Long fights back at compliance request

It would be “entirely inappropriate” for her department to take the lead in managing compliance around the wearing of face coverings, Northern Ireland’s justice minister has said.

Tuesday, 23rd November 2021, 8:06 am
Updated Tuesday, 23rd November 2021, 8:14 am

Naomi Long set out her view in a letter to Health Minister Robin Swann, in which she raised concerns about some measures he has proposed to combat the spread of Covid.

Mr Swann has warned that compliance with mask-wearing and the use of face coverings is insufficient in Northern Ireland, and that enforcement needs to be strengthened and action taken against those who are non-compliant.

In his paper to Executive ministers, Mr Swann said: “I look to my colleague the justice minister to take the lead in pursuing a minimum of 80% adherence to the wearing of face-covering requirements.”

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But in a letter to Mr Swann, seen by the PA news agency, Mrs Long said enforcement was the responsibility of a “number of statutory organisations”.

Her letter said: “I must record formally that it would be entirely inappropriate for me, as justice minister, or indeed the Executive, to accede to your request with the regard to the enforcement of public health regulations.”

She added: “To clarify, it is for the Executive to instigate legislation and indeed, within that legislation, to define the powers for its enforcement.

“However, it is entirely inappropriate for the Executive to then appoint itself, or indeed any of its ministers, to an oversight role for enforcement activity.

“As has been highlighted on a number of occasions, enforcement is the responsibility of a number of statutory organisations and they must be allowed to conduct this enforcement activity without interference.”

Mrs Long’s letter continued: “Any PSNI enforcement of the public health regulations is an operational matter for the chief constable ... it would be completely inappropriate for me to be seen to interfere in PSNI enforcement activity.

“In addition, I am at a loss to understand why you think I should be responsible for levels of adherence to face-covering regulations.

“These are public health regulations put in place for public health purposes. The duty rests with the proprietors of the settings named in the first instance.”