Northern Ireland news

Calls for Van Morrison to be stripped of freedom of Belfast after 'dangerous' Covid-19 messages

Van Morrison has written some songs protesting against Covid-19 restrictions
Michael McHugh, PA

A Belfast councillor has called for Van Morrison's freedom of the city to be revoked over his coronavirus intervention.

The musician was given the honour in 2013 in recognition of his storied career.

He has called for an end to measures which "enslave" people in a new song calling for pandemic restrictions to be lifted.

City councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown said: "Van Morrison was given the freedom of Belfast, the highest honour the city can bestow.

"His most recent lyrics undermine the guidance in place to protect lives and are ignorant of established science as we grapple with Covid-19.

"So I've asked Belfast City Council to consider revoking it."

He added: "I think we should withdraw the endorsement.

"He remains free to say whatever he wants."

Morrison was brought up in east Belfast and the inspiration for several songs came from local streets like Cyprus Avenue and Hyndford Street.

The songwriter (75) is releasing a trio of protest songs calling for an end to rules aimed at stopping the spread of coronavirus.

His song No More Lockdown labels those who are "disturbing our peace" as "fascist bullies".

Belfast faces renewed restrictions preventing residents from entering other people's houses as the rate of infection increases.

Health Minister Robin Swann has said Sir Van's lockdown protest songs are dangerous.

Mr Swann told the BBC: "I don't know where he gets his facts.

"I know where the emotions are on this, but I will say that sort of messaging is dangerous.

"Our messaging is about saving lives.

"If Van wanted to sing a song about saving lives, then that would be more in keeping with where we are at the minute."

The lyrics also include reference to an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that scientists are "making up crooked facts".

He criticised celebrities "telling us what we are supposed to feel" as he called for an end to the "status quo".

In a statement, Sir Van said: "I'm not telling people what to do or think, the Government is doing a great job of that already.

"It's about freedom of choice, I believe people should have the right to think for themselves."

Alderman Jim Rodgers, a long-serving Ulster Unionist Belfast City councillor, was brought up about half a mile from Sir Van's East Belfast home.

He said he would be opposed to revoking the honour.

"It is a cheap political stunt from councillor McDonough-Brown."

He said he understood that people were depressed and fed up by the restrictions.

"I did not agree with what he (Sir Van) said but nevertheless I would not be prepared to go down that road to support removing that freedom of the city.

"We all say and do things that in hindsight we regret."

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