Foster calls for 'collaborative' way forward on virus restrictions

The First Minister also said ministers were not planning on closing schools early for Christmas.

Arlene Foster has called for a "collaborative and collective" way forward as ministers ponder the coronavirus restrictions.

Stormont's leaders have clashed over a contentious voting mechanism that enabled the DUP to throw out a proposed extension of Northern Ireland's circuit-break.

The first minister said she hoped her party would not have to use the peace process-era safeguard again.

We do not want to be in that position. We want to be in a position where we can come together collectively.

Arlene Foster, First Minister

Further ministerial discussions are expected to take place around the handling of the pandemic.

Mrs Foster said: "I hope we do not have to use it again. Let's have a collaborative way of working with the health minister."

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill accused her partners-in-government of abusing a mechanism she insisted was designed to protect minority rights, not thwart health regulations.

Ministers have grappled with rising coronavirus case numbers and hospitals under strain.

'No early closure for schools'

Meanwhile, the DUP leader said ministers were not planning to close schools early for Christmas.

During a visit to St Columbanus school in Bangor, Mrs Foster said: "This is a crisis for our community and the economy. We have heard clearly from our businesses about the impact."

She added: "People who lost their jobs, they have lost all purpose in their lives. They need to get that back again, to feed their families."

She said the other parties complained about the use of the cross-community veto yet they were the ones who included it in the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

She added that public health had improved due to the interim restrictions and the reproductive rate of the virus had dropped below one.

"School is one of the safest places to be," she said.

We need to deal with these issues because people need to have their life chances so that they can make a future for themselves. We want to disrupt that as little as we possibly can.

Arlene Foster, First Minister

After four days of bitter executive exchanges last week, a majority of ministers finally agreed to an amalgam position proposed by the DUP, that combined health minister Robin Swann's one-week extension of the circuit-break with a subsequent phased reopening of the hospitality sector.

Mr Swann and Alliance Justice Minister Naomi Long both supported that proposal but insisted they only did so to prevent all the regulations limiting the opening of hospitality and close contact businesses expiring by default last Friday night.

  • Video report by UTV Correspondent Jane Loughrey: