May 12, 2020 / 12:25 PM / 23 days ago

Northern Ireland sets lockdown exit plan resembling Ireland's, but no timetable

FILE PHOTO: A closed and boarded up pub is seen in Belfast following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Belfast, Northern Ireland, May 7, 2020. REUTERS/Jason Cairnduff

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Northern Ireland laid out a five-stage roadmap for the easing of its coronavirus lockdown similar to Ireland’s, but its omission of any dates for action raised the chances of different parts of the island reopening at different times.

After Prime Minister Boris Johnson published a plan on Monday for how the United Kingdom could return to normal life, the constituent parts of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are diverging from the approach in England.

Like leaders in Scotland and Wales, Northern Ireland’s regional government said now is not the time to lift stay-home restrictions, contrary to Johnson encouraging some people to return to work this week.

The Northern Irish plan bore closer resemblance to Ireland’s five-stage approach than Johnson’s three-step roadmap and, like in Dublin, the Belfast executive will decide on whether to move from one stage to the next every three weeks.

However, Ireland intends to enter phase one next week with its final phase set for Aug. 18, meaning construction sites will likely open on the south side of the open 500-kilometre border with Northern Ireland on Monday but not in the north.

Northern Ireland operates under a devolved power-sharing government, mainly made up of pro-British politicians who wish to remain part of the UK and Irish nationalists seeking a united Ireland.

The power-sharing executive, established under a 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of sectarian violence, was split over the initial pace of the lockdown in March when Ireland shut schools and banned big events before Britain did so.

The pro-Irish Sinn Fein and pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) displayed a united front on Tuesday.

“Now we know some will want us to set a date for lifting restrictions, but we will not be driven by a timetable and we know that some will be disappointed by that,” First Minister Arlene Foster of the DUP told the regional assembly.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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