Northern Ireland news

Van Morrison questions if Arlene Foster should be arrested over public singing

Singer Van Morrison said he had no regrets about his Robin Swann `dangerous' chanting at the Europa Hotel on Thursday night
James Ward and Jonathan McCambridge, PA

Sir Van Morrison has questioned whether former First Minister Arlene Foster should be arrested for singing at a public event.

At last week’s British Irish Council meeting, Ms Foster’s last public engagement as First Minister, the ex-DUP leader sang a verse of That’s Life by Frank Sinatra, following a request by a journalist.

It came shortly after four planned concerts by Sir Van at Belfast’s Europa Hotel were cancelled at the last moment on Thursday because live music is still not permitted under Covid restrictions.

On Thursday night the singer launched a tirade against Health Minister Robin Swann, on stage at the Europa, branding him “dangerous”.

Addressing the controversy on his YouTube channel, Sir Van claimed that as First Minister, Ms Foster had introduced laws that “banned singing in any shape or form in this country”.

He added: “I had gigs at the Europa Hotel last week, starting on the 10th of June. The hotel owner and myself were told in no uncertain terms that if there was any singing or performing of live music, that we would be arrested.

“And that the police would come to enforce this. Well, the police did come to make sure that this wasn’t happening.

“Meanwhile, at a different location on the very same day, Arlene Foster was singing in public. She was lauded by the media of course.

“I’m just wondering, does this look familiar? I personally am not just going to take this lying down.

“Like I say, we were told that we would be arrested if anybody sang, and the police were going to show up to check this out.

“I wonder have the police investigated Arlene Foster over this breaking of the law, by singing in public? Are they going to arrest Arlene Foster? I very much doubt it.”

The comments came in a video titled “For Clarity”, uploaded to the musician’s YouTube account on Monday.

He again criticised the Health Minister, accusing him of wanting “to get mixed up in my business”, by making comments in American music magazine Rolling Stone.

A spokesperson for Mr Swann said he had been approached by Rolling Stone for the comments, which related to anti-lockdown songs written by Sir Van.

DUP MP Ian Paisley, who appeared on stage alongside Sir Van, has personally apologised to Robin Swann for calling him “dangerous”, his party leader said.

Edwin Poots said Mr Paisley’s actions at the Europa Hotel were wrong and should never have happened.

Following the cancellations, Sir Van, an outspoken critic of Covid-19 restrictions, took to the stage and addressed the audience of 140, chanting “Robin Swann is very dangerous!”

Video footage then showed him inviting Mr Paisley on to the stage, where they continued the chant.

Mr Poots told the BBC that he had seen the video and that Mr Paisley had got himself into an “awkward situation”.

North Antrim MP Ian Paisley with Sir Van Morrison on stage at the Europa Hotet

He said: “It shouldn’t have happened, I spoke to Ian immediately after that. Ian agreed that it shouldn’t have happened. Ian agreed with me that he would apologise to Robin Swann and Ian has subsequently apologised to Robin Swann.

“I welcome that and I trust that we can now move forward.”

Mr Poots added: “He apologised in person to Robin Swann and I am making that public knowledge, I am not sure that Robin wanted Ian to make that public knowledge.

“Ian got himself into an awkward situation. Van Morrison called him on to the stage, but his reaction was wrong, he accepts his reaction was wrong, he has apologised for his wrongdoing and I trust that will be the end of the matter.”

The actions of Mr Paisley have been heavily criticised by politicians from other parties who had urged Mr Poots to take action against the MP.

On Sunday, Sinn Fein’s Colm Gildernew, chairman of the Stormont Health Committee, said: “I thought it was a disgrace. It was delivered quite aggressively and with an air of menace.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt said: “Ian Paisley will know that Robin Swann has faced death threats during the course of this pandemic. I think the party leader and the incoming First Minister (Paul Givan) need to take action against Ian Paisley, because what he did was a disgrace.”

Following the incident, Mr Paisley released a statement in which he said he does not believe Mr Swann is dangerous.

He added: “I was put on the spot and called to the stage and tried to bring matters to a close by referencing some of Van’s music. What was parody, comedy, banter and sarcasm should not be blown out of all proportion.”

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