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I won't oppose the Army being brought in if it will help to save lives, says Michelle O'Neill

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Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill at Stormont yesterday

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill at Stormont yesterday

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill at Stormont yesterday

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said she won't "stand in the way" of the Army helping to combat the Covid-19 emergency in Northern Ireland.

Speaking at yesterday's daily Stormont press conference, the Sinn Fein vice-president appeared to backtrack on her weekend remarks when she hit out at Health Minister Robin Swann, claiming he had asked for the Army's assistance without consulting his Executive colleagues.

Mrs O'Neill was speaking as First Minister Arlene Foster confirmed the current lockdown regulations will continue for at least another three weeks.

On Saturday Mr Swann had revealed that he had made a formal request to the Army for help in distributing life-saving equipment.

He also requested assistance from the Ministry of Defence in planning for a Nightingale hospital at the site of the former Maze Prison.

But Mrs O'Neill responded by saying that while her party will not rule out any measure necessary to save lives, no proposals to use the Army for roles normally performed by civilians had been put before the Executive.

When asked to clarify her previous remarks, Mrs O'Neill yesterday said she wanted to "put the issue to bed", adding that she had since had a conversation with Mr Swann about the matter.

She added: "I have said here on this platform I don't know how many times and I'll say it today, my number one priority is to save lives.

"Whatever is required, including using the British Army, to save lives then I will not stand in the way.

"That's what I'm here to do, I only have one objective.

"I have raised concerns with the Health Minister around how that was communicated and the fact there wasn't an Executive discussion, but I've had that conversation with Robin.

"There clearly is guidelines around these things and all departments will be aware of those guidelines."

Earlier this month her Sinn Fein colleague, Finance Minister Conor Murphy, had indicated the party would consider such a request.

Meanwhile, the DUP leader has confirmed that the lockdown regulations will continue until early next month.

Mrs Foster said after that period the Executive will again review the decision before announcing any further extension or relaxation.

She said that it was "appropriate and proportionate" to keep the current regulations in operation.

Mrs Foster urged people to remain on their guard, saying that by sticking to the restrictions people will relieve pressure on the NHS and "save lives".

She added: "We review the regulations every three weeks and we will now review that again based on the data that we have as to what should happen in the future.

"When this all started the process was about containing, then it was about delaying, then it was about mitigation, and the next phase of that is recovery.

"We're not at that stage yet, but what we will be doing in the Executive will be planning for the recovery.

"But the regulations stay in place for the next three weeks and we will be reviewing that coming up to that date as to whether we can relax those or whether we need another period of time.

"I think it is right, it is appropriate, it is proportionate that we keep in place these regulations for another three weeks."

Mrs O'Neill warned that the biggest danger in this period is "complacency".

She added: "Obviously the measures are showing positive results but if any of us start to relax our attitude or behaviour then we will be in danger.

"We must keep going for this for as long as we need to.

"Keeping these measures in place remains a necessity."

The Deputy First Minister stressed that lives were being saved due to the measures.

"We know it's not easy, but this is the time to dig in," she said.

"This is the time to stay strong and this is the time to stay at home and to save lives.

"The message again has to be for people to follow that public health advice."

Belfast Telegraph