Northern Ireland’s economy is in a “perilous situation” and would be destroyed by another lockdown, a senior Democratic Unionist Executive minister has said.
It would wipe out the beginnings of recovery from the pandemic for many firms and cost jobs, economy minister Diane Dodds added.
Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd asked her whether she was challenging the public messaging from her leader Arlene Foster.
Mrs Dodds said: “The Northern Ireland economy cannot afford another lockdown.”
She told her scrutiny committee at Stormont: “Those small shoots of recovery we are seeing would be destroyed.
“Even the fear alone of another lockdown would remove any lingering hopes businesses have of economic recovery.
“This is costing jobs and impacting on families.”
An Ulster Bank economist previously told the committee he was expecting economic output to fall 25%-30% in a single quarter.
Mrs Dodds said her message about the impact of restrictions on business was in step with the publicly expressed wish of First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill to protect the economy.
“They are cognisant of the fact that restrictions and lockdowns would be devastating for everybody.
“I am doing my job of warning that we are in very difficult and serious circumstances.
“It does rest heavily on our minds that the Northern Ireland economy is in a perilous situation at this particular time and it has greatly impacted on prospects and livelihoods of individuals and families.”
Large retailers’ lobbyist Aodhan Connolly gave evidence to the committee.
He noted an upsurge in violence by shoppers against staff during the public health emergency.
Police statistics on the subject were not immediately available for Northern Ireland.
Mr O’Dowd said big firms need to do more around enforcing the wearing of face coverings.
“If a large retailer is not enforcing that they are flagrantly ignoring it,” he said.
He added: “I am not asking for young shop workers to impose it.
“I am asking for large retailers who have the resources and wherewithal to put in place resources.”
The PSNI has said it is not their job to enforce the face-covering regulation in shops.
Mr Connolly added that retailers had spent £7 million on personal protective equipment and hand sanitiser.
“We take our responsibilities very seriously in communicating to people that they should wear it but we are not going to put our staff in harm’s way.”