Northern Ireland news

DUP MLA Paul Frew brands Executive Covid-19 decisions ‘draconian and undemocratic'

DUP North Antrim MLA Paul Frew, who describes himself as a libertarian and was briefly economy minister under Edwin Poots, expressed concern that Stormont's Covid-19 restrictions as draconian and undemocratic. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire
David Young, PA

A DUP Assembly member has branded Stormont’s Covid-19 restrictions as draconian and undemocratic.

Paul Frew’s remarks came as he pressed Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill on how long emergency powers taken by the Executive would remain in place.

Ms O’Neill rejected his characterisation as she made clear the powers would remain in place “for as long as necessary” to protect public health.

In the exchanges during Assembly question time, North Antrim MLA Paul Frew, who briefly served as economy minister during the DUP’s leadership upheavals in the summer, said: “Given the draconian nature of the emergency powers and the undemocratic harm they are doing, the brutal impact of lockdown measures on mental health, suicide, self-harm, on isolation of our people, what work has the Executive undertaken to establish the true cost of the Executive’s undemocratic decisions.”

Ms O’Neill replied: “There is a bit of an irony I think in that statement.

“I mean, the Executive has taken democratic decisions the whole way through the pandemic, the Executive has sought to work together to protect lives and livelihoods, the Executive and every minister sitting around that table is there to do right by the public which we serve.

“And it’s important that we continue to do that because we’re not out of the woods yet and we still have a way to go.”

Ms O’Neill said she wanted to take a preventative approach as the Executive consider the remained restrictions, which cover nine areas.

“Certainly I don’t want us to ever be in a position again where we have to consider things like circuit breakers and lockdowns,” she said.

“I’m very confident that it’s been a democratic journey on which we’ve been on in the Executive to try to take ourselves from what has been very dark and difficult days into hopefully what is going to be a brighter future.”

On the continuance of emergency powers, the deputy first minister said: “At present and in line with the pathway out of restrictions the regulations will remain in place for as long as necessary to protect the health and wellbeing of our people and to reduce the pressures on the health service, particularly coming into the autumn winter period which is predicted to be a difficult period.”

Read more: Northern Ireland ‘no longer in the space' to justify vaccine passports, DUP's Gordon Lyons says

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