Minister hopes decision to relax Covid rules can be made this week



A Stormont minister has expressed hope that a decision can be made to relax remaining Covid regulations in Northern Ireland early this week.

Justice Minister and Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said she had responded to a letter from Health Minister Robin Swann indicating she did not believe that a move by him to ease restrictions would be considered controversial.

Mr Swann received advice on Thursday which highlighted potential legal complications of him acting without the wider endorsement of an Executive.

He then wrote to other ministers asking for their input, and asked them to respond by Monday.

The present Covid-19 regulations in Northern Ireland are not due to expire until March 24, but were previously reviewed by the Executive every three weeks.

Health Minister Robin Swann has written to Stormont ministers asking for their input on the relaxation of Covid rules (Peter Morrison/PA)

(PA Wire)

But Northern Ireland has no functioning Executive after the DUP removed Paul Givan as first minister as part of a protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mrs Long told the BBC Sunday Politics program that the issue of Mr Swann acting alone to remove the restrictions is a “complex legal question that hasn’t really been tested”.

She added: “Why Robin (Swann) had written to us was to show us the legal advice which he had received about his powers, it has been custom and practice for him to bring changes to the regulations to the Executive for approval.

“I am of the view that the Executive have an established policy on this and we should be able to continue within our own departmental portfolios to make decisions.

“Our established policy is, and has been, well stated by all ministers that we would not retain restrictions any longer than was absolutely necessary provided the CMO (chief medical officer Sir Michael McBride) and CSA (chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young) give Robin advice which says that they are no longer necessary then I think he is empowered within that policy to start to remove restrictions.

“I think he has a difficult choice to make because he then needs to consider whether decisions he makes will have implications for other ministers so he has written to us all.


The bottom line is if we had a first minister we wouldn’t even be having this discussion because the decisions would have been taken last Thursday

Naomi Long

“I have responded to him to say that I don’t think it is cross-cutting in the sense that it impacts on my department in a significant way.

“I also don’t think that it is controversial in that it is covered by existing policy.

“I hope that in writing that back to Robin on Friday we have given him some space to be able to make decisions early this week.”

Mrs Long said the current situation would never have arisen had the DUP not chosen to collapse the Executive.

She said: “The DUP are clearly trying to absolve themselves of responsibility for the bind that we all find ourselves in because they withdrew their first minister.

“The bottom line is if we had a prime minister we wouldn’t even be having this discussion because the decisions would have been taken last Thursday.

“What Robin needs to look at is what is the legal position, that he isn’t going against the prevailing wind which is Executive policy.”

The DUP has said that easing current restrictions does not need to be a collective Executive decision.


www.independent.co.uk

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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