DUP’s use of veto to block extension of Covid-19 restrictions ‘appalling’

Department reports 14 more deaths and 331 more cases in Northern Ireland on Monday

A plan by Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann to extend Covid-19 restrictions for two weeks was blocked by the DUP.  Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA.

A plan by Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann to extend Covid-19 restrictions for two weeks was blocked by the DUP. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA.

 

The North’s First Minister and Deputy First Minister disagreed in the Assembly on Monday over the DUP’s use of a cross-community veto last week to block the extension of Covid-19 restrictions for a fortnight.

First Minister Arlene Foster defended the DUP’s use of the mechanism while acknowledging that it was a “blunt tool”.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the decision was “appalling” as she accused the DUP of abusing the veto, which she characterised as being designed to protect minority rights rather than one to be employed over a health matter.

Those comments were made in the Assembly chamber on a day when the North’s Department of Health reported 14 more coronavirus deaths, taking the death toll to 869. There also were 331 additional cases, bringing the total to 47,162.

The department also reported that 427 patients were in Northern Ireland’s hospitals receiving Covid-19 treatment, with 45 in intensive care units and 37 on ventilators. Hospital occupancy running is at 96 per cent. The incidence rate of the disease in the North is running at 204 cases per 100,000 of population.

After four days of squabbling last week, the Executive on Friday settled on a compromise to extend the lockdown for a further week followed by a phased reopening of the hospitality sector. Health Minister Robin Swann had argued that the restrictions would run for an extra two weeks but was overruled.

‘Torturous’

Ms Foster said that last week had been “very difficult and torturous” but argued that the DUP was trying to achieve a “balanced and proportionate” position on Covid-19 that addressed the health and economic concerns.

She said people must be able to make a living “otherwise they will fall into poverty” resulting in “health outcomes that are very bad as well”.

Ms Foster acknowledged that the veto was a “blunt tool” but defended using it.

“It is lawful that that is used and any impression created that the requirement only applies to unionist or nationalist issues is entirely bogus and is at odds with the Northern Ireland Act,” she said.

Ms O’Neill said the abuse of the veto was “at the heart of the problem”.

“It’s appalling that it was used. I wouldn’t use it,” she said. “I could have blocked the last decision in the Executive but I chose not to because this is a public health crisis. This isn’t about minority rights. The Covid pandemic is impacting everybody equally.”

Additional restrictions

Meanwhile, the North’s chief medical adviser, Prof Ian Young has reinforced Mr Swann’s warning that additional Covid-19 restrictions are likely to be imposed in the North before Christmas.

Prof Young told the BBC it was “more likely than not” that additional restrictions would be required before the holiday period. Neither, he nor Mr Swann were specific about what those new restrictions would be. One consideration was that schools might be closed early for Christmas.

From November 27th, pubs, restaurants and hotels will be entitled to reopen in the North. Mr Swann did not say if additional restrictions would entail the re-imposition of a full or partial shutdown of the hospitality sector.

“I will take every decision at the appropriate time,” he said.