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Sinn Féin criticises NI health minister's 'unilateral' request for British army's help to battle coronavirus

Sinn Féin have accused Robin Swann of the UUP of “unilaterally” requesting the help of the British army without consulting the Stormont Executive first.

Image: PA

SINN FÉIN HAS criticised Northern Ireland’s health minister Robin Swann for “unilaterally” requesting help from the British army in tackling the Covid-19 crisis.

There had been reports that Robin Swann had requested the help of the British Army last night, after writing a letter to Brandon Lewis at the Northern Ireland Office.

It’s understood that the British Army’s help had been requested to move ventilators between hospitals, and with technical assistance on the development of healthcare facilities in the event of a surge of cases.

These are known as ‘Nightingale’ facilities, which are the UK’s temporary healthcare centres to deal with a surge in coronavirus cases.

There are 107 deaths related to Covid-19, and 1,717 confirmed cases in Northern Ireland.

A Sinn Féin spokesperson said that the party’s objection is not to the request for help.

The British Army has been called in to assist the public in Northern Ireland previously, for example, to drop food to those who had been snowed in during storms.

Instead, the party is dismayed that other members of the Northern Ireland Executive were not consulted on such a sensitive matter. The request was reportedly made hours after the Executive met yesterday.

Sinn Féin’s leader in the North, Michelle O’Neill said: “I have been informed that the Minister for Health Robin Swann has unilaterally and without consultation with Executive colleagues requested limited assistance from the British Army.

Sinn Féin has made it clear we will not rule out any measure necessary to save lives, protect the public and tackle the spread of coronavirus.
However, no proposal to use British military personnel in the North for roles normally performed by civilians has come before the Executive. 

O’Neill has written to the Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis. 

“Sinn Féin is seeking an urgent meeting with the health minister, on his failure to consult ministerial colleagues at yesterday’s Executive meeting,” she said.

The party is also to seek meetings with Brandom Lewis, Tanáiste Simon Coveney, and the PSNI, “given the seriousness of a decision to bring in the British military”.

“The health minister has a responsibility to exhaust all options, including the use of other blue light public services and civilian contractors, to ensure that ventilators and life saving equipment are moved swiftly to where they are needed most,” she said. 

Northern Ireland’s Department of Health has been requested for comment.

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