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I would accept Covid-19 help from British or Irish armies – Stormont minister

Robin Swann did not rule out the need for military intervention.

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Robin Swann (Michael McHugh/PA)

Robin Swann (Michael McHugh/PA)

Robin Swann (Michael McHugh/PA)

Stormont’s health minister has said he would accept help from the British or Irish armies if it proved necessary during the coronavirus pandemic.

Robin Swann said he would use any tools at his disposal to help tackle the emergency.

While Mr Swann did not rule out the need for military intervention, even raising the prospect of the Irish Defence Forces being deployed north of the border, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill insisted soldiers were not required.

The health minister was asked about soldiers potentially having to return to the streets of Northern Ireland, during an Assembly debate on new state powers to deal with the emergency.

If we get to a stage where they can provide a service that we can't, folks, I'll use whoever's at my disposalRobin Swann

“Folks, will I use the Army? Will I call in the Army if I have to?” he said.

“If we get to a stage where they can provide a service that we can’t, folks, I’ll use whoever’s at my disposal.

“I’ll use whatever tool I have at my disposal to tackle this virus.

“If the Irish army want to come up and help us too, when they’ve it sorted down there, I’d be more than happy to welcome them.

“So folks, let’s not let this debate or this issue be politicised.”

Michelle O'Neill
Michelle O’Neill (Liam McBurney/PA)

Sinn Fein’s Ms O’Neill was later asked about Mr Swann’s comments at the daily Covid-19 press briefing at Parliament Buildings.

“In terms of the British military personnel, we don’t need to deploy the British military personnel,” she replied.

“We have a very strong civil contingency group in place, established by the executive, and it looks at all the emergency services.

“We also have brilliant support networks out there across sporting fields and everything else right into the community level that are prepared to do their part, and I have no doubt that we can respond to this emergency in that way.”

PA