Swann mulling over legal advice in the hope of lifting restrictions in absence of Executive
After leading the charge for Covid restrictions to be lifted, the DUP was yesterday blamed for people in Northern Ireland still having to wear face masks and use vaccine passports.
Hopes had been high that Health Minister Robin Swann would be able to find a way to lift Covid restrictions despite the collapse of the Executive.
Mr Swann is considering legal advice he had received on lifting the measures following the resignation of the DUP’s Paul Givan as First Minister.
It is believed the advice from the attorney general has highlighted potential legal complications if Mr Swann acts without the wider endorsement of an Executive. Executive approval is ordinarily required for decisions that are significant, controversial or cross-cutting.
Yesterday, Mr Swann said: “I can confirm I have now received detailed legal advice on the factors that need to be considered when seeking to amend Executive Covid regulations in the absence of an Executive. This advice is now being given careful consideration and it is my intention to engage with Ministerial colleagues.”
The regulations are not due to expire until March 24. Restrictions still in place include the use of face coverings on public transport and in shops, as well as the use of vaccine passports to enter nightclubs and certain indoor events.
Sinn Fein Vice President Michelle O’Neill has said Mr Swann will have her “full support” to lift the remaining restrictions. But she warned there is a “real prospect” they may have to stay.
Speaking in Belfast, Ms O’Neill said: “I am aware now that the health minister has received that legal advice and he wants to give it a bit more consideration.
“I hope that we will be able to find a way forward, something which gives the public some hope and some progression in terms of the Covid restrictions.
“This is the direct consequence of the DUP stunt last week, them walking away whenever the rest of us are trying to deal with the pandemic. This is the outworking of what the DUP have done.”
Asked about the prospect that the remaining Covid restrictions may remain in place, she said: “We have to see the legal advice, but of course that is a real prospect, this is the outworking of the DUP’s antics.”
SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon MLA said yesterday “should have been a major milestone in our recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic”.
“After all the sacrifices that people, families and businesses have made over the last two years, we should have been in a position to lift a significant number of the remaining legal restrictions. Instead, we’re all locked into legal restrictions because Jeffrey Donaldson and the DUP continue to boycott the Executive and shirk their responsibilities to people,” she said.
Alliance health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw MLA said it was disappointing there was no Executive to take a collective decision across a range of issues — from self-isolation periods to mitigations in retail and hospitality.
She added: “There remains a significant risk from the virus, and it appears sensible to retain basic mitigations through at least until towards the end of the March. However, it also appears that the evidence was going to enable the raising of some further restrictions. Of course, the DUP can at any time appoint a First Minister and get the Executive back to work. It is now the sole delay in moving forward with lifting restrictions.”
Yesterday, officials said another seven people had died with Covid-19 in the previous 24 hours, and another 3,609 positive cases were confirmed.