Coronavirus: Conor Murphy denies misleading Assembly over PPE

North’s Covid-19 death toll rises to 78 as Minister says UUP leader misquoted him

Stormont’s finance Minster Conor Murphy speaking in the Northern  Assembly where he said that bidders from India and the US muscled out Northern Ireland in the global race to buy personal protective equipment. Photograph: NI Assembly/PA Wire.

Stormont’s finance Minster Conor Murphy speaking in the Northern Assembly where he said that bidders from India and the US muscled out Northern Ireland in the global race to buy personal protective equipment. Photograph: NI Assembly/PA Wire.

 

Stormont finance Minister Conor Murphy has rejected a suggestion that he misled the Assembly over his attempt to jointly secure an order for personal protective equipment (PPE) with the Irish Government.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Steve Aiken said in the Assemby on Tuesday that Mr Murphy had “at best misrepresented this house” when he spoke about an “order” for PPE from China to help key workers dealing with Covid-19.

Mr Murphy told the Stormont finance committee on Wednesday that its chairman, Mr Aiken, had wrongly accused him of misleading the Assembly over the PPE issue. He said Mr Aiken had misquoted what he had said and that it was actually the UUP politician who had “misled” the Assembly.

“You uttered words by me that were never uttered by me at any stage,” he told Mr Aiken.

Mr Murphy on March 27th said a “very significant” PPE order from China had been jointly placed with the Irish Government. However, he clarified last Friday that it had been “agreed that orders would be placed through North-South collaboration” on March 27th but that the presence of major players in the market such as the US and India had meant the order could not be completed.

Market pressures

Mr Murphy said his department had “placed the order with Dublin” but the Irish Government, which was operationally involved in the process, was unable to complete the joint procurement because of the market pressures.

He told Mr Aiken and other committee members that he would supply a paper trail to demonstrate the accuracy of what he was saying.

“We had placed an order with Dublin. We were in the process of supplying (them) with the money to conclude that order and then as the week bore on it became more and more obvious that there was a difficulty,” he said.

He stressed that when speaking about the matter in the Assembly he did not want to build up hopes and had “expressed a series of caveats” about completing the order.

“I never at any stage said a contract has been signed. I never at any stage said this material is on its way...These are things you have attributed to me.”

Mr Murphy said he had not given up on the order and officials on the ground in China were seeking to procure PPE from a different supplier.

Ms Gray told the committee the department had been discussing “all week” with Dublin its PPE requirements,

“We are all working together to secure the very best amount of PPE that we can,” she said.

Confirmed cases

The Public Health Agency (PHA) reported on Wednesday that five more people in the North had died from coronavirus, bringing the total to 78. It also reported 84 further confirmed cases as the total increased to 1,339.

Meanwhile, Patricia McKeown, regional secretary of the Unison union, which represents many healthcare workers, warned that care homes risk becoming centres for the spread of coronavirus. She was responding to health Minister Robin Swann disclosing that 20 care homes now have cases of Covid-19.

‘‘Our care homes have up to 16,000 residents all at risk. The homes have the potential to become petri dishes for the virus unless immediate testing, isolation and tracking commences,” said Ms McKeown.

She complained that many workers at care homes did not have sufficient PPE.

Mr Swann said extra PPE was arriving in Northern Ireland and there was no reason why care homes should not have access to the proper equipment.