Executive Ministers have today welcomed the reopening of retail and outdoor hospitality businesses as another positive step forward in the easing of Coronavirus restrictions.

First Minister Arlene Foster, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, Finance Minister Conor Murphy and Economy Minister Diane Dodds visited businesses in cities and towns across the province to mark the latest progress on the pathway to recovery.

First Minister Arlene Foster visited Dungannon where she met with Glyn Roberts of Retail NI, town centre business owners and representatives of the local traders’ group.

The First Minister said: “As we take another important step forward on our pathway to recovery, it is great to see the heart and soul of our high streets safely back open again today. These are important hubs within our towns and communities, both socially and economically.

“I would like to commend particularly the smaller independent traders, often family-run businesses, who have been hit hard during this pandemic. I have heard today of the significant challenges faced and overcome. Our retail and hospitality businesses have shown great energy, creativity and determination as they return to what they do best, providing fantastic products and services to the people of Northern Ireland.”

Speaking after meeting traders and shoppers in Cookstown, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “The past number of months have been difficult for everyone, not least our business community. I am delighted that we are now at a point where we are able to reopen our high streets. This is not only good news for business owners and the wider economy, but it will also be a huge relief to workers and their families.

“Retailers and other business owners have made great efforts to keep staff and customers safe. But we must remember that Covid-19 is still with us and we all have a duty to shop and socialise responsibly.”

Finance Minister Conor Murphy added: “Today is a great day for our retail businesses as they reopen their doors and welcome back customers.

“This morning I met with retailers in Newry and heard first-hand how vital my Department’s Localised Restrictions Support Scheme has been in helping them while they had been closed. More than 14,000 businesses across all council areas have benefitted from £305 million of support through this scheme. This financial assistance along with the extension of the 12 months rates holiday means many businesses including those in retail won’t pay any rates for the second year in a row, giving them much needed time to recover.”

Economy Minister Diane Dodds visited Victoria Square in Belfast as city centre shops reopened. The Minister then travelled to Portadown to speak to retailers about the return to trading after lockdown. Finally she visited the Seagoe Hotel in the Armagh town to see the measures it is taking to reopen its outdoor spaces to customers.

She said: “The reopening of our economy has started in earnest and I am delighted to see shoppers back on our high streets and customers enjoying outdoor hospitality once again. We still have much ground to cover but economic recovery is on the horizon and the reopening of so much of our economy today is a most important step towards it. Today, I announced that every person in Northern Ireland aged 18 and over will be eligible to apply for a pre-paid card worth £100 to spend in their local high street which will deliver a huge boost for our retail and hospitality sectors. Northern Ireland takes another step towards normality today. It is vital that this momentum is maintained.”

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