Second gaffe from Sinn Féin minister who doesn’t understand coronavirus law she helped create

Caral Ni Chuilin, seen here with Michelle O’Neill, does not appear to understand the law which she supportedCaral Ni Chuilin, seen here with Michelle O’Neill, does not appear to understand the law which she supported
Caral Ni Chuilin, seen here with Michelle O’Neill, does not appear to understand the law which she supported
An Executive minister whose last-minute intervention on Friday night wrongly suggested fans were banned from football stadiums has made another major gaffe - while attempting to explain the first.

Even though the new restrictions were agreed last Tuesday night, Sinn Fein minister Caral Ni Chuilin left it so late to tell sporting bodies that fans should be excluded from grounds that spectators were already inside grounds by the time that message reached them.

The situation was such that PSNI officers at the Coleraine versus Ballymena Irish League match agreed that removing fans would have endangered public safety and so they were allowed to stay.

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After that game was underway, First Minister Arlene Foster took to Twitter to say that Ms Ni Chuilin was wrong and what she had said was “preposterous”.

In her letter on Friday afternoon, Ms Ni Chuilin said she was informing sporting bodies of “the serious impact the latest round of Covid restrictions will have on your sport” and said it was “necessary to stop spectators from attending sporting events and align the sector with the Health Regulations”.  

On Monday, the Sinn Féin minister accepted that she had no power to stop fans entering sporting grounds and the issue was not mentioned in the law agreed by the Executive, but said that she had acted after seeking advice from the chief medical officer.

The communities minister told the BBC:  “I appreciate the regulations are silent. I understand all that. But they’re not silent when it comes to unnecessary travel”.

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However, the regulations agreed by the Executive last week are in fact silent when it comes to ‘unnecessary travel’.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (Amendment No. 9) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 do nothing to restrict unnecessary travel. In fact, the Executive last week agreed to allow multiple non-essential businesses to continue to stay open – therefore implicitly accepting that non-essential travel is perfectly lawful.

However, the Executive has issued guidance – which has no legal effect and is not continued within the regulations – that the public should avoid unnecessary travel where possible.

Ms Ni Chuilin’s comments suggest she does not understand the law which she is asking the public to obey.

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When the Department for Communities was asked to point out where the regulations ban unnecessary travel, it responded with a statement which did not do so and implicitly accepted the minister had been wrong – but did not apologise for having misled the public about the law.

The department said that “current covid-19 regulations guidance...state you should avoid all unnecessary travel. The guidance says where travel is necessary for work, education and other essential purposes, people are asked to walk, cycle or use private transport, shared only with members of their household where possible. This is the context of the minister’s comments.”

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