DUP MP Sammy Wilson has claimed there is not significant proof face masks protect people from Covid-19.
Mr Wilson was speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme after he was heavily criticised - and sparked a split in his party - for a tweet last week in which he referred to masks as “muzzles”.
The East Antrim MP said that conflicting information had been put out around the wearing of masks.
A scientist, also appearing on the programme, however, said there had been studies extolling the benefits of wearing masks in preventing the virus spread.
Mr Wilson said there were other “peer-reviewed” reports that contradicted that and experts couldn’t make up their minds whether masks were effective or not.
Mr Wilson expressed concern that masks could cause people to abandon their local shops and turn to online retailers.
He said the DUP’s view was that the wearing of masks should be voluntary but that there were differing opinions around the Executive table.
The Executive is urging the public to wear face masks in shops, but it is not mandatory. Health Minister Robin Swann has indicated he wants enforcement brought forward. Something deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has supported.
Asked if he would wear one should they become mandatory Mr Wilson replied that he thought it would be a “bad law”, but that he would never break the law.
Mr Wilson said actions showed the majority of people in Northern Ireland were not convinced the wearing of face coverings should be mandatory.
A petition set up against the mandatory wearing of masks in Northern Ireland has attracted over 500 signatures.
Mr Wilson also questioned how the law would be policed.
The DUP MP said that people in his constituency had fears they would lose their jobs and had mental health problems as a result of being “locked up”.
“You’ve got to say, look, wider considerations than simply we’ve got to at all costs defeat this virus,” he said.
“I don’t know if it can be defeated or not, we haven’t been able to defeat the flu virus.
“We’ve got to learn to live with it and that means we’ve got to take risks.
“The quality of life is as much important as the quantity of life and if in my granny’s last months on earth she is deprived of seeing her grandchildren and her children and everything else are the restrictions we’ve put in place worthwhile?”
Mr Wilson said a price had already been put on lives in relation to coronavirus.
“I’ve had constituents who have had operations stopped, some of them life-saving operations because a decision has been made it is important to save the lives of those who have contracted coronavirus than those who have cancer,” he said.
“How far do we go in pursuing one particular aspect of health policy at the expense of other people who are suffering from other diseases?”
“What do we do in relation to the wider and longer term aspects of health? If we destroy the economy, put people out of jobs, have them anxious, have them depressed and everything else.
“In enforcing face coverings do we send out a message that increases anxiety in those who think ‘if you’ve got to wear a face covering it must be dangerous to go outside the door and therefore I’m going to have to stay locked in’.
“What does that do to our high streets, what does that to driving people to shopping online, what does that do to getting people back into work?”
“All those things are equally important impacts and all I’m saying is we need to have a debate on all of that.”