Poots urged to take action over Paisley attack on Minister of Health

MP chanted on stage with singer Van Morrison that ‘Robin Swann is very dangerous’

Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Edwin Poots has again been urged to take action against an MP who joined singer Van Morrison in a verbal attack on Minister of Health in Northern Ireland Robin Swann.

The actions of Ian Paisley at the Europa Hotel in Belfast were branded a "disgrace" by Sinn Féin and an Ulster Unionist MLA on Sunday.

Four gigs by the musician at the hotel were cancelled at the last minute because live music is still not permitted under coronavirus regulations.

Mr Morrison, an outspoken critic of Covid-19 restrictions, took to the stage on Thursday and addressed the audience of 140, chanting “Robin Swann is very dangerous!”

Video footage then showed him inviting DUP MP Mr Paisley on to the stage, where they continued the chant.

Mr Paisley later released a statement in which he said he does not believe Mr Swann is dangerous. “I was put on the spot and called to the stage and tried to bring matters to a close by referencing some of Van’s music. What was parody, comedy, banter and sarcasm should not be blown out of all proportion,” he said.

Speaking on the BBC Sunday Politics programme, Sinn Féin's Colm Gildernew, chairman of the Stormont Health Committee, said: "I thought it was a disgrace. It was delivered quite aggressively and with an air of menace.

“I don’t see anything parody about it. He jumped on to the stage. I think Ian Paisley needs to unequivocally apologise for the remarks and I think Edwin Poots needs to look at the video and see if that is the kind of situation he wants to preside over as party leader.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt was asked about a report in the Sunday Life newspaper in which Mr Morrison is quoted as saying he does not regret the incident.

Mr Nesbitt said: "Clearly Van Morrison is doubling down on his criticism of my colleague, which is entirely unfair and unfounded criticism. Ian Paisley was invited on stage; there are two ways you can respond to an invitation – you can say yes or you can say no, and he should have said no.

“Ian Paisley will know that Robin Swann has faced death threats during the course of this pandemic. I think the party leader [Mr Poots] and the incoming first minister [Paul Givan] need to take action against Ian Paisley, because what he did was a disgrace.”

Delta variant

Meanwhile, renewed concern has been expressed about the rise in Covid cases in the North and the spread of the Delta variant, which was first identified in India.

Northern Ireland has recorded more than 100 coronavirus cases on four consecutive days for the first time since the start of April.

Dr Frances O’Hagan, deputy chairwoman of the British Medical Association’s NI GP committee, told the Sunday Politics programme: “We definitely have to look over our shoulders and be a little bit concerned about this; the numbers are going up and the infection rate is going up.”

Mr Gildernew said: “This latest rise is going to increase the pressure on an already overworked and overstretched workforce, including GPs, hospitals, everyone throughout the system.

“We are currently operating in the hospitals at 103 per cent so there is no capacity for additional hospitalisations, and this variant would appear to lead to increased hospitalisations so these are worrying numbers.

“We are by no means out of the woods yet.” – PA