Robin Swann doesn’t know who will change NI covid rules if Executive collapses: ‘Uncharted waters’ says Health Minister

Health Minister Robin Swann has admitted he does not know who will have the authority to make changes to coronavirus rules in the absence of the Northern Ireland Executive.

Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 7:01 am
Updated Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 9:13 am

Speaking in the Assembly amid the ongoing political turmoil in Northern Ireland, Mr Swann said that if the Executive falls it would leave us in “uncharted waters” when it comes to changes to the coronvirus regulations.

Last week, the Executive met and agreed dates for the return of live music and increased numbers allowed indoors.

Following last week’s meeting, it was announced that live music could return — with a series of mitigations in place on volume levels and a ban on dancing — from June 21.

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Members of the public enjoy a drink in Belfast. Shops and outdoor hospitality venues reopened across Northern Ireland at the end of April as coronavirus rules were relaxed. Picture date: Friday April 30, 2021.

But that decision is subject to a review due to take place this Thursday.

But the resignation of Arlene Foster as First Minister on Monday has thrown the arrangements into uncertainty.

Mr Swann was asked at the Assembly about the live music proposals.

“Proposals came to the Executive last Thursday,” he said.

“They were delayed until this Thursday, so that we could see better forecasting on where the delta variant may take us in Northern Ireland before further relaxations are agreed.

“That falls into the area of Mr [Gerry] Carroll’s question about whether, if there were no Executive on Thursday to agree those further relaxations, they would not be made at that point. The Executive will still be in place at that point, and the regulations, as far as I am aware, will stand as they are, even if unamended.”

People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll had also asked the minister whether “nobody can amend the regulations” in the absence of an Executive.

Mr Swann replied: “I do not have the exact legal read-out, like the Member. We have asked for that with regard to where those regulations will stand, and who will, ultimately, have authority.”

He continued: “If there is no Health Minister or Executive in place to make those decisions, we will look to legal recourse as regards what the competent body is that can actually make those changes.”

He added: “We are in uncharted waters in that regard.”

Mr Swann also said the possible collapse of the powersharing Executive would have “implications” for international travel.

Until now, Northern Ireland’s rules on travel have closely mirrored those put in place by the UK government.

But the list of permitted destinations — the so-called green list of countries — still had to be agreed by the Executive.

Mr Swann explained: “It will also have implications for international travel, which was raised by Pam Cameron, and which countries will be on Northern Ireland’s red list or, even, green list if there is no Executive to agree recommendations that come forward from me, as Health Minister, and my Department. It will be a challenging and trying time.”