Vaccine passports could be scrapped if other parties back DUP policy as restrictions come in for review at next week’s Executive meeting, says First Minister Paul Givan

Vaccine passports could be scrapped in Northern Ireland if other party’s back the DUP’s position at next week’s Executive meeting, First Minister Paul Givan has said.

By Niall Deeney
Saturday, 15th January 2022, 4:01 am
Updated Saturday, 15th January 2022, 8:26 am

Speaking to the News Letter, Mr Givan said he and other DUP ministers had raised the continued use of the mandatory covid certification scheme during a review of restrictions by the Stormont Executive on Thursday.

But the other parties in the Executive, Mr Givan said, have so far continued to support the scheme.

The First Minister suggested that, even if the other parties fail to back DUP proposals to scrap the passes immediately, they could instead be phased out on an “incremental” basis by reducing the number and type of venues required to use them.

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First Minister Paul Givan, in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings at Stormont.

He was speaking to the News Letter after a report in the Times newspaper in London suggested the UK Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, is set to scrap the English version of the covid certification scheme.

Mr Javid has reportedly moved to “kill off” the policy after telling MPs that he shares their “instinctive discomfort” with the mandatory certification scheme.

Mr Givan, meanwhile, said: “I actually raised this at the Executive on Thursday because there was a review of existing measures.

“I objected at the meeting to the continued use of the mandatory covid certification scheme, as did all of the DUP ministers at the Executive.

Covid-19 passports for licensed premises came into force in the middle of December in Northern Ireland. Customers must show their COVID-19 vaccination passport to gain entering into bars and restaurants with owners required to enforce it or face fines. John Bittles, owner of Bittles Bar in Belfast City Centre, checks passports for his premises. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

“We were opposed to it when it was first brought in, and we oppose its continued use.

“Now, ultimately, the majority of the Executive took a different view but the DUP opposed it. We want the mandatory use of covid certification to stop. That is our position.”

Mr Givan’s party has consistently questioned the scientific evidence underpinning the introduction of covid certification in Northern Ireland, dubbed ‘vaccine passports’.

In his interview with the News Letter, he suggested the evidence base has been further undermined by the rapid spread of the omicron variant of coronavirus in spite of the introduction of the certification requirement.

“The basis for bringing in certification was to limit the spread of the covid virus and from the introduction of covid certification the spread has increased,” he said.

“Now, that’s not because of covid certification but it demonstrates that the basis upon which those who support covid certification, as a tool to limit the spread, hasn’t worked.

“So the scientific basis for its introduction was flawed, and since its introduction the scientific evidence has proven that to be the case.

“The justification for its continued use I don’t believe is there. It’s ultimately for the other parties to defend why they believe it should continue to be in operation.”

Following Thursday’s meeting, the DUP MLA told reporters at Stormont further restrictions could be eased when the Executive meets again in a few days.

He said he expects the so-called vaccine passports to come in for scrutiny again.

“The Executive is meeting again next Thursday and there is a piece of work being done by the covid taskforce around what measures could be lifted,” the First Minister explained.

“I would expect that the covid certification is one of the measures in use that could be withdrawn. We believe it should be withdrawn immediately. Of course we were opposed to its introduction in the first place.”

Asked if it is realistic to expect the other parties in the Executive to follow the DUP’s lead in opposing the passports in light of changing circumstances, he suggested a compromise could be reached whereby they could be phased out rather than immediately scrapped.

“I raised this at the Executive on Thursday for those who continue to support covid certification — do they support its continued use in all of the current settings?

“For example, in England it only relates, currently, to where there is a high number of people attending a particular event. They didn’t extend it to hospitality in any form.

“The covid certification system in England didn’t apply to any form of hospitality, whereas in Northern Ireland it does. So, that’s a matter for other parties whether they wish to withdraw it completely or whether they wish to withdraw it on an incremental basis. They will have to reach a view on that.”