outrageous situation that we in Northern Ireland have been put in as a result of the protocol negotiated between the UK Government and the European Union.”

Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard accused Mr Poots of “talking up a problem”.

“He’s peddling panic needlessly to divert the gaze of angry supporters who are angry at Irish Sea Border,” he tweeted.

‘More than teething problems’

Meanwhile, the chief executive of Retail Northern Ireland, Glyn Roberts, has appealed to the UK government to ensure that businesses and manufacturers were compliant with the new regulations introduced because of Brexit.

Mr Roberts told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that he had no doubt the current problems with supply were “more than teething problems” as had been claimed by British prime minister Boris Johnson.

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Foster: Greater use of local products good thing t…

However, he said he was confident that “to use an old Belfast saying, it will collapse into place”.

Many in the wholesale sector had been preparing for the changes under Brexit for some time, but he said that the issue remained a “big challenge” for many British suppliers who had not made preparations or filled out the necessary forms which was leading to delays.

It was vital the UK government reinforce the message of the importance of being compliant with the new regulations, he said.

Mr Roberts urged shoppers in the North to continue to buy as normal and not to stockpile. – Additional reporting: Vivienne Clarke

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Ireland

Northern Ireland protocol problems ‘foreseeable’, says Foster

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Problems with the Northern Ireland protocol were predictable and had been foreseen, the First Minister said.

Hauliers have faced difficulties transporting stock to Northern Ireland from Great Britain and pet owners have to organise veterinary procedures for rabies if they want to bring their animals across the Irish Sea.

Northern Ireland is continuing to follow some of the EU’s rules to prevent the establishment of a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The DUP leader told the BBC’s Radio 4: “It is most definitely a structural problem in the Northern Ireland protocol.

“We warned about that last year when people voted to bring in the protocol, that there would be difficulties moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”

The protocol is designed to allow Northern Ireland to follow the EU’s customs rules and has caused delays at the ports because of new declarations and checks.

The DUP has been vociferous in opposition to the protocol’s operation.

Ms Foster said: “The prime minister promised us that there would not be any difficulties, but given the protocol and all the difficulties we have seen on the ground it was very clear that this was going to happen – it was all foreseen.”

She accepted that there would be opportunities for businesses in Northern Ireland to trade freely with the EU and the rest of the UK due to its special status.

She said she was committed to making the best of the current arrangements.

Ireland

Brexit: Protocol gives North ‘significant market a…

Goods are flowing effectively between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the UK government has said.

The end of the Brexit transition period has produced deep-seated structural problems which will not be quick to resolve, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) warned earlier this week.

The UK government must intervene with extra cash before jobs are lost at freight companies, the industry said.

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Ireland

Belmullet GP working remotely while sick with Covid due to lack of cover

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A GP in Belmullet is continuing to work over the phone while sick with Covid because he is unable to find cover.

Dr Fergal Ruane told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that the Co Mayo town was shell-shocked with the high levels of Covid-19 in their community. There were 700 cases in the last two weeks with deaths “in the double digits”.

While the rise in cases had been inevitable, the high numbers had been a shock. The community was living in fear, he said. The town was a Covid enclave, in a remote area with a small population. “We’re a remote community on its own.”

Belmullet has the highest incidence of Covid-19 in Ireland. New figures released on Thursday night show the disease spreading in the remote area at a rate more than four times higher than the national average.

Some 700 people from the population of 12,600 had tested positive for the virus in the last fortnight, giving an incidence rate of 5,555. The national incidence rate currently stands at 1,334 cases per 100,000 people.

Covid had devastated the area, Dr Ruane said. The elderly were dying and people in their 50s were ending up very sick, with many in intensive care facing a slow recovery.

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Mayo village rocked by death of nurse from Covid-1…

The community was under severe strain, one of the two local paramedics was in hospital and a local pharmacy had to open with only three staff, he added.

“I have Covid myself, I can’t get a locum, so I am working on the phone.” He said he had no choice but to work as there was no cover available. The first few days of his illness “were not pleasant”, he said.

Dr Ruane said that in the week after Christmas “from 9am to 8pm the phone did not stop ringing.”

The community was rallying together, as they always did in difficult times, but people from outside the area were not welcome in Belmullet at the moment, he said.

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Ireland

Special schools could be allowed to reopen on voluntary basis

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The Department of Education is understood to be exploring whether to allow individual special schools to reopen if enough staff are willing to return on a voluntary basis.

However, sources told The Irish Times that there are concerns that such a move would be divisive and antagonise school staff unions.

Most stakeholders feel the fastest pathway towards reopening special education rests on building confidence among staff over the safety measures and seeing a decline in virus transmission rates in the community.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) and Fórsa, the union which represents special needs assistants, resumed talks on Thursday with the Department of Education over reopening schools.

All sides have reaffirmed their commitment to the earliest possible resumption of services to school students with additional needs.

It follows the collapse of plans to reopen schools earlier this week amid rancour and acrimony.

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Nothing rushed about special education reopening s…

While Minister for Education Norma Foley accused unions of rejecting public health advice that schools were safe environments, unions insisted the Government move to reopen schools was premature.

On Thursday, Ministers and the unions were keen to emphasise that they were willing to re-engage and work towards solutions.

INTO general secretary John Boyle said talks with the department were “constructive” and the union hoped to raise the reasonable concerns of members to find a route towards a “safe and orderly reopening”.

Fórsa said it shared the goals of the department in making in-school provision for students with special education needs available as soon as possible.

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