Covid restrictions may have to stay in place: Michelle O’Neill

There is a “real prospect” that Covid restrictions may have to remain in place in Northern Ireland following legal advice received by the health minister, Michelle O’Neill has said.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 11th February 2022, 7:50 am

Health Minister Robin Swann is considering the advice he has received over lifting the regulations.

He sought guidance following the resignation of First Minister Paul Givan last week which also removed Deputy First Minister Ms O’Neill from the joint office.

While the remaining ministers are still in post they are unable introduce any new business, and can only progress work already in the system.

The Covid-19 regulations are not due to expire until March 24, but were previously reviewed by the Executive every three weeks.

It is believed the advice from the Attorney General Brenda King has highlighted potential legal complications of Mr Swann acting without the wider endorsement of an Executive.

Executive approval is ordinarily required for decisions that are significant, controversial or cross cutting.

It is understood Mr Swann is now considering whether lifting the remaining restrictions cross those thresholds.

Speaking in Belfast, Ms O’Neill said: “I am aware now that the health minister has received that legal advice and he wants to give it a bit more consideration.

“I hope that we will be able to find a way forward, something which gives the public some hope and some progression in terms of the Covid restrictions.

“This is the direct consequence of the DUP stunt last week, them walking away whenever the rest of us are trying to deal with the pandemic.

“This is the outworking of what the DUP have done.”

Asked about the prospect that the remaining Covid restrictions may remain in place, she said: “We have to see the legal advice, but of course that is a real prospect, this is the outworking of the DUP’s antics.”

She said the Stormont parties would try to find ways to lift the remaining Covid restrictions.

“I would say to people Robin Swann as health minister will have my full support, backed by the medical opinion.

“If we can lift restrictions then that is what we should do.

“We have always said we wouldn’t keep them in place for longer than necessary.

“The pandemic has been so challenging on so many fronts.

“If now is the time to lift them, then we will try to find ways to lift them.”

On Thursday afternoon Mr Swann confirmed he has received “detailed legal advice on the factors that need to be considered when seeking to amend Executive Covid regulations in the absence of an Executive”.

He added: “This advice is now being given careful consideration and it is my intention to engage with ministerial colleagues.”

It was thought to be unlikely that Mr Swann will make any definitive decisions on lifting restrictions on the same day.

Meanwhile, seven further people who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 have died in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health said. Another 3,609 cases have also been notified.