Northern Ireland news

DUP's Sammy Wilson criticised over anti-face mask tweets

Sammy Wilson posted on Twitter a photo of himself holding an ice-cream, saying "You can't eat when you're muzzled!"
Brendan Hughes

SAMMY Wilson has been publicly contradicted by a DUP colleague over anti-face mask tweets.

The East Antrim MP yesterday posted a photo on Twitter of himself holding an ice-cream without a face covering in a shop in Islandmagee, saying: "Support local business. You can't eat when you're muzzled!"

His tweet was branded "petulant" and "grossly irresponsible" as health experts increasingly encourage people to wear masks to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Mr Wilson has been a vocal critic of face coverings being made mandatory.

Stormont has deferred deciding whether they should be compulsory in shops, instead hoping more people will adopt them voluntarily.

Mr Wilson claimed that given a low number of Covid-19 deaths and infections in Northern Ireland during July, "it would be mad for the health minister to enforce the wearing of face masks".

"Retail has been open for business throughout July with no covid spike. Time to rethink," he tweeted.

DUP MLA Pam Cameron, deputy chair of Stormont's health committee, yesterday took issue with his message.

She responded: "Just your opinion Sammy. I for one will be wearing a face covering and doing the little bit I can to protect those whose shielding is paused today."

She later also tweeted a picture of herself wearing a mask outside a Tesco store and said: "If our health & care workers can wear them for up to 12 hr long hard shifts, I can certainly do the right thing for a few mins doing my shop.

"Even if they give just a bit of added protection for those around you, it’ll be worth it to help beat Covid."

Mr Wilson's tweet also attracted criticism online.

Alliance councillor Danny Donnelly responded by tweeting a similar picture from the same ice-cream store, but wearing a face mask.

"I respected the staff and other customers enough to wear a mask. Then I went outside took the mask off and ate the ice-cream – simple really," he said.

Mr Wilson responded: "Wear a mask if you like, Danny – but don't play on people's fears with weak evidence to force them to do likewise."

SDLP councillor Séamas de Faoite described Mr Wilson's message as "totally irresponsible".

"There are American politicians who made a virtue out of not wearing masks that are now literally dying from Covid-19," he said.

Ulster Unionist MLA Robbie Butler also described the MP's comments as an "insult to those people coming off shielding".

"He displays an incredible amount of ignorance. Nobody is being asked to wear a face covering while they are eating and his petulant performance is grossly irresponsible," he said.

"If there's another lockdown, he won't be able eat out if the shops and restaurants are shut.

"Even Donald Trump is now encouraging people to wear face coverings. Sammy should grow up and realise it's not always about him."

The shielding period for around 80,000 vulnerable people in Northern Ireland came to an end yesterday, meaning those with serious medical conditions were able to venture outside for the first time since March.

Health minister Robin Swann has urged people to wear face coverings in shops and other indoor settings as an "act of solidarity" with shielders.

Chief scientific officer Prof Ian Young has also urged people to wear face coverings.

He said there was now "more and stronger evidence" of their benefits than was first evident when the pandemic began.

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