Ian Paisley insists he does not believe Health Minister Robin Swann is dangerous
DUP MP Ian Paisley has said he does not believe Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann is dangerous.
Mr Paisley made a statement on Friday evening after he was criticised for joining Sir Van Morrison as he made a verbal attack on Mr Swann following the last minute cancellation of a live gig in Belfast.
It was branded by Mr Swann’s Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie as “disgusting”.
In a statement on Friday evening, Mr Paisley urged that what happened is not “blown out of all proportion”.
“Last night’s event was very sad for the live music industry. I was put on the spot and called to the stage and tried to bring matters to a close by referencing some of Van’s music. What was parody, comedy, banter and sarcasm should not be blown out of all proportion,” he said.
“I certainly don’t believe Robin is dangerous. I think the parody and sarcasm of that comment is obvious! Remember last year the Department of Health labelled a song dangerous and I think Van is entitled to parody that. There is a balance in all of these matters and at times we get them right and at times wrong.
“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.”
Sir Van was joined by Mr Paisley at the Europa Hotel as he criticised Mr Swann following the late cancellation of concerts in Belfast this week.
Four gigs scheduled by the musician at the hotel were cancelled at the last moment on Thursday because live music is still not permitted under Covid restrictions.
The management of the hotel blamed confusion by Stormont ministers for the late notice, believing they had been given the green light to proceed.
The event went ahead as a dinner before a video of a previous gig by the Belfast singer-songwriter was played.
Sir Van, an outspoken critic of Covid restrictions, took to the stage where he addressed the audience of 140 and claimed that Mr Swann had called him “dangerous” during an interview with Rolling Stone magazine.
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 repeatedly chanting “Robin Swann is very dangerous!”.
The footage then shows him inviting Mr Paisley on to the stage where they continued the chant.
Sir Van then says: “This stops when we say ‘no’.”
Mr Beattie said: “Having watched the video of Ian Paisley and Van Morrison’s antics on the stage of the Europa Hotel in Belfast, I am absolutely disgusted by what I saw.
“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.
“Here we have Ian Paisley and Van Morrison standing on stage with their arms around each other, saying that the Health Minister is ‘very dangerous’.
“This is wrong on so many levels where you have people in the public eye making comments which could incite others.”
Mr Beattie challenged DUP leader Edwin Poots to condemn the remarks.
He said: “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, Northern Ireland’s First Minister and deputy First Minister were asked about comments made by Mr Paisley.
Following the cancellation of the Europa concerts, Mr Paisley had said the Stormont Executive could not “run a bath”.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill responded: “We know it has been a really difficult time for musicians and artists, for 16 months they haven’t been able to work. Many are struggling financially and we regret that that has been the case but this has been a really challenging time dealing with the pandemic.
“We are not there yet in terms of live music but we were able to announce that from June 21, that is the date we hope we can return to live music.
“I note the criticisms, I note the commentary from one MP, but 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.”
Outgoing First Minister and former DUP leader 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.”