The North's Minister of Health Robin Swann has launched legal proceedings against Van Morrison after the singer alleged he was "very dangerous" over his response to Covid-19.
Mr Morrison, an outspoken critic of Covid-19 lockdowns, was expected to play at a sit-down dinner event at Belfast's Europa Hotel in June.
But when it was cancelled shortly before it was due to start because of public health restrictions, Mr Morrison took to the stage to launch a broadside at Mr Swann.
The Stormont Minister last year accused the Belfast singer of making dangerous comments about Covid-19 and giving succour to "conspiracy theorists and the tinfoil hat brigade".
At the cancelled gig, Mr Morrison (75) told the audience: “Robin Swann has all the power. So I say Robin Swann is very dangerous.”
Democratic Unionist Party MP Ian Paisley joined Mr Morrison on the stage, but later said it was a parody and that he didn't believe Mr Swann was dangerous.
Mr Swann's solicitor Paul Tweed said a written summons was issued in June over the allegations and that he was preparing for a trial in the new year.
“Legal proceedings are now at an advanced stage, with an anticipated hearing date early in 2022,” he told The Irish Times.
It is understood the action also references remarks made by Mr Morrison to a Sunday Life reporter the day after the gig, as well as videos posted on social media by the singer.
Mr Morrison’s solicitor Joe Rice served a defence at the end of October. In a statement on Sunday night he said: “Mr Morrison regrets that Mr Swann considered it necessary to issue proceedings.
“He is disappointed by the publicity that surrounds the issue of the proceedings also. Mr Morrison has consistently campaigned for the relaxation of the Coronavirus Regulations, believing them to be unlawful insofar as they imposed a blanket ban on the ability of all musicians to perform live music, thereby endangering their livelihoods.
“Such was his strength of feeling on this matter that he instructed this firm in June 2021 to issue a High Court challenge to the legality of those Regulations, arguing that they were unlawful. It was only after he brought those proceedings that the Regulations were relaxed by the Assembly thereby preventing the need for a determination of the issue by the High Court.
“This firm can confirm that a Defence has been served on behalf of Mr Morrison to the proceedings brought by Mr Swann. Mr Morrison asserts within that Defence that the words used by him related to a matter of public interest and constituted fair comment.”
Rolling Stone article
Last year, writing for Rolling Stone magazine, Mr Swann said people in the North were proud of Mr Morrison’s achievements as a music legend for half a century, but “there was a real feeling of disappointment” over his comments about Covid-19.
Mr Swann decried Mr Morrison’s recent political songs about Covid-19.
“He could have chosen to sing about how we all can help save lives. He could have written a tribute to our health and social care workers on the frontline,” Mr Swann wrote.
“There are also so many things in the world to sing protest songs about, like poverty, starvation, injustice, racism, violence, austerity – there’s a long list.
“Instead, he’s chosen to attack attempts to protect the old and vulnerable in our society.”
Mr Morrison has written a number of songs about about the lockdown, including Born To Be Free, As I Walked Out and No More Lockdown.