Northern Ireland news

Stormont defends lack of publicity around Chinese Consulate PPE donation

The Chinese Consulate donated 30,000 face coverings to Stormont. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

THE EXECUTIVE Office has said it did not publicise a potentially controversial donation of thousands of mask coverings by the Chinese Consulate because they were "not personal gifts... and therefore did not require to be declared as such".

The revelation that the Belfast-based consulate provided 30,000 face coverings to Stormont comes amid a row over the misrepresentation of views on Hong Kong aired during a meeting Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill had with Chinese diplomats.

A post on the Chinese Consulate's website which claimed the first and deputy first minister said they "understand and respect" Hong Kong's draconian national security laws, has been removed after it was publicised by The Irish News earlier this week.

Mrs Foster and Ms O'Neill's joint office has confirmed that the consulate donated face mask coverings in two batches. The first consignment of 10,000 PPE (personal protection equipment) masks was given to the executive in early April, while the second batch of 20,000 general purpose PPE masks was provided weeks later.

The first donation, which arrived at a time when PPE was in short supply in the health service, was sent to the Department of Health's Business Services Organisation for "distribution to organisations requiring the type of mask provided".

It is planned that the second batch would be allocated to "help reduce the risk of community transmission of Covid-19".

The donations were accepted with minimal publicity from the Executive Office, with the only reference being a sole tweet from the deputy first minister.

"Very encouraging call with Madam Zhang, Chinese Consul General," Ms O'Neill tweeted from her personal account on April 1.

"We can expect an immediate PPE donation from the consultate for masks, with additional masks and suits from Shenyang province to follow imminently. Further commitment to support us with more PPE."

The Executive Office told The Irish News that it wasn't necessary to publicise the Chinese Consulate's donation because the ministers were not compelled to disclose them under Stormont's rules.

"These items were donated to the executive for public use to assist in efforts to limit the transmission of Covid-19 in our communities," the Executive Office said. "They were not personal gifts to individual ministers and therefore did not require to be declared as such."

People Before Profit's Gerry Carroll said the executive should have intervened and directed the production of PPE locally rather than attempting to source it elsewhere.

"They chose to rely on the whim of the free market and, seemingly, to appeal to governments that have highly questionable human rights records, to put it lightly," the West Belfast MLA said.

"China is a case in point and given recent portrayals of Executive parties support of oppressive Chinese policies toward Hong Kong, it’s hard not to ask questions about the nature of this relationship."

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