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Coronavirus: Pressure on Finance Minister Conor Murphy after failure over order for vital health worker equipment

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Conor Murphy

Conor Murphy

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Conor Murphy

Finance Minister Conor Murphy was facing criticism on Friday night after he admitted that a joint order for vital Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was not completed.

The Sinn Fein man was forced to backtrack days after pledging a "significant" consignment of PPE had been secured with the Irish Government.

However, Mr Murphy has promised health workers will get the protective equipment they need.

It comes as 12 more people died from coronavirus in Northern Ireland, bringing the total to 48.

Across the UK as a whole the death toll surged by 648, bringing the total to 3,605.

And in the Republic 22 more people died, bringing the total number of deaths to 120.

As concerns grow that front line workers will run out of supplies, it was confirmed on Friday that an order of five million pieces of PPE was placed with the UK Government.

Rest assured this Executive will do everything we possibly can to protect our front line workers and those in their care Conor Murphy

Mr Murphy said that a request had also been made to the Irish Government for a portion of their next PPE delivery from China.

TUV leader Jim Allister accused Mr Murphy of misleading the Assembly over the joint order, and said in normal circumstances he should be asked to step down.

At a press briefing on Friday Stormont leaders presented a united front, headed by Health Minister Robin Swann just hours after Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill accused him of being "too slow" over the coronavirus crisis.

Mr Murphy said his department's efforts to secure a joint PPE order had been "upended" by bigger economic players.

He said the Executive was now trying to place a new order with a different supplier in China as well as the new order with the UK Government.

Other measures included a memorandum of understanding with the Irish Government over PPE supplies, and working with local manufacturers to meet future demand.

"This is a fast moving and volatile market," he said.

"However, rest assured this Executive will do everything we possibly can to protect our front line workers and those in their care."

I think he diminished himself considerably by not even being willing to face up to the fact that he had misled everyone on this including the Assembly Jim Allister

Mr Swann said PPE was an "absolute priority" for the Executive and that it was aggressively pursuing international, national and local supply routes.

Asked if he would apologise to health workers for raising hopes over the PPE order, Mr Murphy said: "I speak every single day to people on the front line, they tell me keep doing what you're doing... I make absolutely no apology for acting as quickly as I could to establish those supply lines.

"Measures beyond all our controls were superseded by greater economic powers but we will not give up in trying to supply front line services with the PPE they require."

Mr Allister told the Belfast Telegraph: "I think he diminished himself considerably by not even being willing to face up to the fact that he had misled everyone on this including the Assembly.

"On Tuesday he told the Assembly that this order was under way and patently it was not."

He said Sinn Fein had attempted to play politics with a serious health issue.

"I think that's why (Conor Murphy) is really anxious to try and align us with Dublin. It didn't work but now tonight we know we're getting the supplies from where you'd expect to get them from," he said.

Asked if he felt Mr Murphy should step down, he said: "It is a serious matter to have misled the public and built false hope. In any other system that would be enough for someone to go. But of course in Stormont no-one ever pays the price."

Concerns were expressed with the first batch of PPE equipment which arrived in Dublin from China with images online showing gowns leaving arms exposed. Mr Swann warned he would not accept any inferior materials.

Belfast Telegraph