DUP to oppose Health Minister Robin Swann’s attempt to extend Covid-19 lockdown powers

The DUP are writing to the Health Minister Robin Swann to oppose an attempt to unilaterally extend coronavirus powers into next year.

he current ability for the Health Minister to impose coronavirus measures and a possible lockdown in light of a new variant ends on Saturday.

Mr Swann has said he wants the powers to be extended for another six months.

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has said that he and his DUP party colleagues do not want to give Robin Swann the green light to extend due to it being “a controversial issue”.

Speaking on Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show, Mr Poots said: “Every previous extension had to have Assembly support, but in the absence of an Assembly I think he should have the Executive Ministers support and I don’t believe that’s the case.

“In our party we don’t think further regulations are necessary and Robin Swann would be better concentrating on other things.

“There’s a reality out there that Covid-19 is considerably watered down to what it was when the Delta variant existed, and we are not having huge volumes of people dying from this condition, so we don’t need to have these emergency powers.”

Belfast GP Alan Stout said it was “quite a sensible decision” and something that GPs have been lobbying for “slightly indirectly for quite some time”.

Mr Stout said extending the powers is a good thing because “it allows a just in case scenario”.

“We don’t expect things to get worse but in the absence of an Executive there is still the ability to react,” he said.

“I don’t think they will be used because we are in a much better place now in terms of Covid-19.”

UUP MLA Alan Chambers said it was “unbelievable to hear members of the DUP” criticise Mr Swann and argue against the extension of regulations.

“Do they actually realise what they are saying?” he said. “They are arguing for a health border down the Irish Sea, denying the people in this part of the United Kingdom the same health protections that are available in England, Scotland and Wales.

“The DUP have a long and dismal record of attempting to put obstacles in the way of the Health Minister throughout the course of the Covid pandemic and unfortunately this is carrying through to today.

“What Robin has proposed is an insurance policy which we never want to use. To do otherwise could leave us exposed in a way which would be grossly irresponsible.”

The Department of Health released a written statement from Mr Swann on the extension of the Coronavirus Act 2020 “in relation to public health protection” where he has outlined that he has “no plans and certainly no desire to introduce any further restrictions”.

“I am extremely hopeful that the question will not arise, given the trajectory of the pandemic, the success of our vaccination campaign and the effective Covid-19 treatments now available through the health service,” said Mr Swann.

“Furthermore, there is at the very least considerable uncertainty as to whether I would have the power to unilaterally introduce fresh restrictions, in the absence of an Executive.

“It is one thing to retain the powers to make regulations, it would be another matter entirely to decide to use such powers.

“The choice is whether to allow the powers to lapse at this stage, or to retain them as an option should they be required at some point in the future.”

The Health Minister added that he has been advised that it would be “problematic” to allow these powers to lapse.

“Without these powers, Northern Ireland would be out of alignment with the rest of the UK in the event that health protections measures are needed to be brought in at pace in response to a new Covid-19 variant of concern,” he said.

“The Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Adviser have advised that the risk of such a new variant emerging cannot be excluded.

“I therefore believe allowing these powers to expire could bind the hands of future Ministers and the next Executive,” he added.

“After due deliberation, I have therefore opted for a further six-month extension. I have asked my officials to draft the necessary order, using the powers under 90 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 and under the confirmatory resolution procedure. This ensures the legislation can take legal effect upon ministerial signature pending approval by the Assembly.”

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