Edwin Poots silent over ally Ian Paisley Jr’s antics on stage with Van Morrison as criticism grows
Ian Paisley Jr last night faced an avalanche of criticism from politicians and medics after he joined Van Morrison on stage to lead a bizarre chant attacking the health minister.
Mr Paisley – who has been a key backer of Edwin Poots and who is said by some DUP members to now be ‘the real leader of the DUP’ – defended his actions, insisting he was “happy to stand in solidarity” with the anti-lockdown singer.
Last night GP Laurence Dorman said that the actions of the singer and the MP were “beyond belief” and added: This “Obviously these two gentlemen have never looked a patient in the eye who is struggling to breathe due to Covid-19 infection.”
Last night Mr Poots showed no sign of moving to discipline his key ally, brushing off questions by saying “I haven’t seen it so I can’t comment on it”.
On Thursday night the North Antrim MP stood with his arm around Sir Van while they chanted “Robin Swann is very dangerous”.
Yesterday Mr Paisley initially defended his actions but then issued a statement through the DUP press office last night in which he retracted what he had said and applauded the previous evening. Last night Mr Paisley said: “I certainly don’t believe Robin is dangerous” and that “the parody and sarcasm of that comment is obvious”.
The MP claimed in which he claimed that it had been “parody, comedy, banter and sarcasm” and “should not be blown out of all proportion”.
Mr Paisley made no apology for his antics, but added: “We are all entitled to our own views on how the lockdown has been managed. I’m sure some will take offence – as with all things – but none was intended on my part”.
Yesterday Mr Poots batted away questions about the 99-second video clip, telling the BBC: “I haven’t seen it so I can’t comment on it”.
The News Letter asked the DUP if Mr Poots would be disciplining Mr Paisley for his behaviour. There was no response.
Mr Paisley’s actions were part of an exclusive dinner in Belfast’s Europa Hotel on Thursday night at which Morrison was to have provided the music.
However, a decision by the Executive not to relax the restriction on live music at indoor venues meant that it could not lawfully proceed.
Mr Paisley was interviewed on his way into the hotel and denounced the Executive which his party co-leads, saying that they “couldn’t run a bath”.
However, once inside the venue where 140 people were gathered, Sir Van appeared on stage and began to denounce Stormont.
Footage of the event at the Europa on Thursday night shows Sir Van saying: “Robin Swann has got all the power, he is keeping us in this over 15 months” before chanting “Robin Swann is very dangerous!”.
Denouncing a health minister who over the last year has received death threats, the veteran singer chanted that phrase over and over, to cheers and applause from some of those who had paid handsomely to be there.
But, after looking down and seeing the Mr Paisley was applauding his chant, Sir Van then invited the North Antrim MP onto the stage, saying: “Come on, junior. You want to do it with me?”
Mr Paisley is treasurer of the All Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group, whose aim is to “to encourage wider and deeper enjoyment of jazz”.
The MP immediately accepted Sir Van’s request and bounded forward to join him at the microphone. Mr Paisley stood so close to the singer that he was able to put his arm around Sir Van.
The pair then jointly chanted: “Robin Swann is very dangerous” as Mr Paisley punched the air with his other hand.
The MP then appeared to ask Sir Van to perform one of his hits, saying to him: “Anyway. Brown Eyed Girl”.
However, the singer refused, saying: “No, no, no, no. This stops when we say no. That’s when it stops.”
Mr Paisley then shook hands with Sir Van and returned to his seat, to applause from the crowd.
Mr Paisley appeared to be seated in the front row of tables. Last night a front-row single ticket for a similar dinner concert with Sir Van at the Europa in August was priced at £511 on the Ticketmaster website.
Mr Swann’s party leader Doug Beattie said that what happened in the Europa Hotel was “disgusting”.
The Ulster Unionist leader said: “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.”
Mr Beattie challenged Mr Poots: “I have questions for Edwin Poots – does he agree with Ian Paisley’s vile comments? Is that a position Edwin Poots wants to align the DUP with?”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “Van Morrison and Ian Paisley’s duet at the Europa Hotel was, frankly, embarrassing.”
Following a meeting of the British Irish Council in Fermanagh, the first and deputy first ministers were asked about Mr Paisley’s claim that Stormont “couldn’t run a bath”.
Arlene Foster said: “It is not surprising, that particular individual has always taken a very critical approach to the Executive and our decisions around Covid-19, he will probably continue in that role.”
Michelle O’Neill said: “It might be OK for him to consider his night out but we have to consider protecting the public and safeguarding against the concerns that we have.”
Writing on his personal Facebook page last night, TUV press officer Sammy Morrison said: “The DUP really are an embarrassment. You could easily make a league table of dangerous people in Stormont. Robin wouldn’t be on it.
“But my core issue with this nonsense is the same as my issue with Gregory Campbell the other day with that Londonderry stuff. There are huge issues facing Northern Ireland.
“The protocol is a threat to our very existence. And here again we have someone trusted with tens of thousands of unionist votes making headlines over nonsense.”
Comedian Tim McGarry last night said: “If Van Morrison is so desperate to do live gigs surely Ian Paisley could organise a tour of Sri Lanka and the Maldives.”
Sir Van’s actions during the pandemic have been increasingly erratic. Last year he released songs protesting against lockdown in which he claimed that scientists are “making up crooked facts” to justify measures that “fascist bullies” use to “enslave” the population.
Hitting back at the singer in an article for Rolling Stone magazine, Mr Swann said the songs were “dangerous”, and challenged Sir Van to present his own scientific facts.
He wrote: “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...I only hope no one takes him seriously. He’s no guru, no teacher.”
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