Mandatory Covid certification scheme ‘a politically-driven decision’ – Givan

The First Minister’s party, the DUP, has opposed the scheme, arguing it is not evidence-based.

Jonathan McCambridge
Monday 29 November 2021 18:01
Proof of vaccination or a negative test result is needed to gain entry to some venues (Liam McBurney/PA)
Proof of vaccination or a negative test result is needed to gain entry to some venues (Liam McBurney/PA)

Northern Ireland’s First Minister has claimed making Covid certification mandatory to enter some venues was a “politically-motivated decision”.

Paul Givan’s party, the DUP has opposed mandatory Covid certification and its minsters voted against its introduction at a meeting of the Stormont Executive.

However, it passed with the four other parties represented in the Executive backing it.

The system came into effect on Monday, meaning people will be asked for proof of vaccination or a negative test result to gain entry to some venues.

Unlicensed premises such as cafes and coffee shops will be exempt from the rule at this stage.

First Minister Paul Givan (right) listens to Health Minister Robin Swann speaking during a press conference at Stormont Castle (Liam McBurney/PA)

There will also be no enforcement of the regulations, through fines for non-compliance, until December 13.

Challenged by Sinn Fein MLA Colm Gildernew on “undermining public health messaging” during Executive Office questions in the Assembly on Monday, Mr Givan continued to express his opposition to the scheme.

“It is important the Executive does the right things and focuses its energies and efforts on those measures that will have real tangible benefits, and that’s why I continue to advocate for people who haven’t been vaccinated to take up the vaccine, for those who haven’t received the booster jab to take the booster jab,” Mr Givan told MLAs.

“We announced collectively a re-emphasis of that important messaging whenever it comes to personal responsibility and actions we can all take, but in respect of the issue to do with mandatory Covid certification processes, this was a politically-driven decision, it was not evidence-based and that is what has brought the Executive into controversy, and I warned at the time that we shouldn’t be engaging in divisive and distractive policies, but that we should be focusing on those measures that actually will see real benefits.”

Mr Givan also claimed that “instead of a thought-out orderly plan to make this happen, there has been a last-minute scramble from the parties in government”.

“They are producing legislation to be rushed through this week which is discriminatory, which is ill thought-out and which many will regard as unenforceable.”

Earlier, another Stormont Minister, Nichola Mallon, said she has asked the Department of Health for clarification as to when the certification system will be rolled out to other hospitality settings.

In a statement on Monday, a department spokesman said: “The Department of Health can confirm that Covid certification regulations will now be made and commenced today, Monday November 29, rather than being laid in draft form only.

“Premises covered by the regulations will be required to comply from today but there will be a grace period without any enforcement up to December 13.”

Mr Swann told the media the regulations will be debated in the Assembly.

“We have been clear that the changes that we have made in regard to Covid certification will be debated in the House,” he said.

“We expect regulations to be laid today.

“There were a number of changes in regard to prioritisation at the end of last week and how those would actually be brought forward.

Health Minister Robin Swann said the Covid certification regulations will be debated in the Assembly (Liam McBurney/PA)

“That was following intensive engagement with the sector and with stakeholders in regard to where they could be utilised first.

“They (the regulations) are starting today in hospitality but not enforced for another fortnight.

“My intention is to have them debated on and voted on within the Assembly.”

Infrastructure Minister Ms Mallon said her party, the SDLP has been calling for Covid certification for some months, “not because we want to do it, but because we believe that we have to do it in terms of minimising the risk in a number of settings”.

She added: “The Executive did agree to the rollout of Covid certification in the hospitality sector. The Health Minister informed other ministers on Friday that he will be taking a phased approach to that as he works through some of the operational issues.

“As an Executive, we agreed the rollout of Covid certification across a number of settings, including cafes.

Nichola Mallon said she wants more information about when the Covid certification regulations will be rolled out to hospitality settings such as cafes (Liam McBurney/PA)

“I have asked the Department of Health for specific briefing on that so that I am very clear in terms of what we need to do next and when we are able to do it.”

The regulations are mandatory in licensed premises, including venues operating a “bring your own” alcohol facility.

Covid certification will also be required at nightclubs, cinemas, theatres and conference halls.

Earlier this month, four of the five Stormont Executive parties voted in favour of the scheme proposed by Mr Swann.

DUP ministers voted against it, describing the initiative as a “distraction” that would have marginal impact.

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