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O’Neill seeks meeting with Swann over request for Army assistance on Covid-19

Health Minister Robin Swann has made formal requests to the Army for assistance to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

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Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill (David Young/PA)

Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill (David Young/PA)

Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill (David Young/PA)

Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister has criticised Health Minister Robin Swann for seeking the Army’s help to combat the Covid-19 emergency.

Mr Swann told the BBC he made a formal request to the Army for help in distributing lifesaving equipment.

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

Mr Swann said: “I believe the Army’s skills and logistical expertise could assist with the redistribution of essential lifesaving equipment across Northern Ireland to ensure that all hospitals have the materials and resources required to fully enact their surge plans.”

I have raised the sensitivities of British military intervention directly with the British Secretary of State Brandon LewisMichelle O'Neill

He said he hoped his decision to ask the Army for assistance is not “considered divisive”.

The minister said: “I have said a number of times over recent weeks that at the end of this pandemic, there will be only one thing that divides us – and that is those of us that are still alive and those that have sadly passed away.”

Michelle O’Neill said the Executive should have been informed of his decision before any such request was made.

In a statement, Ms O’Neill said she has requested a meeting with Mr Swann over his “failure to consult ministerial colleagues” about his decision.

She said while Sinn Fein will not rule out any measure necessary to save lives, no proposals to use the Army for roles normally performed by civilians have been put before the Executive.

Ms O’Neill said: “I have raised the sensitivities of British military intervention directly with the British Secretary of State Brandon Lewis.

“The health minister has a responsibility to exhaust all options, including the use of other blue light public services and civilian contractors, to ensure that ventilators and lifesaving equipment are moved swiftly to where they are needed most.

“The Department for Health has already contracted a local civilian contractor to scope out building a HSC-led civilian ‘field hospital’.

“It remains Sinn Fein’s position that any proposed new Nightingale hospital should remain under the care and control of the HSC.”

The number of people with coronavirus who have died in a hospital setting in Northern Ireland has risen to 107, with 15 further deaths reported on Saturday.

There were 128 new cases of the virus, bringing the total of confirmed positive tests in the region since the outbreak began to 1,717.

PA