Sir Van Morrison has issued legal proceedings against the Department of Health in Northern Ireland and Robin Swann over an article the minister wrote for Rolling Stone magazine.
In the opinion piece, which was published in September 2020, Swann hit out at the Belfast singer’s attitude towards Covid restrictions, saying his stance went further than “disappointment” and that some of what he was saying was “dangerous”.
The op-ed referenced Morrison’s efforts to perform live music during the early months of the 2020 lockdown. Swann said Morrison’s approach could encourage people not to take Covid seriously.
A spokesperson for the singer confirmed on Monday that he had issued legal proceedings.
In a statement issued to BBC News NI, Morrison’s spokesperson said: “We confirm that legal proceedings have been issued against Mr Robin Swann MLA and the Department of Health as co-publishers of an op-ed in Rolling Stone.”
In response, the Department of Health said it would not be commenting on “active legal matters”.
In the magazine article, Swann wrote that people in Northern Ireland were very proud of Morrison’s musical legacy, so that his stance was a source of “a real feeling of disappointment”.
He went on: “However it goes further than disappointment. Some of what he is saying is actually dangerous.
“It could encourage people to not to take Coronavirus seriously. If you see it all as a big conspiracy, then you are less likely to follow the vital public health advice that keeps you and others safe.”
Swann also wrote that Morrison’s words would give “great comfort to the conspiracy theorists, the tin foil hat brigade who crusade against masks and vaccines and think this is all a huge global plot to remove freedoms.”
In November 2021, it was revealed that Swann was suing Morrison after the singer branded him “very dangerous” over his handling of Covid restrictions.
The legal action followed an incident at the Europa Hotel in Belfast five months earlier when Morrison took to the stage and criticised Swann.
The defamation proceedings also cited two subsequent incidents when the 76-year-old musician elaborated on his views on Mr Swann.
In the first, when he was asked by a Sunday Life reporter about his initial comments, Morrison was reported to have described the minister as a “fraud”.
The second related to content the songwriter uploaded on YouTube in which he addressed the Europa Hotel controversy, again criticising the minister and calling him “dangerous”, although on this occasion he incorrectly referred to him as Robert Swann.
The Europa Hotel controversy arose when a sit-down dinner event at which Morrison was due to perform was cancelled at short notice due to public health restrictions.
At the cancelled gig, Morrison told the audience: “Robin Swann has all the power. So I say Robin Swann is very dangerous.”
Morrison was joined on stage by DUP MP Ian Paisley, who later said he did not believe Swann was “dangerous” and claimed his chanting was “parody and sarcasm”.
Morrison’s latest single, released last month, appears to reference his ongoing feud with Swann. The track, called Dangerous, contains the lyrics: “Somebody said I was dangerous.
“I said something bad and it must’ve been good.”