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DUP accused of ‘bogus Covid briefings’ over claims they blocked widespread lockdown restrictions

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Health Minister Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann

First Minister Arlene Foster

First Minister Arlene Foster

DUP MP Sammy Wilson

DUP MP Sammy Wilson

Justice Minister Naomi Long

Justice Minister Naomi Long

Health Minister Robin Swann

Senior sources in all three smaller Executive parties at Stromont have accused the DUP of engaging in “bogus briefings” about their position on Covid-19.

The Ulster Unionists, Alliance and SDLP claimed that Arlene Foster’s party was “pretending” that they had proposed sweeping coronvairus restrictions at last Thursday’s Executive meeting, which the DUP had successfully opposed.

They said that this was a totally inaccurate narrative.

A UUP source claimed that the DUP was “creating a fictional account to appease its own backwoodsmen”.

Earlier DUP MP Sammy Wilson told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster: “If the technocrats in the Department of Health and if some of the ministers in the Executive had had their way, these restrictions would be far more severe and many businesses would be experiencing far, far greater difficulties as a result of them.

“Other ministers wanted far, far more widespread restrictions and those were opposed by our party, and quite rightly so.”

But a senior Ulster Unionist source dismissed this claim as absurd.

He said: “It is incorrect on all fronts and it has no standing in the facts. Robin Swann never proposed sweeping lockdown restrictions.

“What Robin asked for at Thursday’s Executive meeting, he got.

“The DUP and every other party at the Executive table supported everything proposed by Robin. There was no opposition.”

Mr Swann himself strongly denied that he had been reined in by the DUP.

He said: “In light to what is being alleged this morning, I am not going to breach the confidentiality of Executive discussions to comment on ill-informed and bogus claims.

“Our public health messaging is too important to play games with.”

Radio Ulster’s Stephen Nolan Show reported claims that Justice Minister Naomi Long and Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon wanted a full lockdown imposed across Northern Ireland, as opposed to the localised restrictions that the Executive put in place.

Ms Mallon tweeted: “Deeply regrettable that, in the middle of a public health crisis, energies are being spent on giving misleading briefings.”

An SDLP spokesman said Mr Wilson’s comments had “no basis in reality”. He said that his party had argued for “clarification on the restrictions, not further restrictions”.

He called on the DUP to explain why one of its MPs was relating inaccurate reports from Executive meetings. Mr Wilson could not be contacted for comment.

Alliance leader Mrs Long also challenged the claims.

“I would suggest that whoever is commenting should at least try to be more accurate in future,” she tweeted. An Alliance source added: “We don’t discuss the ins and outs of Execcutive business. Those who do should make the effort to be more accurate.”

At last Thursday’s meeting, the Executive decided to impose localised limitations on people socialising in Belfast, Ballymena and other areas with high infection rates. Asked for a response to the UUP, SDLP and Alliance claims that the DUP was engaging in “bogus briefings” about the stance of the smaller parties, a DUP spokesman said: “Too many parties are worried about playing politics and positioning themselves.

“They should focus on working together rather than briefing out the contents of every Executive meeting.

“It’s a five-party Executive, there will always be differences of opinion, but we must focus on protecting lives and livelihoods.”

Meanwhile, Mrs Foster urged her Stormont political colleagues to “wise up” and end hostile briefings about coronavirus.

She told the Assembly: “Everybody should wise up. We are dealing with huge issues in the Executive.”

She said that Northern Ireland had reached a tipping point in the battle against Covid-19.

“People should stop briefing against each other,” she continued.

“We are supposed to be in a five-party coalition dealing with all of these issues and that is what I hope we do moving forward.”

Mr Swann said that he enjoyed the full support of Mrs Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill in a concerted approach to fighting Covid-19.

Two further deaths from coronavirus were reported over the weekend in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health said.

There have been 109 new confirmed cases in the last 24-hour reporting period as health chiefs grapple to contain rising rates.

Belfast Telegraph