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Stormont health committee must meet to tackle coronavirus crisis, insists MLA

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Gerry Carroll

Gerry Carroll

Gerry Carroll

The deputy chairperson of Stormont's health committee has said the body can be recalled to deal with the coronavirus pandemic during the Assembly's Easter recess.

South Antrim MLA Pam Cameron was speaking after committee member and People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll described the recess as a "lockdown of democracy".

The West Belfast MLA said it was an "absolute disgrace" that there are plans to suspend the health committee during the expected surge of Covid-19 deaths.

The committee is due to meet again on Thursday, April 23. However, Ms Cameron stated it is her understanding that the committee will not be suspended.

"That would be normal procedure but obviously, I'm assuming, that if for any reason at all the committee needs to reconvene in terms of dealing with a piece of legislation or Covid-19, I'm quite sure that would happen," she said.

"Very few committees are meeting at all at the moment as they're not deemed essential. Everything is down to crisis response in terms of Covid-19."

Mr Carroll added that the Executive's role during the coronavirus crisis is "drawing major concern" and called for the decision to halt the health committee to be reversed.

"Our ability to query minister decisions and submit questions to ministers has already been restricted," he said.

"Every week statements are announced to the opposition at the same time as the public, removing our ability to scrutinise crucial decisions, and now committees will be suspended."

A spokesperson for the health committee said there was "no dissent" when the date for the next meeting was confirmed on Thursday. "The chair (Sinn Fein MLA Colm Gildernew) is keeping this under review in the context of ongoing developments," they added.

"A new ad-hoc committee on the Covid-19 response has been set up to deal with all Covid-19 related issues, and all MLAs are members of this new committee."

Belfast Telegraph