Festive bubbles to form in North amid call for Republic to follow suit

ireland
Christmas tree, © PA Wire/PA Images
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By David Hughes, PA Political Editor

People in Northern Ireland will be able to join “Christmas bubbles” to allow families to reunite over the festive period, as part of a UK-wide deal.

The UK Government and devolved administrations agreed the approach on Tuesday, despite concerns about the spread of coronavirus.

The temporary easing of measures will allow three households to mix in a bubble from December 23rd to 27th.

A joint statement issued by the four UK governments said: “As 2020 draws to a close, we recognise it has been an incredibly difficult year for us all.

Groups have already had to change or forgo their customary celebrations

“We have all had to make significant sacrifices in our everyday lives, and many religious and community groups have already had to change or forgo their customary celebrations to slow the spread of coronavirus and save lives.

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“This cannot be a ‘normal’ Christmas. But as we approach the festive period, we have been working closely together to find a way for family and friends to see each other, even if it is for a short time, and recognising that it must be both limited and cautious.”

Republic

Each Christmas bubble can meet at home, at a place of worship or an outdoor public place, but existing, more restrictive rules on hospitality and meeting in other venues will be maintained throughout the period.

Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill expressed hope that alignment could also be achieved with the Republic.

“I think it’s important, and I raised this in all conversations, that we need to look across the two islands for a common approach to the Christmas message,” she said.

“It’s important that people aren’t any more confused than they are.

“So we look forward to also later in the week we believe that Dublin will also make an announcement around the Christmas message.

Everybody’s grasping for some wee bit of hope and wee bit of light

“But I think it’s important that we’re very honest with the public to say that in a pandemic there’s very little that you can be concrete about, there’s very little certainty in dealing with the pandemic, but it’s our intention to allow families to have some space over the Christmas period.”

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Ms O’Neill acknowledged the move came with risks but she said it was important to give people some hope after a desperate year.

“It’s a message today of hope, but also a message of asking people to be responsible and to be safe and also be always mindful of our health care workers,” she said.

“Everybody’s grasping for some wee bit of hope and wee bit of light and we want to be able to give them that and the clearer the message can be across the two islands then that’s a better position for us all to be in.”

Exclusive

Christmas bubbles will have to be exclusive over the five day period, meaning people cannot move from one bubble to another over the period, it is understood.

Children whose parents are separated will be able to move between two separate bubbles, however.

People aged over 65 in care homes will not be able to join their families for Christmas under the new guidance.

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster welcomed the agreement.

“We of course recognise how important Christmas time is for so many people in Northern Ireland and the fact we have been able to secure agreement across Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland – the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom – is very strong because of course we know that people will want to come together from the four parts of the UK to be together at Christmas,” she said.

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