Paisley says incident with Van Morrison was ‘parody’
Politician and singer chanted on stage that NI Minister for Health was ‘dangerous’
Democratic Unionist Party MP Ian Paisley Junior has said that he does not actually believe the North’s minister for Health Robert Swann is “dangerous” and claims “the parody and sarcasm” involved in him chanting the accusation alongside Van Morrison after a cancelled concert on Thursday night was “obvious”.
“There is a balance in all of these matters and at times we get them right and at times wrong,” he said in a statement. “We are all entitled to our own views on how the lockdown has been managed.
“Last night’s event was very sad for the live music industry. I was put on the spot and called to the stage. I certainly don’t believe Robin is dangerous. I think the parody and sarcasm of that comment is obvious.”
Mr Paisley had joined Morrison on stage at a cancelled gig after the singer had made a brief speech then started to chant “Robin Swann is very dangerous” repeatedly.
The singer called on the politician to join him at the podium, referring to him as “Junior” and the pair resumed the chant together. A video of the incident was widely circulated on social media on Friday.
Morrison, an outspoken critic of Covid-19 lockdowns, had been expected to play in front of a crowd of around 140 people at a sit-down dinner event at Belfast’s Europa Hotel.
‘Tin foil hat brigade’
But when it was cancelled shortly before it was due to start because of public health restrictions, Morrison took to the stage to launch a broadside at 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 tin foil hat brigade”.
“Robin Swann says in his interview with Rolling Stone magazine (that) I was dangerous,” Morrison, 75, told the audience.
Morrison went on to say that “my power is very limited to change this situation” and that “Robin Swann has got all the power, he’s keeping us in this for over 15 months.”
“All I have to say is, if I don’t have any power, my power is extremely limited… Robin Swann has all the power. So I say Robin Swann is very dangerous.”
Morrison slapped his hand on a podium and started shouting and chanting “Robin Swann is very dangerous”.
Come on Junior’
After a number of people in the room cheered and clapped, Morrison invited Mr Paisley to join him: “Come on Junior, you want to get with me.”
In the video of the event, Paisley can be seen getting out of his chair and jumping onto the stage, where he put his arm around Morrison and repeated the chant.
Afterwards, Mr Paisley attacked the decision of Stormont officials to ban the concert, which had been planned as a pilot event.
“That crowd at Stormont, who told Howard Hastings (managing director of Hastings Hotels) this was a yes, couldn’t run a bath,” he told the BBC. “Little bit of wonder there’s disarray tonight.”
Last year, writing for Rolling Stone magazine, Swann had said people in the North were proud of 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 accused Morrison of encouraging people not to take Covid-19 seriously by not following the health advice.
“Governments across the world are struggling to find the right path through this pandemic,” he wrote .
“It’s entirely right and proper to debate and question policies. It’s legitimate to ask if the right balance is being found in what is being done; if the right steps are being taken. None of this is easy or straightforward.
“But Van Morrison is going way beyond raising questions. He is singing about ‘fascist bullies’ and claiming governments are deceiving people and wanting to ‘enslave’.
“It’s actually a smear on all those involved in the public health response to a virus that has taken lives on a massive scale. His words will give great comfort to the conspiracy theorists - the tin foil hat brigade who crusade against masks and vaccines and think this is all a huge global plot to remove freedoms.
“It’s all bizarre and irresponsible. I only hope no one takes him seriously. He’s no guru, no teacher,” Mr Swann said in the article.
Morrison has written a number of songs about about the lockdown, including
Born To Be Free, As I Walked Out and No More Lockdown.
Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie said on Friday he was “absolutely disgusted” by the “vile” chanting by Morrison and Paisley.
“They should be ashamed of themselves. Two grown men who should know better, engaging in a very personal attack on Northern Ireland`s Health Minister,” he said.
Mr Beattie said Mr Swann has endured “deeply personal attacks and death threats against him and his family” during the pandemic, and that remarks by public figures “could incite others”.
“Robin Swann has worked tirelessly during the Covid-19 pandemic to save lives, and to watch him being denigrated by Ian Paisley and Van Morrison is appalling,” he added.
Mr Beattie challenged the DUP leader Edwin Poots to disassociate himself from Paisley’s actions “and take action against him”.
Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew said the “stinging and reckless” attack on Swann is “very concerning.”
“This sends out a very dangerous public health message at a time when Covid continues to pose a real threat in our communities,” he said.