Assembly says regulations must be followed as MLA tells of bringing sandwiches into work
A former health minister has told how he has been opting for sandwiches after being “effectively banned” from the Stormont canteen under new Covid certification rules.
Jim Wells, who has not been vaccinated, said that MLAs who declined to provide Covid certification were unable to access the dining hall and bar facilities at the Assembly.
“The building is licensed and therefore controlled by the new regulations,” he added.
“I can’t go into it, but I bring sandwiches. I don’t expect a whip-round. It’s not the end of the world.
“I never frequented the bar anyway, so it’s not a loss to me.”
The Assembly Commission confirmed it had issued guidance to MLAs and that the requirements also applied to events held in the building.
Following a Stormont debate yesterday that divided MLAs, the controversial regulations were passed by 59 votes to 24, with the DUP voting against.
People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll abstained.
People wishing to access nightclubs, pubs, restaurants and other licensed premises will need to provide proof of vaccination, a negative lateral flow test result or evidence of previous Covid infection. The scheme was introduced late last month with a two-week grace period to allow businesses to adjust to the requirements.
South Down MLA Mr Wells said he took multiple Covid tests every week, using both lateral flow and PCR options.
“I’m getting my PCR test [today]. I’m probably one of the most tested people in Northern Ireland,” he added yesterday.
“If I produce evidence of that, that would entitle me to visit the Members’ Dining Room on Thursday or Friday.
“I hadn’t that, so I couldn’t go then. I can’t use any of the catering in the building.
“I was told that from December 13, this would be enforced at Stormont.”
Mr Wells is still able to access other parts of the building, including the chambers.
“It hasn’t been a great restriction upon me, so I’m not complaining,” he said.
The Assembly Commission, which looks after the day-to-day operation of Stormont, said it had to abide by the rules.
“Members and passholders are required by law to comply fully with the regulations and to assist Assembly Commission staff and contractors in their operation,” it added.
It also said provisions were already in place for people who can show proof of medical exemption from vaccinations or participation in a clinical trial for a coronavirus vaccine.
Covid certification rules apply for entry to all large indoor and outdoor events, including concerts and sports.
The outcome of yesterday’s debate, which overran from the previous evening, prompted Health Minister Robin Swann to plead for a unified message from the Executive and wider Assembly.
“I would ask for those who seek division over this issue to look to what we can achieve when we pull together rather than looking for further division,” he said.
“We tackle Covid as a united society in Northern Ireland, doing everything that we can and everything that we know works.”
He also referred to comments made earlier this week by DUP First Minister Paul Givan, who warned that a “storming is coming” with the expected spread of the Omicron variant across Northern Ireland.
“You are better preparing for a storm when it is not raining, rather than waiting until you are up to your knees in water,” Mr Swann told MLAs.
“That is what these regulations, as part of a wider package, intend to do.”
Earlier, DUP MLA Pam Cameron said she was disappointed by Mr Swann’s decision to “ignore the lack of crossbench support for this policy prior to its becoming active”.
“The Health Minister chose to ignore that lack of crossbench unity, instead deciding to plough ahead with this particular piece of legislation,” she said.
“Such affirmative votes were held in Scotland and Wales, so I ask, why was the minister so reluctant to allow this house its place in terms of its policy?”
A further four Covid-related deaths were recorded yesterday, with 20 deaths during the past seven days, down from 31 the previous week, according to official figures.
The total local death toll now stands at 2,932.