Van Morrison drops live music legal challenge against Stormont

Easing rules ‘a positive direction’ but ‘many questions need to be answered’, singer says

Van Morrison: ‘During my legal proceedings, we were given assurances that specific medical evidence to justify the blanket ban for Northern Ireland would be shared with our legal team. We are still waiting to receive that evidence.’ Photograph: David M Benett/Getty Images

Van Morrison: ‘During my legal proceedings, we were given assurances that specific medical evidence to justify the blanket ban for Northern Ireland would be shared with our legal team. We are still waiting to receive that evidence.’ Photograph: David M Benett/Getty Images

 

Van Morrison has dropped a legal challenge against a pandemic ban on live music in Northern Ireland after the Stormont Executive eased restrictions.

The singer-songwriter, an outspoken critic of Covid 19 lockdowns, started judicial review proceedings in Belfast against the power-sharing administration in January over regulations that prohibited live music in indoor venues.

In a statement on Tuesday, Mr Morrison said he welcomed Stormont ministers having “shifted in a positive direction” but there remained “many questions that need to be answered by the Northern Ireland Executive”.

“During my legal proceedings, we were given assurances that specific medical evidence to justify the blanket ban for Northern Ireland would be shared with our legal team,” he said.

“We are still waiting to receive that evidence. There are questions regarding the reluctance of the Northern Ireland Executive to share any concrete verification in this regard.”

Mr Morrison also questioned why the North “was singled out for such draconian restrictions when every other region of the UK sought to move forward in more positive ways”.

“We should bear in mind that curtailments still remain in place in Northern Ireland – whereas social distancing in theatres in England has been lifted – making the sector financially unviable for artists, venues and the economy as a whole,” he said.

Mr Morrison has had to cancel concerts at the Europa Hotel and the Ulster Hall because of the restrictions, which were eased on July 27th.

The 75-year-old singer said he had proposed “test events” but the offer was not taken up by the Executive.

Mr Morrison has written a number of songs attacking public health measures as a result of the pandemic, including Born To Be Free, As I Walked Out and No More Lockdown.

Last year, writing for Rolling Stone magazine, Stormont Minister of Health Robin Swann excoriated the singer for what he said was a “smear on all those involved in the public health response to a virus that has taken lives on a massive scale”.

“[Morrison’s] words will give great comfort to the conspiracy theorists – the tinfoil hat brigade who crusade against masks and vaccines and think this is all a huge global plot to remove freedoms,” he wrote.

“It’s all bizarre and irresponsible. I only hope no one takes him seriously. He’s no guru, no teacher.”

In June, after a gig at Belfast’s Europa Hotel was cancelled at the last minute, Mr Morrison took to the stage to repeatedly chant “Robin Swann is very dangerous!”

Democratic Unionist Party MP Ian Paisley was forced to apologise to Mr Swann after he was caught on video joining in the chant with Mr Morrison.

Mr Morrison’s solicitor Joe Rice said the singer had “sought to engage constructively with government to propose practical suggestions as to how to bring back live music events based on robust individual health and safety risk assessments.

“It was deeply disappointing that it was necessary for Mr Morrison to bring legal proceedings in order to achieve the lifting of the ban on live music but he did so on behalf of all musicians and the live music sector as a whole,” he said.

“Had the government engaged with both Mr Morrison and the industry from the outset, more preplanned events, such as his Ulster Hall concerts, could have proceeded.”