Northern Ireland news

Edwin Poots claims Covid remarks not sectarian because 'most Sinn Féin leaders aren't regular Mass-goers'

DUP minister Edwin Poots. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye

EDWIN Poots has claimed controversial remarks about coronavirus are not sectarian because "most Sinn Féin leaders don't attend the Catholic Church on a regular basis".

The DUP agriculture minister was responding to questions from The Irish News following his claim that Covid cases in nationalist areas outnumbered those in unionist areas by "around six to one".

The comments last Friday sparked a storm of criticism from other parties, with Sinn Féin last night labelling his language "sectarian claptrap".

But the Lagan Valley representative was unapologetic.

"A few days ago the number of cases in Derry-Strabane was 962 – exactly the same number as all the unionist controlled councils together," he said.

Read More: Arlene Foster urged to 'rein in' Edwin Poots

"The poor leadership demonstrated by all Sinn Féin leaders at the Bobby Storey funeral was replicated in some GAA grounds over the summer and it is undeniable that the spread has been much greater in the areas where this had happened."

Ian Knox cartoon 20/10/20 

He added: "It is not a sectarian statement as most Sinn Féin leaders don't attend the Catholic Church on a regular basis – it is a political statement about an example of poor political leadership."

Read More: Data expert says Covid hotspots in Northern Ireland linked to poverty - not religion

Mr Poots has also questioned the four-week 'circuit-breaker' agreed by the Executive, criticism echoed yesterday by party colleague Paul Frew who branded some of the restrictions a "shame and disgrace".

It was unclear last night if the agriculture minister's views are shared by party leader Arlene Foster and whether he still commands the first minister's confidence.

Read More: Sinn Féin leadership's changing attitudes to Catholic faith

A series of questions for Mrs Foster submitted to the DUP press office went unanswered.

In a post on Facebook, she acknowledged the party would have opted for different restrictions if it alone had been making the decision.

However, as the Department of Health announced a further six Covid-linked deaths and 820 new cases, Mrs Foster also said it was important "to support each other as we do take these decisions".

Sinn Féin's John O'Dowd said Mr Poots's claims about community transmission of coronavirus were "nothing short of scandalous and shameful, and should be withdrawn".

"The public expect, and deserve nothing less than an executive which keeps sectarianism out of this public health emergency, and out of politics – any minister incapable of this should not be at the table," he said.

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