Northern Ireland

Robin Swann opposes Stormont budget on last day as health minister

Mike Nesbitt is replacing Mr Swann in the Executive

Robin Swann on his last day as Health Minister at Stormont on Tuesday.
Robin Swann on his last day as health minister at Stormont on Tuesday. PICTURE: COLM LENAGHAN

Robin Swann has said he opposes cuts he believes will “cause real harm” as the outgoing health minister voted against the assembly budget on his final day as a minister.

The Ulster Unionist MLA said that in opposing the budget, he is “very conscious that I am not complying with the ministerial code”.

The UUP will remain in the Executive, with former party leader Mike Nesbitt replacing Mr Swann as health minister.

The North Antrim representative is stepping down from his ministerial post to stand as the party’s South Antrim candidate in the Westminster General Election.

He said during Tuesday’s debate that his “greater responsibility” is to “defend and protect vital services”.

Following the debate, MLAs backed the budget by 61 votes to 21.

“In voting against this budget today, I’m very conscious that I am not complying with the ministerial code,” Mr Swann told the assembly.

“I don’t do that easily, but I have a greater responsibility to defend and protect vital services, to stand up for patients and staff, to oppose cuts that I believe will cause real harm.”

Mr Swann said the Ministerial Code “requires ministers to support and to act in accordance with all decisions of the Executive Committee and the assembly”.

“I have to say I did not always see evidence of that during the pandemic, we had collective Executive decisions publicly undermined within hours and, of course, we had Executive Covid restrictions and guidelines blatantly breached by other ministers,” Mr Swann said.

The UUP’s Mike Nesbitt pictured in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, Stormont.

He added that serving twice as health minister was “an honour of my political life” and said he was “absolutely certain Mike Nesbitt will serve with similar commitment and pride”.

UUP finance spokesperson Steve Aiken told the chamber during Tuesday’s debate that the Department of Health would be taking a 2.3 per cent reduction in the budget he described as “not sufficient.

Mr Aiken said Mr Swann had “made clear to both our constituents and our vital health workers the challenges that these substantive cuts will mean”

“No minister could deliver on those unless there is appropriate prioritisation, which there hasn’t been,” he said.

Finance minister Sinn Féin’s Caoimhe Archibald warned that delaying the budget could see Stormont departments running out of money.

She said the Executive was in line to receive “significant” extra funding from the UK Treasury in-year, but the timeline for receiving confirmation on the amount had been pushed back as the General Election had been called.