Van Morrison and Ian Paisley’s attack on Health Minister branded ‘disgusting’

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie has branded an on-stage attack on Northern Ireland’s Health Minister by Sir Van Morrison and a DUP MP as “disgusting”.

Sir Van was joined by Ian Paisley at the Europa Hotel as he criticised Robin 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.

Ian Paisley
Ian Paisley joined Sir Van Morrison on stage (Brian Lawless/PA)

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 DUP MP Ian Paisley on to the stage where they continued the chant.

Sir Van then says: “This stops when we say ‘no’.”

Mr Swann’s party leader Doug 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.

Doug Beattie
Doug Beattie said the criticism of Robin Swann was ‘disgusting’ (Liam McBurney/PA)

“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.

British Irish Council summit
First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill (Liam McBurney/PA)

“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.”