UUP leader wants Paisley to apologise in public for ‘dangerous’ chant

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie has called on Ian Paisley to make a public apology for chanting that Health Minister Robin Swann was “very dangerous” at the Europa Hotel.

A row erupted after four gigs by Sir Van Morrison at the Belfast hotel were cancelled at the last minute on Thursday because live music is still not permitted under coronavirus regulations.

Following the cancellation, Sir Van, an outspoken critic of Covid-19 restrictions, took to the stage and addressed the audience of 140, chanting “Robin Swann is very dangerous!”

Video footage then showed him inviting DUP MP Mr Paisley on to the stage, where they continued the chant.

Mr Paisley later said that what happened was “parody” and his party leader, Edwin Poots, said the MP had apologised to Mr Swann personally.

Investitures at Buckingham Palace
A series of concerts by Sir Van Morrison at the Europa Hotel were cancelled (Yui Mok/PA)

The Sunday Life newspaper quoted Sir Van saying he had “no regrets” over the incident.

But Mr Beattie said he was disappointed by how the DUP had dealt with the situation.

He added: “I have been told that Ian Paisley contacted Robin by telephone on Saturday and said that he was sorry for any hurt caused, but still stood by his claims that the verbal assault made on the Health Minister in the Europa Hotel last Thursday night was ‘parody’.

“Van Morrison`s comments to the Sunday Life blow that excuse out of the water. If it was parody, Van Morrison clearly wasn’t in on the joke. Ian Paisley and the DUP leadership cannot spin that away.

“It is very disappointing that Ian Paisley couldn’t bring himself to make a public apology for what was a very public attack on the Health Minister.”

Ulster politics
UUP leader Doug Beattie has called on Ian Paisley to make a public apology (Liam McBurney/PA)

The issue was also raised at Stormont on Monday by the chair of the health committee, Colm Gildernew.

The Sinn Fein MLA said: “The comments against the Minister for Health in a nearby hotel recently are out of order and should be and must be rejected.

“What we heard and saw was a direct verbal attack on the character of the minister at the most inopportune of times.

“Throughout the past year, members, we have faced a real danger. The vast majority of people have observed public health guidance.”

Mr Gildernew said he had worked closely with Mr Swann over the past year.

“We may not have always agreed on a particular issue, but our disagreements have been courteous, well intentioned and well mannered.

“What was said in the hotel about the minister should be condemned by everyone. We are by no means out of the woods as far as Covid goes. We must continue to be cautious.”

Ulster politics
DUP Leader Edwin Poots said that what happened in the Europa Hotel was wrong (Mark Marlow/PA)

In response, DUP leader Edwin Poots said: “I just want to make it absolutely clear that what happened in the Europa Hotel was wrong, the member of parliament who got caught up in it was wrong.

“I welcome the fact that he apologised very quickly.”

Mr Poots added: “I sincerely wish that Sinn Fein had apologised for their actions at the Bobby Storey funeral when a far greater action took place.

“They went out and defied the law that was set, flew in the face of law, and the deputy First Minister has yet to apologise.”

A number of Sinn Fein members, including deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, attended the funeral of the former IRA leader last June.