Northern Ireland

Van Morrison’s defamation battle with former health minister Robin Swann expected to be heard later this year

Van Morrison’s 70th birthday gig
Van Morrison at his 70th birthday gig

Sir Van Morrison’s long-running defamation battle with former Health Minister Robin Swann is expected to be heard later this year.

Lawsuits related to the handling of Covid-19 restrictions in Northern Ireland have been reviewed again at the High Court in a bid to progress towards a trial.

It is now anticipated that the cases will be dealt with some time in the autumn.

Both claims centre on conflicting views about how Mr Swann responded to the pandemic.

The former Stormont health minister issued defamation proceedings after Sir Van chanted that he was “very dangerous” during a dinner at Belfast’s Europa Hotel in June 2021.

It came after the musician’s gigs at the venue were cancelled due to a ban on live music imposed as part of coronavirus restrictions.

He took to the stage and directed criticism at Mr Swann, with DUP MP Ian Paisley invited up from the audience to join the chants.

Video footage of the incident subsequently went viral.

Mr Paisley later defended his involvement as an act of parody, comedy, banter and sarcasm.

Ian Paisley Jnr hugging Sir Van Morrison on stage at the Europa Hotel in Belfast on Thursday night
Ian Paisley Jr hugging Sir Van Morrison on stage at the Europa Hotel in Belfast

The lawsuit also cites further incidents involving a media interview and online video.

In a separate action, Sir Van is suing Mr Swann and the Department of Health over an earlier opinion piece he wrote for Rolling Stone magazine.

The article appeared in September 2020 after the performer announced plans to release anti-lockdown songs and donate proceeds to a hardship fund for musicians facing restrictions on live performance.

Mr Swann expressed disappointment at someone he acknowledged as “one of the greatest music legends of the past 50 years”.

The songs were described as a “smear” on those involved in the public health response to the pandemic.

It was originally determined that both cases should be heard by a High Court judge sitting alone.

Robin Swann's widely praised performance as health minister did not translate into an avalanche of votes for the UUP
Former health minister Robin Swann

Lawyers for Sir Van subsequently mounted a successful appeal in a bid to have a jury determine the claims.

However, there remains uncertainty over the running order and method for dealing with each action.

Legal representatives on both sides have been asked to try to reach agreement on the preliminary issues.

The court is expected to be given a further update at the next review in March.