The British government’s furlough scheme has now ended – so can anyone explain how Northern Ireland nightclubs, which must legally remain closed, are meant to pay their bills? Because Stormont can’t explain it to this blog…

This week, I decided to send out a bunch of emails to government departments and ministers in Northern Ireland. Admittedly, this isn’t something I would normally choose to do – but I’m struggling to get an answer to a question. And judging by a couple of nightclubs in the province which have emailed me recently, so are they.

As you might know, the UK-wide furlough scheme officially ended yesterday. Exactly what the economic fallout from this will be remains to be seen – but for Northern Ireland’s nightclubs, this poses a major question. You see, nightclubs in Britain are now open again. England opened them on July 19th, and it was August 7th and August 9th for Wales and Scotland respectively. But Northern Ireland’s nightclubs officially remain closed.

So how exactly are they now supposed to pay their staff? The furlough scheme is finished, and they can’t open the doors in order to bring in customers with much-needed money. I think I’ve explained this predicament clearly enough. But what I cannot find anywhere is an explanation of how they’re supposed to fit this square into the circle.

Last Sunday, I sent out emails to a number of Stormont government ministers and their departments. I contacted the First Minister, Deputy First Minister, Health Minister, Minister for Finance, the Minister for the Economy and the Department for Communities. And just to be on the safe side, I also contacted the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. This means they’ve had all week now to reply.

Surely at least one of these ministers or their departments must be able to explain this for me, seeing that they’re all – with the exception of the Secretary of State – part of the group who decide on Northern Ireland’s Covid restrictions? Apparently not. As of this Friday morning, not one of them has been brave enough to attempt to square the circle – indeed, not one has even bothered to send a reply at all.

As one person who runs a club in Belfast said to me in confidence, “we’re absolutely f***ed”. Sadly, I find it hard to disagree…

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